Does your teen seem to have the symptoms of social anxiety? They might get very anxious when it comes to making a presentation at school, going to a dance, or talking to potential employers about a new job. Some people have what looks like a more severe form of this type of anxiety; this is called avoidant personality disorder. One major difference between avoidant personality disorder and social anxiety (even severe social anxiety) is that the first is a personality disorder and the second is a condition that could be transient. The disorder is characterized by feelings of inadequacy. They might be afraid that others will find them unlikable for some reason, so this causes them to avoid school, jobs, social outings, and other activities that include interacting with others. If you are concerned that you or your child might have avoidant personality disorder, read on to find out more about the condition and what you can do to help.
Fear of Ridicule
The driving force behind avoidant personality disorder is often a fear of ridicule. People with this condition are often terrified that others will find out that they are somehow “sub-par,” and this causes them to examine how others treat them, the words they use, and their facial expressions. The person might be visibly tense and troubled. For teenagers and children, this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: Their peers can see that they are fearful and that they act in a way that could be described as awkward, so they might use these characteristics as an excuse to bully or ridicule the individual. This serves as “proof” to the person with avoidant personality disorder that something is wrong with them and the cycle continues.
Signs and Symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder
Each person with the condition might act a bit different, and some of the symptoms overlap with what is commonly known as social anxiety.
Here are some of the signs that your teen might have avoidant personality disorder:
- Avoids interacting with others at school and other places
- Worries excessively about being criticized, rejected, or ridiculed
- Is very afraid of interacting with the opposite sex or those they might be attracted to
- Feels that they are ugly, non-intelligent, or otherwise not as good as their peers
- Does not want to talk to people because they are afraid of being unliked
- Obsesses over perceived mistakes that they think others are judging
- Refuses to try new activities
- School performance declines due to not attending or participating in class
How Avoidant Personality Disorder Affects Teens and Adults
Adolescents with avoidant personality might skip school, refuse to participate in classroom discussions, and otherwise have poor school performance. They might be afraid that teachers will negatively judge their efforts, so they might even stop doing their schoolwork altogether. This can, of course, negatively impact their future college admission, their ability to get a high school diploma, and so on.
Adults with the disorder will often find that they do not have an easy time getting or keeping a job. In their personal lives, they might not have a circle of supportive friends because they have avoided getting close to anyone. They also might have a hard time establishing a romantic relationship. Between their social lives and their professional lives, it is likely that they will be dissatisfied. Since the disorder usually appears during adolescence or early adulthood, it’s possible that these adults don’t have coping methods honed over years of dealing with the disorder. The good news is that the condition gradually decreases as the years go by and most adults are able to function more fully by the time they are in middle age.
Getting Help for Avoidant Personality Disorder
If you suspect that your teen has this disorder, your first action should be to make an appointment with his or her primary care physician. A family physician or pediatrician will not be able to make the diagnosis in most cases, but they can refer you to the correct mental health professional. They can also screen your child for depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and other mental health conditions that might be mimicking avoidant personality disorder.
The tests for avoidant personality disorder are really a determination of whether the symptoms and mental health history meet the correct criteria. There are many other mental health issues that could be the cause, so it is important not to assume that it’s this particular personality disorder affecting your teen.
Avoidant Personality Disorder Treatment
Treatment of avoidant personality disorder is difficult because many times, the person with the disorder feels uncomfortable during therapy sessions. Psychotherapy is the main treatment and it can be a long-term treatment plan. Other types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can focus on helping the individual to change the way he or she thinks about and reacts to certain situations.
Some people with avoidant personality disorder are prescribed medications to help with some of the symptoms of the condition, particularly if the personality disorder itself is occurring at the same time as a psychiatric condition such as anxiety or depression. Some people with personality disorders also develop an addiction to a substance that they might have been using as self-medication. If this is the case, then they will need treatment for the addiction in addition to psychotherapy for the personality disorder.
What the Future Might Hold
People with avoidant personality disorder can go on to lead a fulfilling life. Intensive psychotherapy can help; if someone is willing to go through long-term treatment, they might find that they are able to maintain personal relationships, develop friendships, and function well in a business setting. Those who are not willing or able to commit to long-term treatment plans might find that short-term therapy can help them find ways to cope with the troubles that they are having. Their idea of a fulfilling life might not include all of the friendships and relationships that others tend to find important, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t find satisfaction in their accomplishments.
If you are concerned that your teen has a personality disorder, early diagnosis and treatment are beneficial. Contact your teen’s doctor with your concerns and ask for a referral for the proper mental health care specialist.