Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD) is a serious condition which has been found in clinical studies to affect between 1.8% to 6.4% of the general population.
Avoidant Personality Disorder is listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) as a "Cluster C" anxious or fearful disorder.
AVPD is characterized by a pattern of withdrawal, self-loathing and heightened sensitivity to criticism. People who suffer from AVPD often consider themselves socially unsuccessful and tend to remove themselves from social situations in order to avoid the feeling or the risk of feeling rejected by others.
People who live in a relationship with a person who suffers from avoidant personality disorder often recognize that something is not quite right with the behavior of their family member or loved-one but often do not know what to do about it or that there is even a name for it. They may feel trapped in the relationship and frustrated by their loved-one's tendency to pull them away from family, friends and other "everyday" social settings.
People who are in a relationship with a person who suffers from AVPD may also experience pressure to isolate themselves along with them or pressure to protect them from criticism or to create an artificial or dysfunctional "bubble" or ideal environment around them in which they can escape the risk of negative self-thought.
People who suffer from AVPD may use withdrawal as a form of communication or as a form of emotional control over friends, partners and family members.
Alternate Names for AVPD
Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD) is described in the World Health Organization's International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision (ICD-10) by the alternate name Anxious Personality Disorder or Anxious (Avoidant) Personality Disorder.
Characteristics of AVPD
The following is a list of some of the more common characteristics & traits of people who suffer from Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD). Click on the links to see more information on each trait.
Note that these traits are given as a guideline only and are not intended for diagnosis. People who suffer from AVPD are all unique and so each person will display a different subset of traits. Also, note that everyone displays "avoidant" behaviors from time to time. Therefore, if a person exhibits one or some of these traits, that does not necessarily qualify them for a diagnosis of AVPD. See the DSM Criteria on this page for diagnostic criteria for AVPD.
"Always" and "Never" Statements - "Always" and "Never" Statements are declarations containing the words "always" or "never". They are commonly used but rarely true.
Avoidance - The practice of withdrawing from relationships with other people as a defensive measure to reduce the risk of rejection, accountability, criticism or exposure.
Blaming - The practice of identifying a person or people responsible for creating a problem, rather than identifying ways of dealing with the problem.
Catastrophizing - The habit of automatically assuming a "worst case scenario" and inappropriately characterizing minor or moderate problems or issues as catastrophic events.
Circular Conversations - Arguments which go on almost endlessly, repeating the same patterns with no resolution.
"Control-Me" Syndrome - This describes a tendency which some people have to foster relationships with people who have a controlling narcissistic, antisocial or "acting-out" nature.
Dependency - An inappropriate and chronic reliance by an adult individual on another individual for their health, subsistence, decision making or personal and emotional well-being.
Depression - When you feel sadder than you think you should, for longer than you think you should - but still can't seem to break out of it - that's depression. People who suffer from personality disorders are often also diagnosed with depression resulting from mistreatment at the hands of others, low self-worth and the results of their own poor choices.
Emotional Blackmail - A system of threats and punishments used in an attempt to control someone’s behaviors.
Engulfment - An unhealthy and overwhelming level of attention and dependency on another person, which comes from imagining or believing one exists only within the context of that relationship.
False Accusations - Patterns of unwarranted or exaggerated criticism directed towards someone else.
Fear of Abandonment - An irrational belief that one is imminent danger of being personally rejected, discarded or replaced.
FOG - Fear, Obligation & Guilt - The acronym FOG, for Fear, Obligation and Guilt, was first coined by Susan Forward & Donna Frazier in Emotional Blackmail and describes feelings that a person often has when in a relationship with someone who suffers from a personality disorder. Our website, Out of the FOG, is named after this acronym.
Hoovers & Hoovering - A Hoover is a metaphor taken from the popular brand of vacuum cleaners, to describe how an abuse victim trying to assert their own rights by leaving or limiting contact in a dysfunctional relationship, gets “sucked back in” when the perpetrator temporarily exhibits improved or desirable behavior.
Hyper Vigilance - Maintaining an unhealthy level of interest in the behaviors, comments, thoughts and interests of others.
Impulsiveness - The tendency to act or speak based on current feelings rather than logical reasoning.
Lack of Object Constancy - A symptom of some personality disorders, Lack of Object Constancy is an inability to remember that people or objects are consistent, trustworthy and reliable, especially when they are out of your immediate field of vision. Object constancy is a developmental skill which most children do not develop until two or three years of age.
Learned Helplessness- Learned helplessness is when a person begins to believe that they have no control over a situation, even when they do.
Low-Functioning - A Low-Functioning Personality-Disordered Individual is one who is unable to conceal their dysfunctional behavior from public view or maintain a positive public or professional profile.
Low Self-Esteem - A common term used to describe a group of negatively-distorted self-views which are inconsistent with reality.
Mirroring - Imitating or copying another person's characteristics, behaviors or traits.
Mood Swings - Unpredictable, rapid, dramatic emotional cycles which cannot be readily explained by changes in external circumstances.
