People with the avoidant personality shy away from other people because they are afraid of being criticized or embarrassed, or because they worry that they will appear foolish. Usually avoidants are very concerned that if they are criticized, they will blush or cry in front of other people. They often feel inadequate, which makes them inhibited in social situations. People with the avoidant personality might believe they are so unappealing that no one would want to know them or be friends with them. They will usually refuse to be in a relationship unless they are sure that the other person will like and accept them. To make sure others like them, avoidants are often “eager to please” and hesitant to state their disagreements with others directly. Ironically, people with the avoidant personality often behave in a way that confirms their negative self-image. They are so sensitive to criticism that they often misinterpret innocent comments as negative or critical. When they interact with other people, they may act fearful or tense, and make a mistake, which often prompts others to tease or criticize them. Thus their anxiety becomes self-reinforcing.
Because they are so uncomfortable around other people, avoidants usually have very few or no close friends other than perhaps some in their immediate family. They might be willing to stay in an unhealthy friendship because they believe they aren’t appealing enough to make friends with other people. Furthermore, avoidants are usually distant or restrained in romantic relationships because they are afraid of being made fun of or shamed if they reveal too much about themselves. They fear that if they were to get close to other people then they would see their weaknesses and inadequacies and reject them, so they prefer to not even try. They also avoid jobs where extensive socializing is required. Avoidants rarely seek help from a therapist because they are uncomfortable talking to other people and fear being judged by them.
Because they avoid therapy, it is difficult to estimate the prevalence of avoidants in the population. Research suggests that less than 1 percent of the population are avoidant personalities.
Avoidant personality might sound a lot like schizoid personality, since people with both these personalites are “loners,” but they are different in at least one crucial way. Whereas an “avoidant” is isolated because of hypersensitivity to criticism, shyness, and low self-esteem, someone with the schizoid personality is cold and indifferent to criticism.
Most people use avoidance as a coping strategy at times in their life, especially to relieve anxiety or when faced with difficult life choices or situations. However, a genuine avoidant personality is characterized by pervasive behavioral, emotional, and cognitive avoidance, even when personal goals or wishes are foiled by such avoidance. Cognitive themes that fuel avoidance include self-deprecation, beliefs that unpleasant thoughts or emotions are unmanageable and intolerable, and an assumption that exposure of one’s “real self” to others or assertive self-expression will be met with rejection. People with Avoidant Personality express a desire for affection, acceptance, and friendship, yet frequently have few friends and share little intimacy with others. Their frequent loneliness, sadness, and anxiety in interpersonal relationships are maintained by a fear of rejection, which inhibits the initiation or deepening of relationships.
A typical avoidant believes, “I am socially inept and undesirable.” If someone in their social circle elicits thoughts and uncomfortable feelings stemming from these beliefs, avoidants frequently begin to avoid or “shut down” by changing the topic. Similarly, many avoidants are prone to substance abuse to distract themselves from negative cognitions and emotions.