The Loneliness of Avoidant Personality Disorder
They are not simply introverts. They actually suffer from a disorder known as avoidant personality disorder, which keeps them from experiencing pleasure and enjoying relationships.
As mentioned last week, personality disorders are a specific type of mental disorder characterized by “impairments in personality (self and interpersonal) functioning and the presence of pathological personality traits.” The traits must be consistent and seen over a variety of situations, have nothing to do with culture or stage of life, and are not directly caused by the use of a substance or a medical condition.
Avoidant personality disorder is a part of Cluster C personality disorders, which “are characterized by anxious, fearful thinking or behavior.”
Avoidant Personality Disorder
The DSM-V, the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, lists 3 general criteria that must be met for a person to be diagnosed with a personality disorder: impaired identity and/or self-direction, impaired empathy and/or intimacy, and “pathological personality traits.” For avoidant personality disorder, these criteria relate to low self-esteem, sensitivity to criticism or rejection, and anxiety.
1) Impaired Identity and/or Self-Direction
People with avoidant personality disorder have an unrealistic view of themselves.
People with avoidant personality disorder often struggle with low self-esteem. They may see themselves as “socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior.” This low self-esteem may be tied to “excessive feelings of shame or inadequacy.”
Further, those with avoidant personality disorder usually have unrealistically high standards for their behavior. They may be “[reluctant] to pursue goals, take personal risks, or engage in new activities involving interpersonal contact” because they cannot meet their standards.
2) Impaired Empathy and/or Intimacy
Fear destroys the relationships of those with avoidant personality disorder.
People with avoidant personality disorder are preoccupied with and sensitive to criticism and/or rejection. This gives them a negative, distorted view of others’ perspectives.
Unless they are “certain of being liked,” those with avoidant personality disorder are reluctant to develop close friendships. Their relationships can be one-sided since they fear shame and ridicule and do not want to disclose personal information.
3) Detachment and Negative Affectivity
The “pathological personality traits” associated with avoidant personality disorder are detachment and negative affectivity.
This is seen through withdrawal, avoidance of intimacy, and anhedonia.
- Withdrawal: People with avoidant personality disorder like to avoid social situations, which means they will not initiate any social contact. If they really must be in social situations, they are shy and inhibited.
- Avoidance of intimacy: They “[avoid] close or romantic relationships, interpersonal attachments, and intimate sexual relationships” because they are afraid of being hurt.
- Anhedonia: Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines anhedonia as “a psychological condition characterized by inability to experience pleasure in normally pleasurable acts.” Sadly, those with avoidant personality disorder are basically unable to experience joy.
People with avoidant personality disorder suffer from anxiety and fear. Specifically, they deal with nervousness or feelings of panic when thinking about or reacting to social situations, and they worry about the past and future. Further, they fear uncertainty and embarrassment.
A Lonely Existence
Low self-esteem and fear of rejection combine to make a lonely existence for those suffering from avoidant personality disorder. Blighted with anhedonia, their capacity to enjoy pleasure is severely limited.
However, people with avoidant personality disorder can still live fulfilling lives. Maybe, with the help of counseling, they may break free of the disorder. Maybe, with the help of people who love them for who they are, they may overcome their fears and embrace intimacy.
After all, love and joy make a life worth living.