What is Avoidance Disorder?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Avoidance disorder, more properly known as avoidant personality disorder (APD) or anxious personality disorder, is a psychological condition characterized by extreme social inhibition and shyness. People who suffer from this condition usually feel very uncomfortable in public situations, and they tend to avoid social interaction and contact with other people. Avoidance disorder is not the same thing as antisocial personality disorder, in which people flout social rules and norms.

People with avoidance disorder are often very shy and withdrawn.
People with avoidance disorder are often very shy and withdrawn.

A number of criteria can be used to identify avoidance disorder. The first is the tendency to avoid social interaction, often with an awareness that certain things are being sacrificed by avoiding contact with other people. Patients also tend to feel inadequate or worthless, and they are reluctant to make friends or grow close to people because they are afraid of experiencing rejection. Social inhibition is a hallmark of avoidance disorder, as is extreme sensitivity about the thoughts and actions of other people.

People with avoidance disorder often feel uncomfortable dealing with crowds.
People with avoidance disorder often feel uncomfortable dealing with crowds.

When someone with avoidance disorder does interact with people socially, he or she may seem very shy and withdrawn. The patient often becomes obsessed with evaluating his or her own behavior, to the point that the patient rarely speaks or interacts with others out of fear of being judged unworthy. Patients also tend to over-analyze the actions of others, inflating harmless comments into serious assaults on character or failing to interpret a statement correctly. Fears about being perceived as socially awkward can unfortunately lead the patient to behave in a socially awkward or inept way.

People with avoidance disorder are introverted and may spend more time alone on the computer than out with friends.
People with avoidance disorder are introverted and may spend more time alone on the computer than out with friends.

Individuals with avoidance disorder usually start to experience symptoms as young adults. Sometimes the condition emerges in response to being isolated or alienated by peers, and in other cases it arises spontaneously. In both instances, the patient may identify as a loner, expressing feelings of alienation and discontent. Avoidance disorder often leads people to live alone, and it may be combined with things like anxiety disorders or obsessive compulsive disorder.

There are a number of treatment approaches to avoidance disorder which can be explored with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional. Extensive individual therapy sessions can be combined with group therapy to explore the underlying cause of the disorder and ways in which social anxiety and avoidance might be addressed. Some patients also benefit from the use of drug therapy in combination with other forms of therapy. Sometimes, patients may need to see several therapists before finding an individual and a treatment approach which works.

Someone with a low self-esteem may have an avoidance disorder.
Someone with a low self-esteem may have an avoidance disorder.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I feel your pain. I have been a sociaphobe for four decades at least. I have (in the distant past) experienced excessive trembling, stomach cramps and diarrhea before and during any social event. Even my lips would quiver while I talked. It was so embarrassing.

I very rarely venture out to gatherings these days and more likely, I am just not invited. My original family (i.e., my little sister and sometimes my parents) will invite me to a gathering where I will feel "okay" attending because I know what I am up against. Even then, I ask who will be there so I can feel some level of comfort or brace myself. If I feel threatened, I will find an excuse to bow out.


When I was a child, the anxiety wasn't that bad. It was just built up anger then. Now it has increased every time I have let someone close to me. I spend most of my time in my room as everyone else is downstairs.

I made one friend and once my friend got closer I became more distant. It started to tick my friend off to the point she called me a child and said my avoidance behavior was being childish. Every time I see this friend, I get anxious and feel as if they will hurt me in some way so I keep my distance. My friends say I avoid them like they are the plague.

I don't know how to change this because every time I get closer to this friend, or think of going to talk to them, my heart races, I get dizzy, and even start thinking irrational thoughts like they will harm me or that they may be using me.

My behavior has gotten worse since I made this friend due to my fears getting in my way. I have become more destructive. My friend says I treat them like crap because I go all goofy to try to hide the fact that my insides hurt so much.

I don't see my friend much and even when I do, an argument erupts because of my behavior. I also don't do very well with people raising their voice at me so I walk away.

I don't know what to do. I feel like crap when my friend judges me and calls my behavior childish when all I ever feel is fear. I take medication and get harped on making sure I stay on them since I tend to forget at times.

Sometimes I feel like I am in a fog. I feel like no one can understand what I am really feelings. I don't trust many and I avoid going to people's houses. I'm tired of my anxiety because it runs my every being.

My friend always questions me now and at times says how many phobias I have. I didn't have the best childhood. My bullying father was abusive and an alcoholic who just showed up when he wanted to. I assume everyone leaves me.

