We all have our moments of insecurity and times when we'd rather hide under the covers than face an uncomfortable situation. But individuals with Avoidant Personality Disorder experience extreme shyness and low self-esteem so intense that they find themselves unable to engage in most personal and professional endeavors. As its name suggests, the hallmark symptom of this disorder is avoidance of a wide variety of situations. The reason for this avoidance boils down to extremely low self-esteem, an irrational fear of being humiliated, and the sufferer's belief that they will be rejected by peers and colleagues due to their perceived inadequacy.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately five percent of adults have Avoidant Personality Disorder. It's important to note that many of the symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder look very similar to other disorders, such as anxiety and panic disorder — so if you suspect that you have APD, make an appointment with a psychiatrist who can assess all your symptoms and determine the exact nature of your issue.
It's not a mental illness that gets a lot of attention, but it's real, and one that can improve with treatment. So if any of these six signs sound painfully familiar, know that you may have APD — and that help is available.
1. Your Anxiety Causes You To Avoid Work & School
Your fears of rejection, humiliation, and being disliked cause you to avoid work and/or school. This avoidance likely intensifies on days when you know you may be called on to speak in public, have a one-on-one meeting with a superior, or attend an office social gathering where mingling and small talk are inevitable.
Many of us don't enjoy these activities; but for individuals with APD, they feel downright unbearable, or even impossible. This fear absolutely doesn't mean that you're not a hard worker or that you're not committed to your academic and professional pursuits — rather, the hard truth about mental illnesses is that they often begin to control you if you don't seek help.
2. Intimate Relationships Are A Challenge
Low self-esteem and fear of rejection are hallmark symptoms of APD — so it can be very difficult for individuals with the disorder to feel safe in intimate relationships. People with APD certainly have friendships and romantic relationships, but the disorder makes it incredibly challenging to let your guard down and feel completely comfortable with another person.
If you have a pattern of pulling away from a close friend or romantic partner for no concrete reason, it could be a sign of APD. Because people with the disorder have an incredibly low sense of self worth, they struggle to accept the fact that they can be themselves with another person and be loved rather than judged or rejected.
3. You Have A Persistent Fear That People Dislike You
We all have our moments of worrying that someone doesn't like us — and of course that's never a good feeling. But individuals with Avoidant Personality Disorder tend to automatically assume that they're disliked by everyone they come in contact with. Furthermore, neutral comments and actions may be misinterpreted as negative and a sign that the person speaking doesn't like you. So, of course, this causes the avoidance of any situation where you fear you may be humiliated or criticized.
4. Fear Of Embarrassment Inhibits Your Ability To Fully Engage In Life Experiences
As much as you may want to try a new job or activity, your fear of humiliation prevents you from doing so; this avoidance makes you feel safe from any potential embarrassment or criticism. This is an important reason to seek help if you have APD — not only do you deserve to feel good about yourself, but you deserve to pursue opportunities that look appealing or exciting to you.
5. Self-Loathing & Low Self-Esteem Dominate Your Thoughts
You view yourself as "inferior to others" and "personally unappealing." Individuals with APD also feel as though they lack social skills, which is why they avoid situations where they'll need to engage in interpersonal contact. This directly ties in with the fear of humiliation — your belief that you're inferior to others and hopelessly inept leads you to think that you'll inevitably embarrass yourself if you do push yourself to attend an event or social gathering that gives you anxiety. It's a vicious cycle, because the fears are so paralyzing that you don't often get the chance to engage in these activities and see that people really do like you and enjoy spending time with you.
6. You Isolate Yourself
Your fears of embarrassment, rejection, and being disliked cause you to isolate yourself because it feels like the safest option. Individuals with APD don't isolate themselves because they're uninterested in forming bonds with other people — in fact, most sufferers desire the opportunity to engage in social interactions and form close relationships. Isolation is another example of how much power a mental illness can have over someone — the fears and anxieties are so strong and pervasive that they prevent sufferers from seeking out what they want and need.
The Bottom Line
If it goes untreated, Avoidant Personality Disorder can severely limit your ability to live up to your potential — socially, personally, and professionally. Talk therapy can help you slowly but surely move towards a life that's not governed by your fears and anxiety. Because APD is less common than other disorders such as generalized anxiety and depression, it's important to find a therapist who has experience with this particular illness. Although it can't be "cured," it can definitely be treated — so know that a diagnosis of APD doesn't equal a life sentence of isolation and fear.