In a social media rich environment where a person is frequently overexposed, those with Avoidant Personality Disorder (APD) are a welcome change. APD pretty much sums up the disorder in one name. In nearly every environment of family, work, or community involvement, APDs avoid social interaction. Think of a recluse, hermit, outsider, lone wolf, or loner who likes being that way and in fact prefers to live that way and that is your APD. This person would not be on social media and does not understand the need for it.
Here is the technical DSM-V definition:
- Identity: Low self-esteem, excessive feelings of shame or inadequacy
- Self-direction: Reluctance to pursue goals or take risks
- Empathy: Preoccupation with criticism or rejection
- Intimacy: Reluctance to get involved with people unless certain of being liked
- Withdrawal: Avoidance of social activity or contact
- Intimacy avoidance: Avoidance of close or romantic relationship and sexual relationships
- Anhedonia: Lack of enjoyment from life’s experiences or unable to take pleasure in things
- Anxiousness: Intense feelings of nervousness or panic often in reaction to social situations
The practical definition for clients looks more like this:
- Hypersensitive to rejection, often inferring it from subtle cues
- Prefers social isolation and dislikes large crowds
- Appears to like being alone but secretly prefers the presence of one person
- Extreme shyness in nearly every situation
- Avoids physical contact, sees this as an indication of intimacy
- Is self-loathing but few would suspect this
- Mistrusts others but is not paranoid
- Others perceive distance in intimacy but they believe they are being intimate
- Self-critical about their problems and circumstances
- Problems in occupational functioning due to lack of communication
Remember reading “Catcher in the Rye” written in 1952 by J.D. Salinger? It was one of those readings that some schools required and other schools banned the book because it was believed to instigate teenage rebellion. Well, the book sold over 65 million copies but J.D. Salinger disappeared. Most authors would love such recognition but he hid and died in 2010. It is unknown if J.D. Salinger might be APD however, his behavior is similar to someone with this disorder. Generally, APDs are very uncomfortable with any type of public recognition.
So how does a person respond to someone who might have APD? Here are a few suggestions:
- Be careful in conversations, they shut down easily and become self-loathing. Don’t be anxious around them, it is easily sensed and misinterpreted.
- Find an area of common interest to establish a bond of reassurance. They can and will trust a person over a long period time and given enough patience.
- Don’t minimize their feelings or self-doubt, they feel very intensely. Their social distance is often mistaken for a lack of feeling, but in reality they are very sensitive.
- Don’t try to make it better by saying something. Listening is the most effective tool. Listen to the words said and not said. Note changes in body language to gauge important points.
- They don’t like conflict, so make the environment as non-confrontational as possible.
- Pay attention to all of what they are saying as they frequently don’t say all of what they mean. Ask questions, don’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions. Many times they will think they have said something when they have not.
- They are awkward in social settings so expect it. Don’t intentionally put them in uncomfortable environments without prior permission. This is not a person who likes surprise parties.
- They already know they are different so don’t bother telling them. Rather, learn to appreciate their independence.
- They have a tendency to believe that they are more intimate with a person than what might actually be the case. Those married to an APD should be very careful with words and body language as APDs tend to take offense easily to the slightest infraction. They truly see their relationships as having more intimacy than it might actually have.
Because APDs prefer to be in the background, they have a unique perspective on the world around them and can be very philosophical. Often, they have amazing insights into people and circumstances that others frequently miss. Seeing the bigger picture is not difficult for APDs as their sensitivity is constantly feeding them input from a variety of senses. Once they are comfortable with a person, they will share their thoughts and perceptions. Treasure these moments, they are sacred.