Do You Have an Avoidant Personality Disorder?

August 19, 2020

Many people struggle with a certain degree of shyness. However, a small segment of the population suffers from shyness so severe that it brings about significant social inhibition.

What is Avoidant Personality Disorder?

Those with an avoidant personality disorder experience extreme shyness and an overwhelming fear of rejection. For these individuals these emotions bring about significant difficulties with academic, professional, and social interactions.

An avoidant personality disorder may result in adverse challenges in relationships, at work, or at school. Someone with an avoidant personality disorder may reject a job offer or quit a current job due to fears of criticism or judgment from others. In terms of personal relationships, an avoidant personality disorder can cause significant preoccupation with one’s own shortcomings making the formation of relationships impossible due to the fear of rejection.  Experiences of loss and rejection are so painful for someone with an avoidant personality disorder that they would instead choose loneliness than risk trying to connect with someone else. An avoidant personality disorder is not considered a common mental health diagnosis. It is estimated that only two percent of the population (equally divided among men and women) has this disorder.

What Are the Causes of an Avoidant Personality Disorder?

Unfortunately, like several other mental health conditions, the exact cause of an avoidant personality disorder remains unknown. It is thought that genetics and other environmental factors, such as rejection by a parent or peers play a role in this condition.

For many diagnosed with an avoidant personality disorder, the condition is a lifelong illness. In many cases, the avoidant behavior typically starts in infancy or older childhood with shyness, isolation, and avoidance of strangers or new places. Most people who are shy in their early years tend to grow out of the behavior. Still, those who develop an avoidant personality disorder become increasingly timid as they enter adolescence and adulthood. Because it is not uncommon for infants and young children to exhibit shyness or avoid strangers, the early signs an avoidant personality disorder are often ignored and considered “normal behavior.”

Who is at Risk for an Avoidant Personality Disorder?

Currently, there is no way to know or predict who will develop an avoidant personality disorder. People who have the disease are typically very shy as children and do not grow out of this trait. However, it is important to note that not every child who is shy will go on to develop this condition. Likewise, not every adult who is abnormally shy has an avoidant personality disorder. It is important to note that statistics do not show an avoidant personality disorder as more common in any particular race or ethnicity. Also, there does not seem to be a common link between environmental factors such as financial security, educational background, or family history. For that matter, in recent interviews, prominent celebrity figures, such as Kim Basinger and Donny Osmond, noted that they had been diagnosed with an avoidant personality disorder. It can be hard to determine if your teen’s shyness is part of natural development or an avoidant personality disorder. If you notice your teen’s shyness becoming more of a challenge to their day-to-day activities as they get older, it may be time to consider treatment or, at the very least, talking to a therapist at Hillcrest in Los Angeles about your concerns.  Unfortunately, for those who struggle with an avoidant personality disorder, the symptoms of the illness are not likely to go away on their own. Conversely, they may continue to worsen, having a detrimental impact on your teen’s academic success, peer relationships, and emotional security.

What are the Symptoms of an Avoidant Personality Disorder?

If your teen has an avoidant personality disorder, they may have difficulty interacting at school or other social settings. This is due to feelings of excessive fear that are often the hallmark of this illness. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition), there are several common signs of an avoidant personality disorder to watch for, such as fear of rejection, disapproval, or of being embarrassed by peers. Teens with an avoidant personality disorder may also be highly sensitive to criticism. Unlike other peers in their age group, teens with an avoidant personality disorder are more likely to be reluctant to become involved with people.

They are more likely to show excessive restraint in intimate relationships. This fear of close personal relationships often results in few or no close friends and avoidance of activities or social situations that involve contact with others. They are commonly unwilling to take risks or try new things because they may embarrass themselves, feel socially inept or unappealing to other people. Your teen may also exaggerate potential difficulties or voice that they’re having trouble believing people like them. People with an avoidant personality disorder are highly sensitive to rejection or criticism and therefore, may misinterpret individual comments or actions as negative comments specifically related to them.

