Imagine being very shy, feeling extremely awkward around others and having constant fear of rejection for most of your life. This type of behavior pattern would make it difficult for anyone to have relations with people at work, school or practically any place where there is contact with people. This behavior pattern is called Avoidant Personality Disorder. To help understand Avoidant Personality Disorder, I have interviewed Psychologist Dr. Norlydia F. McBee.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a licensed psychologist with a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Auburn University. I completed my pre-doctoral internship with the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobiology at The University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center. I also obtained a post-doctoral year of supervised experience. I am a member of the American Psychological Association and the Georgia Psychological Association.”
“I have a private practice in Carrollton, Georgia where I specialize in the assessment and treatment of adults and adolescents (ages 13+). In my practice, I see a wide range of mental health disorders, but have a special interest in the areas of mood disorders, infertility, loss and grief, adoption issues (e.g., adult adoptees, birth mothers), divorce and separation, and relationship issues.”
What is avoidant personality disorder? What are the signs and symptoms of someone who has Avoidant Personality Disorder?
“Let me first explain that a personality disorder is one that is primarily related to how an individual relates to others and perceives the world. It is a diagnosis that focuses on long-term personality traits vs. states (such as the mood “state” of sadness or fear). The effect of a “state” is within the individual with a disorder, while the effect of a personality disorder (trait) is typically outward (its primary affect is on the relationship between the individual and the world). As with most all diagnoses, a traits or group of traits becomes a “disorder” when the trait or traits significantly affect how well a person is able to adapt to his or her environment (and as part of that, whether the trait or traits are having a negative impact on the person’s social, family, work, or school functioning).”
“That being said, the “Avoidant” type of personality disorder is one in which an individual is fearful of others and is often apprehensive. The pattern typically includes self-deprecation, marked social discomfort, and pervasive social alienation. Avoidant personalities differ from the Schizoid Personalities in that the former desire closeness with others, but fear precludes them from becoming close (the latter do not desire closeness). Moreover, individuals with Avoidant Personality Disorder often experience both dysphoria (sadness) and exhibit other behaviors that stem from their basic social fears (e.g., constant scanning of their environment for potential threats, difficulty concentrating due to repetitive thoughts).”
What type of impact does Avoidant Personality Disorder have on a person’s life? “Individuals with Avoidant Personality Disorder are extremely sensitive to rejection and shame. They are very often not willing to place themselves into any social environment. Clearly, this reticence can mean that many individuals with Avoidant Personality Disorder will live their lives without social support, may not be educated or employed to their potential because of the social requirements required to obtain an education and a job or simply due to their profound self-doubt.”
“Unfortunately, sometimes the steps that they take to avoid humiliation and rejection may in fact lead them directly into the path of humiliation and rejection ‘” others may view their behavior as strange. The impact on their lives can be quite substantial in that we live in a social world ‘” disabling fear of approaching and relating to others will impact almost every aspect of an individual’s life.”
What type of help is available for someone who has Avoidant Personality Disorder?
“Because Avoidant Personality Disorder is the result of long-standing patterns of behavior that begin long before adulthood, treatment is often difficult. Psychotherapy (e.g., cognitive restructuring), particularly short-term therapy that is solution-focused, can be helpful for individuals with Personality Disorders (including the Avoidant type). However, there are some significant barriers to lasting improvement. For example, with the Avoidant Personality, treatment is particular difficult since these individuals fear the very interaction with health care providers that would be necessary for treatment. Even those who begin treatment often terminate prematurely. Medication is sometimes helpful in reducing the Avoidant individual’s anxiety to the degree that he/she is willing to face their fears and seek treatment. But medication is an incomplete answer and should be viewed only as an adjunct treatment.”
What last advice would you like to leave for someone who has Avoidant Personality Disorder?
“Even long-term, pervasive patterns of behavior can be changed with enough motivation. Treatment is not a passive process however; it requires action and effort from the individual being treated. Perhaps the first step, if the fear is overwhelming, is to discuss medication options with one’s primary care physician if there is some relationship already established with that physician (note that some of the anti-depressants, such as Paxil, often work quite well for the kind of anxiety these individuals experience). That physician may be able to recommend a Psychologist in the local area who works with individuals with Avoidant Personality Disorder if the medication is successful in reducing the anxiety to the degree the individual is willing to engage in psychotherapy.” Thank you Dr. Norlydia F. McBee for the interview. If you would like more information about Dr. Norlydia F. McBee please check out her website at drmcbee.com.