Are You Extremely Shy? It Could be Avoidant Personality Disorder
Let’s make one thing clear first — it is okay to be shy. You don’t have to be the center of attention everywhere. Indeed, being so has its own problems. However, being the opposite — shy to the extreme — might mean that you have the Avoidant Personality Disorder. Today, we will try to explain why extreme shyness could be a mental issue and not simply a character trait.
Why do We Feel Shy
Shyness is quite common and we are all shy at one point or other in our lives. We feel shy in front of some people and bold in other situations. You may not think it so, but shyness is a kind of small fear. Or, rather, you can say shyness is the little sister of fear.
It isn’t exactly clear why do we feel shy instead of getting a fight-or-flight response. Some people who have a lesser degree of shyness but still have a healthy level of appreciation of fear, do get that response. But shyness is altogether a different story.
Research shows that people who are more shy may have a somewhat different configuration of neurons in their brains. Meaning, some people could be born shy and it would be hard to get over that. But shyness can also be induced; meaning, your life experiences could have dictated the course of shyness to your persona.
“And when shyness becomes extreme, one becomes avoidant.”
There are many small things that may cause shyness, altogether or in different scenarios. The most common causes of shyness are listed below.
- Being a little too conscious of yourself
- Having a negative self-image (thinking bad of yourself)
- Low self-esteem or self-respect
- Fear of judgment (“OMG what will they think!”)
- Fear of rejection (“What if I can’t convince him? It’s better to stay quiet then.”)
Highly reactive temperament (Meaning high sensitivity to people’s comments about yourself or your opinion/work. This can go in either direction as shyness or boldness.)
What is Avoidant Personality
The Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD) is one of the rather annoying personality issues where you are your own enemy. It is a pattern of behavior where the concerned person puts up blocks all around themselves to avoid being in touch with the real life (hence the name).
Close to social anxiety disorder (similar but not exactly the same), a person suffering from AvPD would be socially disconnected. They will have few or no friends, they will always think they are not good enough, and they will be mortally scared of failures and being rejected.
When extreme shyness and sensitivity to criticism joins hands with anxiety and real fear of meeting people to the point it develops other, physical problems (like fainting, speech issues, IBS, etc.), then it is called a Cluster C Personality Disorder. This is a very serious thing that requires medication and therapy before the person does something really bad.
Symptoms of AvPD
Avoidant personality disorder is a seriously crippling thing. Someone who has AvPD stumbles through life, dragging themselves on laboriously around social situations. Life becomes hard for them, often leading to depression. More so if the person has had traumatic pasts, or has experienced multiple failures or humiliations.
“Extreme shyness could be a mental issue and not simply a character trait.”
A person with AvPD sees the following happening in his/her life:
1. A need to have positive attention. Not like narcissism where they run on praises. But an avoidant person will be very much affected by just a little positive reinforcement. Yes, they may cry if you say two nice words to them.
2. They are not interested in activities in life. Parties, sports, group activities, etc. have little or no attraction for them. Indeed, they will positively stay away from these. Professionally this symptom is called Anhedonia.
3. They will get anxious and tense a lot when socializing. First of all, they will try to avoid such situations — but if they are forced into one, they would sweat a lot, figuratively speaking.
4. They are very much afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. So much so, that they will rather avoid the whole job than face a small potential failure. This also makes them avoid making decisions.
5. Similar to above, they would rather not propose something than risk the proposal getting rejected. And the same applies to other situations where there is a chance of rejection. You see, an avoidant person thinks that rejection is humiliation.
6. Avoidant people generally have very little self-respect. They do not think they have any value or gravity, and always find themselves getting ignored (even when they aren’t, not really). They tend to see the big picture — too big; and thus lose their own esteem.
Who Can Get AvPD
Most people are shy in some situations, but to get a real avoidant personality disorder is not common. Only 2% of the total population has this issue, as estimated by specialists.
Children are naturally shy and so they are generally not thought to have AvPD. These normal shyness traits they can grow out of in time and with experience. But if the child displays some symptoms as described above in severe condition, that may mean s/he has AvPD — though it’s most probably some shock or trauma.
The reason for that is that it takes time to develop chronic shyness, so, commonly only adults are affected by AvPD.
“Only 2% of the total population has AvPD.”
If you think that your shyness is causing actual problems in your life, then you should get diagnosed by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist. We do not recommend self-help gurus or such nonsense — throwing bland encouragement quotes at an avoidant or socially anxious person can backfire.
How to Treat Avoidant Personality
The problem with AvPD patients is that they are reluctant to come out of their shells, to begin with. So, just going up to a doctor and telling her your issues is part of the treatment itself — to accept what you have is a real problem and to be determined enough to act on it. At least, start doing something about it.
Another issue is that more often than not avoidant people will go to a doctor only about a particular issue they are facing, and they will leave when that single problem is solved. That is not nearly good enough!
Treatment of Avoidant Personality, when the patient does get up the courage to admit it, usually involves CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). This is basically talking to the patient, weeding out the roots of the problems in their subconscious mind. CBT targets negative, unhelpful thoughts and tries to clean them up.
Another way to treat AvPD is Schema Therapy, which is an upgrade of CBT and focuses on purging negative memories. In this, the therapist builds a connection with the patient and sort of “siphons away” past rejections, humiliations, and mistakes. A part of this involved giving the patient some parent-like guidance and support which they lacked in childhood.
If the patient is too severely distressed to even hold a normal conversation with the therapist, then a doctor may prescribe some anti-anxiety drugs to clear out some of the blockages first. For similar reasons, some anti-depressants may be useful as well. However, in no case should you take these drugs thinking they will cure the actual disorder! Always consult a doctor before you take any mental health drugs.
Coping with Avoidant Personality Disorder can be tough. The first step is to realize that this is an actual health issue you have and it is not your fault. Recognize the symptoms and work hard with your therapist. Try involving some friends or family in the process as well. You are important. Never forget that.