Avoidance disorder, more properly known as avoidant personality disorder (APD) or anxious personality disorder, is a psychological condition characterized by extreme social inhibition and shyness. People who suffer from this condition usually feel very uncomfortable in public situations, and they tend to avoid social interaction and contact with other people. Avoidance disorder is not the same thing as antisocial personality disorder, in which people flout social rules and norms.
A number of criteria can be used to identify avoidance disorder. The first is the tendency to avoid social interaction, often with an awareness that certain things are being sacrificed by avoiding contact with other people. Patients also tend to feel inadequate or worthless, and they are reluctant to make friends or grow close to people because they are afraid of experiencing rejection. Social inhibition is a hallmark of avoidance disorder, as is extreme sensitivity about the thoughts and actions of other people.
When someone with avoidance disorder does interact with people socially, he or she may seem very shy and withdrawn. The patient often becomes obsessed with evaluating his or her own behavior, to the point that the patient rarely speaks or interacts with others out of fear of being judged unworthy. Patients also tend to over-analyze the actions of others, inflating harmless comments into serious assaults on character or failing to interpret a statement correctly. Fears about being perceived as socially awkward can unfortunately lead the patient to behave in a socially awkward or inept way.
Individuals with avoidance disorder usually start to experience symptoms as young adults. Sometimes the condition emerges in response to being isolated or alienated by peers, and in other cases it arises spontaneously. In both instances, the patient may identify as a loner, expressing feelings of alienation and discontent. Avoidance disorder often leads people to live alone, and it may be combined with things like anxiety disorders or obsessive compulsive disorder.
There are a number of treatment approaches to avoidance disorder which can be explored with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional. Extensive individual therapy sessions can be combined with group therapy to explore the underlying cause of the disorder and ways in which social anxiety and avoidance might be addressed. Some patients also benefit from the use of drug therapy in combination with other forms of therapy. Sometimes, patients may need to see several therapists before finding an individual and a treatment approach which works.