Understanding Avoidant Personality Disorder
Are you curious what the difference is between social anxiety vs avoidant personality disorder?
While this site is all about social anxiety, I think it’s important to also write about related conditions.
Avoidant personality disorder is kind of like a cousin to social anxiety. They share a lot of similarities and some professionals still question whether it makes sense to distinguish between the two (especially in the case of generalized social anxiety).
However, I imagine if you landed on this page you’d like to learn about the symptoms of each disorder, how they differ, and how they are treated. Let’s take a look.
What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social anxiety disorder is diagnosed using the criteria laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
It’s known that about 12 percent of the population will be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
But we also know that a lot of people live with social anxiety that they never seek help for.
Social anxiety disorder is what is known as an Axis 1 disorder in the DSM-5, which means that it is a primary anxiety disorder.
This differs from avoidant personality disorder (which I will discuss in the next section).
In general, people with social anxiety disorder fear social situations because they worry they will make a fool of themselves and others will think they are weird (to put it in plain language).
Social anxiety disorder interferes with schooling, work, and daily life, so it’s not just about being shy or awkward or having trouble making new friends.
Most often it is diagnosed in adolescence and it can sometimes be triggered by negative social experiences, trauma, abuse, or bullying.
The types of situations that people with social anxiety disorder find most challenging include being watched while doing something, being the center of attention, and public speaking.
What Is Avoidant Personality Disorder?
Avoidant personality disorder is also diagnosed using criteria from the DSM-5.
However, it’s a personality disorder rather than a primary anxiety disorder.
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This means that it’s more about your patterns of thoughts and behaviors than about your anxious reactions per se.
People with avoidant personality disorder are overly sensitive to criticism, are usually socially isolated, may be seen by others as awkward, and think that they are inferior or not worthy and have low self-esteem.
They also tend to see life as hard and their situation as impossible to change.
Just like with social anxiety disorder, avoidant personality disorder usually causes problems with work and personal life.
In new social situations, a person with avoidant personality disorder will tend to be preoccupied with rejection.
You might even avoid going places unless you are sure everyone there will like you.
People with avoidant personality disorder usually have trouble opening up even to people that would seem to be close to them such as family or friends.
In general, they do not trust other people and avoid people when possible. They tend to avoid taking risks and trying new things, which results in a lot of isolation and keeping to themselves.
Avoidant Personality Disorder vs. Social Anxiety
So how do avoidant personality disorder and social anxiety differ, when they sound kind of similar?
In fact, professionals have sometimes argued that there is no difference other than the degree of severity.
In fact, some people are diagnosed with both disorders.
However, there are some differences.
Research has shown that symptoms that distinguish avoidant personality disorder from social anxiety include a strong negative perception of oneself, thinking that a single rejection means you have no value as a person, and being unable to fit in socially since you were a child.
Research has also shown that people with avoidant personality disorder tend to have poorer quality of life and greater disability than those with social anxiety disorder, likely due to problems being emotionally guarded even with friends and family.
In general, people with social anxiety have a better understanding that their perception of the world is flawed.
In other words, you feel as though people are judging you, but you realize that your worries far exceed any real risk of rejection or humiliation.
On the other hand, people with avoidant personality disorder have a deeply rooted feeling of being worthless and see this as a fact. This makes it seem like something that is harder to change due to a lot of shame and self-loathing.
However, both people with social anxiety and avoidant personality disorder will tend to avoid social situations, have lower self-esteem, and appear withdrawn from others.
It’s just that people with social anxiety want to make friends and be more social, while anxiety holds them back. They know they have a lot to offer that people aren’t seeing.
Treatment for Social Anxiety vs. AVPD
Treatment for social anxiety vs avoidant personality disorder is actually fairly similar.
Most of the usual methods include therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or trauma-focused therapy, social skills training, group therapy, and sometimes medication.
In the case of avoidant personality disorder, however, there can be problems with trusting the therapist and it can be harder to treat long-standing personality issues.
This means you need a really patient and caring therapist for those times when you put up walls.
Some people may also have past abuse or neglect issues that should be addressed (this can be a risk factor for both disorders).
While there is no medication specifically to treat avoidant personality disorder, medication can be used to treat specific symptoms such as anxiety or depression.
Alternative/creative therapies might also help such as art therapy, music therapy, or nature-based therapies.
Whatever treatment is used, spending more time around people is critical for both disorders to make progress.
How about you? Do you have symptoms of one or both of these disorders or have you been diagnosed?
If you’d like more resources for social anxiety specifically, be sure to sign up at the top or bottom of this page to my weekly newsletter to be notified of new articles and special offers.
Related Articles about Social Anxiety
- 9 Types of Social Anxiety Disorders
- Social Anxiety Disorder DSM-5 Criteria
- Asperger’s vs Social Anxiety
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Social Anxiety vs Avoidant Personality Disorder
Here are some of my favorite social anxiety tools
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