Some of the time I don't think straight, especially at night. I wish I had a better life and didn't feel like I do every time I allow someone close. I have almost ruined a friendship that is crumbling at the moment. I don't know how to not be so avoidant when it is something I have done to keep myself safe from everyone who has ever hurt me.


But why spontaneously? I have no recollection of becoming what you so eloquently described in your article. I'm a 27 year old shut-in (I do work, per se). I avoid eye contact with people while commuting in public transportation. I try to shrink and avoid, at all costs, standing out.

I've been like this for a long, long time, and all that's left that I find enjoyable is alcohol. This just proves that I'm a failure as a human being, but why? and don't mean why me, just *why*?


I hate to socialize with anyone. I avoid going anywhere. I have a twin sister who is a social butterfly. When we are together, of course people flock to her and leave me out of the conversation. which makes me feel really bad.

I usually sleep all day and get up to use the bathroom. I have been depressed for a long time. Sometimes I wish I could dig a hole and bury myself in it just so I don't have to see anyone. I work weekends and am off all week.


My daughter's father meets this criteria. I am a counselor now, but I first realized it in an abnormal psych class in college when I was searching for an answer to figure out why he is the way he is.

I get it, I do. However it doesn't make it any easier on me. He and I have been over for about 10 years now, and he is involved with my daughter in a half baked sorta way. He pretends he cares but I know he is truly incapable of caring.

Right now I am at my wits' end with the situation. There is a constant battle between us and I do my very best not to involve my daughter.

I have tried to help him, I have tried to reach out to his family, I have tried everything I know, and realize that I have to accept him the way he is, which is very very difficult for me because things he does are morally wrong!

He just doesn't get it. I have worked on this acceptance thing before but I guess when he is doing good, compliant with things, I forget and want things to be the way I want them to be. It's not going to change.

It will never change, he will never change. If a child could not change him, nothing will. At this point in my life I have got to accept this!


I am definitely what i consider to be avoidant. A loner as i like to call myself. I have self defeating behaviors and don't even know how i do it. I am doomed from all angles now.

On disability, and everybody looks at you like you are beneath them. Can't get hired anywhere, as i screwed up at the last two jobs i have had. I can't get into any schools because my gpa dropped down to a 2.00. I have absolutely made my counselor dread the days i walk in.

I can't stand to be around anyone and when i am, by the time they leave i feel like i have had all the sap drained out of me. I feel frazzled and fried at the end of every day and glad to see it come to an end so i can just go to sleep in my own little world and escape reality.

I basically wake up so i can look forward to going to sleep. It's just like i bide my time for 12 hours or so. I absolutely see no purpose other than i exist. And for no absolute reason. I just survive one day so i can survive the next.

I am totally a failure and have doomed myself til i can't be doomed anymore. The thing about it is, i don't even know how i defeat myself but i do every time. It's as though i am afraid of being happy or on the right path. It's as though i purposefully keep myself down.

I do not understand how i ended up this way. But i am, and now i absolutely don't know what to do. There is no way out. I have been backed into a corner and can't get free. I see no purpose to all of this.


oh man, this is me, to a 'T'. I have not always been this way. I became more and more isolated after my significant other, who I had been with quite a long time and who I nad really trusted, left me suddenly and completely for another woman who had been a friend to the two of us. She manipulated my trust to get at him, and once she got what she wanted, dropped all pretense of ever having cared about me. This all happened in 2007 and I think I ought to be "over it" now, and want to have new partners and friends. But social activities are so draining to me, they literally become exhausting as I try so hard to stop being so apprehensive. I have been non-employed for 21 years and cannot afford to even go to community college, so I am really hung up on how worthless people will think I am if they meet me. Everyone wants to know what your occupation is, and if you say "I am on SSI" the person who asked is already walking in the 'away' direction. I cannot get hired for a job having no people skills and even if I did, then the SSI will be cut, I will lose my apartment and be even more reviled as a street person. There seems no way out of this, it's like a moebius-strip divide-by-zero loop of epic fail. My dread of failing makes me avoid attempting to win, thus absolutely ensuring 100 percent failure. The avoidance fools my mind by causing there to be no evidence that I am no good at the socializing, romantic interactions, art, writing and such that I used to enjoy so much. P.S.: I think maybe I am going to try to start a forum for some of the folks who post on wiseGEEK about various issues related to self improvement, mental illness, and so forth. This is one of the last few net sites around that allow anonymous posts, but they don't have continuity or connectivity or any way for its users to contact one another. The forum will also be anonymous friendly but attempt to address this.

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