How is an Avoidant Personality Disorder Diagnosed?

If you suspect your team may have an avoidant personality disorder, you must make an appointment with your primary care provider. Their doctor may then refer them to a mental health professional who will assess their symptoms and attempt to determine if their emotions and symptoms could indicate an avoidant personality disorder. One important note is that a diagnosis of an avoidant personality disorder requires that your teen’s symptoms begin in infancy or childhood. If their symptoms began in their late teen years or early adulthood, it is likely their diagnosis may be related to something else.

For a mental health provider to diagnose your teen with an avoidant personality disorder, they must also display some of the below characteristics.


Someone with an avoidant personality disorder must avoid activities that involve contact with others. This is because the illness results in excessive fear of criticism, disapproval, or rejection. Someone with this disorder believes that they can’t experience these unpleasant emotions if they avoid these activities.

Unwillingness to Get Involved in Relationships

A teen with an avoidant personality disorder will be unwilling to get involved with other people unless they are absolutely sure that they like them. They will hold back on relationships because they’re afraid that they will be ridiculed or humiliated. An avoidant personality disorder can cause a person to think they are inferior, inept, or unappealing to others.


People with an avoidant personality disorder fear being rejected, humiliated, or criticized in social situations. This fear is overwhelming and takes over their thoughts to the point that they refuse to be in a social environment. They will cut back or entirely avoid social situations and do to feelings of inadequacy.

How is an Avoidant Personality Disorder Treated?

The most effective treatment for an avoidant personality disorder is psychotherapy. Your teen’s therapist at Hillcrest may use psychodynamic therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy during therapy sessions. The goal of therapy is to help your teen identify their unconscious beliefs about themselves and how others see him. Therapy also aims to help with day to day function, both socially and in academic settings.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Psychodynamic therapy is a form of talk therapy. The goal of psychodynamic therapy is to help your teen become more aware of unconscious thoughts. It can help the participant understand how past experiences influence their current behavior. It also allows them to examine and resolve past emotional conflicts and painful situations. Once these past issues are addressed and resolved, your teen can move forward with a healthier outlook on themselves and an improved view of how others see them. Psychodynamic therapy has proven to produce long-lasting results with continuing benefits that persist after treatment ends.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is another form of talk therapy. During a cognitive behavioral therapy session, a therapist helps the participants recognize and replace unhealthy beliefs and thought processes. The therapist will also encourage your teen to examine and test their thoughts and beliefs to see if they have a functional basis. While addressing existing thoughts and behaviors, they will also help develop alternative, healthier thoughts and beliefs.


Currently, there are not any medications that have been approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration to treat personality disorders. However, your teen’s primary care provider or therapist may prescribe antidepressant medications if they have co-occurring depression and anxiety related to avoidant personality disorder.

An avoidant personality disorder is not a condition that will subside without treatment. People who do not receive treatment for an avoidant personality disorder may further isolate themselves, resulting in the development of other mental health conditions such as depression and agoraphobia. Also, increased social isolation can result in an increased risk of substance abuse disorders.

Treatment for an avoidant personality disorder does not change your teen’s personality. It is likely they will always be shy and experience some difficulty with social interactions. Seeking treatment help from a mental health provider can help your teen learn to manage the overwhelming feelings of fear and rejection that come with an avoidant personality disorder and significantly limit their ability to function in life and form lasting relationships.

Lonely - Avoidant Personality Disorder - Hillcrest

If you are concerned that your teen’s shyness may be a sign of an avoidant personality disorder, don’t wait another day to seek help. With proper treatment, your teen can learn to manage the symptoms of their illness and develop coping mechanisms that help them participate actively in academic and social environments crucial to their ongoing development. At Hillcrest, we provide individualized, compassionate treatments designed to help your teen and your family address their illness’s root causes. We understand that sending your child to treatment way from home can be a painful decision for parents, so we ensure parents are involved in treatment every step of the way. Our treatment team is here and ready to help your family. Give us a call at Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center today.