Neglect - A passive form of abuse in which the physical or emotional needs of a dependent are disregarded or ignored by the person responsible for them.
Objectification - The practice of treating a person or a group of people like an object.
Panic Attacks - Short intense episodes of fear or anxiety, often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as hyperventilating, shaking, sweating and chills.
Parentification - A form of role reversal, in which a child of a personality-disordered parent is inappropriately given the role of meeting the emotional or physical needs of the parent or of the other children.
Passive-Aggressive Behavior - The expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive, passive way (for example, through procrastination and stubbornness).
Perfectionism - The maladaptive practice of holding oneself or others to an unrealistic, unattainable or unsustainable standard of organization, order, or accomplishment in one particular area of living, while sometimes neglecting common standards of organization, order or accomplishment in other areas of living.
Projection - The act of attributing one's own feelings or traits to another person and imagining or believing that the other person has those same feelings or traits.
Sabotage - The spontaneous disruption of calm or status quo in order to serve a personal interest, provoke a conflict or draw attention.
Selective Competence - The practice of demonstrating different levels of intelligence or ability depending on the situation or environment.
Self-Loathing - An extreme hatred of one's own self, actions or one's ethnic or demographic background.
Self-Victimization - Self-Victimization or "playing the victim" is the act of casting oneself as a victim in order to control others by soliciting a sympathetic response from them or diverting their attention away from abusive behavior.
Splitting - The practice of regarding people and situations as either completely "good" or completely "bad".
Testing - Repeatedly forcing another individual to demonstrate or prove their love or commitment to a relationship.
Thought Policing - A process of interrogation or attempt to control another individual's thoughts or feelings.
Tunnel Vision - A tendency to focus on a single concern, while neglecting or ignoring other important priorities.
Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD) - The DSM Criteria
Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD) is listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM) as a Cluster C (anxious or fearful) Personality Disorder.
Text in Italics is quoted from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR)
Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD) is defined as:
A pervasive pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:
Avoids occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact, because of fears of criticism, disapproval, or rejection.
Is unwilling to get involved with people unless certain of being liked.
Shows restraint initiating intimate relationships because of the fear of being ashamed, ridiculed, or rejected due to severe low self-worth.
Is preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations.
Is inhibited in new interpersonal situations because of feelings of inadequacy.
Views self as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others
Is unusually reluctant to take personal risks or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing.
A formal diagnosis of AvPD requires a mental health professional to identify 4 out of the above 7 criteria as positive. Some people with AvPD may exhibit all 7. Most will exhibit only a few.
Nobody’s perfect. Even normal healthy people will experience or exhibit a few of the above criteria from time to time. This does not make a person AVPD.
Understanding the clinical criteria for Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD) is helpful but learning how to cope with having a loved-one who suffers from AVPD is quite different and is not covered in any psychological manual.
Avoidant Personality Disorder has been found in separate clinical studies to affect anywhere from 1.8% to 5.2% of the general population.
People who are diagnosed with Avoidant Personality Disorder also frequently meet the criteria for other personality disorders.
The table below shows statistically how likely it is that a person who is diagnosed with AVPD will also meet the criteria for another personality disorder. The more positive the number, the more likely it is that a person will be diagnosed with the second personality disorder listed. The more negative the number, the less likely it is that a person will be diagnosed with the second personality disorder in the table.
The precise causes of AVPD are not well understood. Genetic traits and child abuse or neglect are most often associated with the disorder, but no conclusive study exists.
Most people who suffer from Avoidant Personality Disorder are, by nature, reluctant to seek out treatment and programs such as individual therapy, couples therapy and group therapy are likely to make someone with AVPD feel very uncomfortable. As a result, most cases of AVPD go undiagnosed and untreated and it is left to spouses, partners and family members and friends to do the best they can.
For those who have sought treatment, some symptoms of AVPD have been found to be reduced through prescription of SSRI antidepressants. Therapy programs typically involve social skills training, cognitive behavioral therapy and group therapy.
Movies Portraying Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD)
The Remains of the Day - The Remains of the Day is a 1993 Columbia Pictures Release, starring Anthony Hopkins & Emma Thompson which portrays the life of a head butler in an English Manor who manifests some of the traits of schizoid personality disorder.
Zelig - Zelig is a 1983 movie written and directed by Woody Allen who portrays a man who avoids revealing his own self by adapting his personality to mirror anyone whom he is interacting with.
Five years ago, a photographer, an engineer, a writer, an office manager, a grandmother, a graphic artist, a law student, a husband, a librarian, and a stained-glass artisan came together to connect a diverse, isolated population in search of information, support, and growth as they strive to cope with a family members, spouses or partners who suffer from a personality disorder. Since its launch on November 1, 2007, Out Of The FOG has grown from a fledgling discussion group with 10 participants, to a vibrant community of over 4000 registered members world-wide, with new members joining every day.
On August 31 2012, the Out of the FOG Support Forum crossed two significant milestones - 100,000 member posts and 10,000 topics. Thanks to all who participate and contribute to the OOTF support board, which is a unique source of support to non-personality-disordered individuals all over the world.