Do you secretly feel inferior to others, and struggle with shame?
Are you reluctant to pursue goals, take risks, or meet new people?
Are you highly sensitive to criticism, and fear rejection?
Do you assume that others see you in a negative light?
Do you try not to get too close to people?
Do you suspect that you enjoy things less than other people do?
Do you often have anxiety in social situations?
If you answered yes to some of the above, you may have an avoidant style.
But in order to qualify for a diagnosis of true Avoidant Personality Disorder, you must have all of these traits. They must cause significant impairment in your life; and they must be consistent across time and situations.
Scores of people are living their lives with Avoidant Personality disorder. And legions more don’t qualify for the full diagnosis because they have only some of the traits and fight their own private battles with them, secretly and quietly.
It is very possible to suffer silently with an intense fear of rejection, closeness or social situations but still soldier on, essentially unimpaired on the outside, but miserable on the inside.
Of all of the personality disorders, Avoidant is probably one of the least studied and least talked about. I think that’s probably because avoidant folks are quiet. You shy away from the limelight. You stay out of trouble, you stay out of the way. You don’t make waves.
So now, for a change, lets talk about you.
Have you ever thought about why you have these struggles and anxieties? Why you? Why this? Because I have. I have thought about it a great deal. I have watched and listened and talked with my patients. And I think that I have some answers.
Five Important Points About Avoidance
- Avoidance is actually nothing more than a coping mechanism.
- You developed this coping mechanism for a reason in your childhood. You needed it, and it probably served you well in your childhood home.
- When you use avoidance enough as a way to cope, it eventually becomes your “signature move.” It becomes a solution that you go to over and over again. It becomes your style.
- Avoidance feeds fear. The more you avoid what you fear, the more you fear it. Then the more you avoid it. And so on and so on and so on, around and around it goes in an endless circle, growing ever larger.
- All of the questions at the beginning of this article have one common denominator that drives them. It’s a feeling and also a belief. That common denominator is this: a deep, powerful, perhaps unconscious feeling that you are not as valid as everyone else. Somehow, on some level, you just don’t matter as much.
It is very difficult to take on challenges in life when you don’t believe in yourself. It’s hard to be vulnerable in relationships when you don’t feel on equal footing with the other person. It’s hard to put yourself out there when you feel so obviously flawed.
Now lets talk about your childhood for a moment.
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN): When your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions and emotional needs.
What happens to a child whose parents too seldom say, “What’s wrong?” and then listen with care to her answer. How does it affect a child to have parents who are blind to what he is feeling? Parents who, through probably no fault of their own, fail to offer emotional support, or fail to truly see the child for who he is?
Childhood Emotional Neglect teaches you, the child to avoid feeling, expressing, and needing. You are learning to avoid the very thing that makes you most real and the most human: your emotions. CEN is a breeding ground for shame, low self-worth, and yes:
When you grow up this way, you grow up feeling invisible, and feeling that your emotions and emotional needs are irrelevant. You grow up feeling that your emotional needs should not exist and are a sign of weakness. You grow up to feel ashamed that you have feelings and needs at all.
5 Steps to Become Less Avoidant
- Answer this question for yourself: What did you need to avoid in your childhood home?
- Accept that your avoidance is a coping mechanism that can be replaced by far better, healthier coping skills.
- Start observing yourself. Make it your mission to notice every time you avoid something. Start a list, and record every incident. Awareness is a vital first step.
- Look through the list, and notice the themes. Is there a trend toward avoiding social situations? Risks? Goals? Feelings? Needs?
- Start, little by little, one step-at-a-time, facing things. How pervasive is your avoidance? If it is everywhere of everything, I urge you to seek a therapist’s help. If you have success on your own, be persistent. Don’t give up, no matter how hard it gets.
Because the more you face things, the less scary they become, and the easier they become to face again, and the more you face. And so on and so on and so on, around and around it goes in an endless circle, growing ever larger.
But this circle is a healthy, strong circle that is a reversal of the circle of avoidance that began in your childhood. This circle will take you somewhere good.