Avoidant Personality Disorder Causes, Statistics, Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

What is Avoidant Personality Disorder?

Avoidant personality disorder is a mental health condition characterized by sensitivity to rejection, feelings of inadequacy, avoidance of social interaction, extreme shyness, and feelings of inferiority.  Individuals with avoidant personality disorder will typically be diagnosed with this condition when these behaviors become disabling to daily living.  Also known as anxious personality disorder, this mental health condition is categorized as a Cluster C (anxious or fearful disorders) personality disorder and is recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Handbook (DSM).  Currently, there are four subtypes of avoidant personality disorder, as most people with this condition will generally present with a mixed picture of symptoms.  The following are the four main subtypes of avoidant personality disorder:

  • Phobic:  Extreme fear of certain objects or circumstances
  • Conflicted:  Characterized by confusion, paroxysmic, inability to resolve feelings of worry
  • Hypersensitive:  Intensely suspicious and distrustful; panicky
  • Self-deserting:  Avoidance of self-awareness

There are certain criterions that are used to determine whether or not a person may be dealing with avoidant personality disorder.  According to the DSM-IV, four of the following seven criteria should be met to truly be diagnosed with this disorder:

  • Avoidance of occupational activities that require significant interpersonal conflict due to fear of rejection
  • Unwillingness to become involved with others unless assured of acceptance
  • Limitations within relationships due to fear of being ridiculed
  • Preoccupation with criticism or rejection in social situations
  • Reserved in new interpersonal situations due to feelings of inadequacy
  • Low self esteem due to perception of self as impersonal or inferior to others

Due to the complexities related to the official diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder, it is recommended that you seek a professional medical opinion if you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering with this condition.  Avoidant personality disorder can be debilitating in that it can affect you psychologically and socially.  If you have been struggling with this disorder, take hope in knowing that there are resources at your disposal that can assist you through any issues you may have been facing.

Statistics About Avoidant Personality Disorder

Statistics about avoidant personality disorder can increase awareness about this delicate mental health condition, while creating greater understanding of this disease. The following statistics about avoidant personality disorder are crucial in that they give further insight into this illness:

  • According to the DSM-IV-TR, avoidant personality disorder occurs in approximately 0.5% to 1% of the general population [1].
  • Avoidant personality disorder is seen in about 10% of psychiatric outpatients [2].
  • Also according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, avoidant personality disorder must be differentiated from dependent, paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal personality disorders [3].
  • Avoidant personality disorder is reported to be especially prevalent in people with anxiety disorders.  Research suggests that approximately 10-50% of people who have panic disorder with agoraphobia have avoidant personality disorder, as well as about 20-40% of people who have social phobia (social anxiety disorder) [4].

Causes of Avoidant Personality Disorder

The causes of avoidant personality disorder are not clearly understood, though it is speculated that this mental health issue is influenced by a combination of biological, social, and psychological factors.  For example, it is theorized that the disorder is associated with hereditary factors that are passed on genetically.  Children and adolescences that have anxiety disorders that include traits of fearfulness and shyness in new situations may have an increased risk of developing avoidant personality disorder.  Additionally, children who experience emotional neglect or rejection from their peers may have an associated possibility for the development of avoidant personality disorder.  Overall, it is likely that avoidant personality disorder is not the direct cause of one factor, but rather, the result of a combination of factors.

Signs and Symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder

Men, women, adolescents, and children who have avoidant personality disorder will exhibit certain signs and symptoms.  If you or a loved one is struggling with avoidant personality disorder, these symptoms may help you better comprehend what you are dealing with or lead you to reach out for professional help.  Common signs and symptoms of avoidant personality disorder include but are not limited to:

  • Feelings of inadequacy and inferiority
  • Mistrust of others
  • Highly self-conscious
  • Difficulties in occupational functioning
  • Extreme shyness or anxiety in social situations
  • Avoidance of physical contact
  • Self-loathing
  • Self-critical about problems relating to others
  • Emotional distancing related to intimacy
  • Self-imposed social isolation
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection and/or criticism

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be struggling with any of the above symptoms as a result of avoidant personality disorder, you can find the help and resources you need to work through these issues.

Avoidant Personality Disorder Effects

Living with avoidant personality disorder can involve effects that can cripple your potential as a human being or limit your ability to live daily life.  Avoidant personality disorder can be especially damaging to your psychological well being and social life. The prognosis of this disorder can be improved if treated and addressed professionally. If your loved one is suffering with avoidant personality disorder, you may better understand what they are going through by knowing how this mental illness is affecting their life.  The following are some of the effects of avoidant personality disorder:

Physical Effects – While avoidant personality disorder involves primarily psychological and social behaviors, some physical effects may result as well.  These are some physical effects that may be experienced:

  • Lack of physical intimacy due to avoidance of physical contact
  • Difficulties in occupational function

Psychological Effects – Because of the extreme anxiety involved with avoidant personality disorder, several possible psychological disturbances can directly affect your mental health, particularly if it is left untreated.  Some of the psychological effects that may be experienced include:

  • Emotional separation
  • Severe low self-esteem
  • Feelings of inferiority
  • In extreme cases, agoraphobia
  • Severe depression
  • Dysregulation of emotions
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Anxiety or panic attacks

Lastly, avoidant personality disorder will directly affect your ability to relate to others socially.  Effects of avoidant personality disorder on one’s social life include:

  • Avoidance of social events or functions
  • Inability to initiate or maintain relationships
  • Isolation from others due to extreme shyness
  • Inability to establish intimacy in relationships
  • Decreased performance in work or school
  • Marital or familial conflicts due to low self-esteem

Avoidant Personality Disorder Treatment

Avoidant personality disorder can be an emotionally taxing condition to live with, particularly as it may isolate you from family, friends and loved ones.  Fortunately, by seeking the appropriate help and care you or your loved one may need, there can be healing and hope from this mental health condition.  There are several techniques and strategies that can be employed, which can help an individual with avoidant personality disorder overcome their negative perception of themselves.  An avoidant personality disorder treatment center can provide the tools and resources you need to recover and heal from any situation you may have endured.


[1]: Webb, James T.; Amend, Edward R.; Webb, Nadia (2005). “Ideational and Anxiety Disorders”. Misdiagnosis and dual diagnoses of gifted children and adults: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, bipolar, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Asperger’s, depression, and other disorders. Great Potential Press, Inc. p. 112. ISBN 0-910707-67-7.

[2]: “Avoidant Personality Disorder”


[3]: American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Anxiety disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev., pp. 450–456). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.

[4]: Van Velzen, C. J. M. (2002). Social phobia and personality disorders: Comorbidity and treatment issues. Groningen: University Library Groningen. (online version)

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 15th, 2013
Published on AddictionHope.com, Help Guide for Addiction