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What is Avoidant Personality Disorder?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2016
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Avoidant personality disorder is a mental illness that causes shy people to change their lives so that they never have to face uncomfortable social situations. People with this condition tend to work alone, and they often live very isolated lives. Many people suffer from various anxiety disorders, but what separates those individuals from sufferers of avoidant personality disorder is the way they react to their anxious feelings. The exact cause of avoidant personality disorder isn’t known, but many doctors think it might be a mix of inherited factors and life experiences. Treatment is possible, but success is generally very uncertain, partly because the patients are often reluctant to face their problems.

Individuals with avoidant personality disorder may have friends, but they usually have a relatively small number, and they may not even be able to enjoy spending time with them. Some of them even have trouble spending time around their own families and may find ways to avoid that kind of contact as well. This lack of intimate contact can lead to depression, and sometimes the condition can be misdiagnosed as clinical depression.

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People generally develop the initial symptoms of this disorder during childhood, and it often gets worse with time. Some experts think that it starts off as simple shyness, and the reaction of other people to that shyness causes the individual to retreat from any social contact until it eventually becomes crippling. As the patients get older, they get more adept and specialized in their methods of avoidance. In many cases, they change their lives so much that they almost never experience any social anxiety at all because they never encounter situations where it can occur.

The most common approach to treatment is to focus on psychotherapy. The doctor will often try to find any limiting beliefs in the patients' minds and help them change their way of thinking. Sometimes medication can be used in conjunction with the therapy in order to help things along and make the patient more comfortable with daily social encounters. Caution from the therapist is often required, because these people can sometimes react very badly to extremely intense therapeutic sessions. Therapy, from their perspective, is often seen as a kind of social contact, and if it doesn’t go smoothly, they are very likely to retreat from it.

The usual tendency of these individuals to avoid any social situation is one of the main things that can make treatment difficult. It can be challenging to convince those with avoidant personality disorder to seek therapy. They often realize they have a problem, but many of them would rather continue suffering than face the social contact required in order to heal. When patients do pursue therapy, they can often improve, at least to some extent.

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