Avoidant personality disorder is characterized by the avoidance of social situations or interactions that may involve criticism, rejection, and humiliation. This can lead to challenges within relationships.
Avoidant personality disorder (AVPD) is a mental health condition that involves avoiding social interaction. An individual with AVPD may fear:
This causes them to avoid any situation where they may feel any of these emotions.
A person with AVPD may also experience intense feelings of inadequacy. They may avoid any socialization where they are not certain they will be liked. They may also view themselves as socially inept or not good enough.
This article discusses whether people with AVPD typically want relationships and if they can and do love in the way people would expect. It also goes over some common challenges AVPD can create in relationships. Finally, it gives tips for people who are in a relationship with someone who has AVPD.
Rod Mitchell, a registered psychologist and founder of Therapy Calgary Emotions Clinic, spoke about how AVPD can affect relationships with Medical News Today.
He stated that people with AVPD may “harbor a deep desire for relationships.” However, he continues by discussing how AVPD can affect them despite a desire for relationships. “Despite their longing for connection, they are frequently held back by their profound fear of rejection and a pervasive sense of inadequacy.”
“This internal conflict creates a paradox: a yearning for intimacy juxtaposed with an overwhelming anxiety about engaging in social interactions.” — Rod Mitchell
The fear of rejection that is common with AVPD can cause people to avoid social situations where they cannot guarantee they will not be rejected. This means they may be likely to avoid relationships, especially romantic ones, because of their intense fear of rejection, criticism, and embarrassment.
AVPD also commonly co-occurs with other mental health conditions, such as social anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. These conditions can also cause them to avoid social interactions and withdraw from others.
“Absolutely, individuals with AVPD are capable of love. AVPD doesn’t hinder their ability to feel deep affection and care,” Mitchell notes.
“… Internal struggles might make it challenging to express these emotions openly and engage in typical romantic behaviors.” — Rod Mitchell
The intense aversion to rejection that is associated with AVPD
Due to the nature of the condition, AVPD can create challenges in relationships.
According to Mitchell, “Individuals with AVPD often struggle with being emotionally available. Their self-protective measures, often rooted in deep-seated fears of judgment or rejection, can lead to a form of emotional self-isolation.”
He continues, “This can manifest in relationships as a hesitance or inability to share deep emotional experiences, creating a sense of distance. For instance, they may struggle to express love or anxiety, not because they don’t feel these emotions, but due to a fear that such expressions could lead to vulnerability or rejection.”
“Individuals with AVPD tend to perceive conflict as a threat to their relational stability. This fear can lead them to habitually avoid confrontations, sometimes to the point of suppressing their own needs or opinions,” Mitchell states.
“This avoidance is not a sign of agreement, but rather a defensive strategy to prevent potential criticism or rejection. For example, they might consistently yield to their partner’s preferences to maintain a facade of harmony,” he also notes.
“One of the most pervasive aspects of AVPD in relationships is deep-rooted insecurity. This can lead to a constant internal monologue of self-doubt, where individuals question their worthiness of love or companionship,” Mitchell says.
He continues, “They might frequently seek reassurance about their partner’s feelings, or conversely, avoid situations where they perceive a risk of not living up to their partner’s expectations. These insecurities can lead to a cycle of self-sabotaging behaviors that strain the relationship.”
The poor self-concept that results from AVPD
AVPD can put certain strains on a relationship. However, there are ways a person in a relationship with someone with AVPD can help themself and their partner to cope.
Avoid walking on eggshells
According to Mitchell, “It’s important to foster an environment of authenticity and emotional safety in relationships involving AVPD. Encourage honest and open communication, reassuring your partner that their feelings are valid and won’t lead to rejection or judgment.”
He gives the following example, “This might involve actively inviting them to share their thoughts and feelings, and responding with understanding and empathy.”
Expand on ways to meet individual needs
Mitchell said this in regards to expanding ways to meet individual needs, “In relationships affected by AVPD, it’s crucial to cultivate assertive communication, a skill that empowers both partners to openly express their needs and concerns. This approach involves the non-AVPD partner clearly articulating their needs while being mindful and sensitive to the anxieties of the AVPD partner.”
He continues, “Concurrently, it’s essential for the AVPD partner to learn to acknowledge and communicate their own needs. This process helps them understand that their desires and concerns hold equal importance in the relationship.”
“By practicing this balanced communication style, both partners can foster a more understanding and supportive dynamic.” — Rod Mitchell
Work with a professional
Mitchell explains how working with a professional can help foster balanced and healthy communication in a relationship, “In my professional experience, therapy can significantly benefit couples where one partner has AVPD. It offers a structured environment to develop strategies for managing AVPD symptoms and enhancing communication within the relationship.”
“Therapy can help the individual with AVPD to build self-esteem and learn coping strategies for anxiety, while their partner can gain insights into how to support them effectively,” he says.
Treatment for AVPD may also include anxiety medication or antidepressants to help manage symptoms.
“I advocate for a multifaceted approach in treating AVPD. This typically involves cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps in restructuring negative thought patterns and improving social skills and self-esteem. Group therapy can also be beneficial, as it provides a safe environment for practicing social interactions and building confidence.” — Rod Mitchell
The following are some questions people frequently ask about AVPD.
What is the difference between avoidant attachment and avoidant personality disorder?
According to Rod Mitchell, “Avoidant attachment is primarily a relational style that often originates from an individual’s early interactions with caregivers.
In such cases, the person may have experienced a lack of responsiveness or emotional unavailability from their caregivers, leading to a belief that they cannot rely on others for emotional support. As a result, they learn to maintain a certain degree of emotional distance in their intimate relationships, often appearing self-reliant and preferring independence over closeness.
In contrast, AVPD is a clinical diagnosis, defined by a consistent pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation. This goes beyond a preference for emotional distance.
Individuals with AVPD typically experience intense anxiety in social situations, fear of rejection, and a pervasive feeling of being inadequate or inferior. These symptoms are more extensive and debilitating than those seen in avoidant attachment and usually impact a person’s functioning across various aspects of life, including work, social interactions, and personal relationships.”
What are the 7 traits of avoidant personality disorder?
The 7 diagnostic traits of AVPD include:
- avoiding job-related interactions due to a fear of criticism or rejection
- unwilling to form relationships with people unless they can guarantee being liked
- being reserved in close relationships due to fear of ridicule or humiliation
- having a preoccupation with being rejected or criticized in social situations
- viewing oneself as unappealing, inferior, or socially incompetent
- being reluctant to take risks out of fear of being embarrassed
A person must show signs of at least four of these traits and have symptoms that began by early adulthood for a diagnosis of AVPD.
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AVPD involves avoiding social interactions out of fear of rejection, criticism, and embarrassment. This does not mean, however, that people with AVPD do not want relationships or are not capable of loving others.
People with AVPD often long for relationships, but their fear of rejection can keep them from forming bonds with others. AVPD can also cause strains in relationships due to insecurity and emotional unavailability.
Those in a relationship with a person who has AVPD can help themselves and their partner by being open about their feelings, being understanding about their partner’s feelings, and working with a professional.