Avoidants are people who tend to avoid other people. The avoidant attachment style usually stems from early childhood interactions with one’s primary caregivers.
While avoidants struggle with relationships, those with Avoidant Personality Disorder (APD) experience significant dysfunction and distress.
Traits of APD include:
- Social avoidance
- Feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and shame
- Hypervigilance to social threats
- Anxiety and fearfulness
- Fear of being criticized, rejected, or shamed
- Shy and reserved in social situations
- Highly self-critical
- Feeling unwelcome in social situations
Usually, personality disorders and mental health conditions create dysfunction and distress in the sufferers’ lives. Dysfunction is a fancy way of saying they can’t perform well in their careers, relationships, and other life areas.
Distress means mental distress induced by negative thoughts and emotions.
Sometimes, sufferers experience distress but not dysfunction. To take things a step further, they might even be high-functioning, which means they’re doing well in their career, relationships, and other areas.
Just because they’re doing well in different life areas doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing internal distress because the disorder or mental health condition is still there.
A relative of mine who I know is severely depressed recently got a gold medal in academics. When I came across the news, I was a bit surprised because we tend to think that mental conditions always come with dysfunction.
A high-functioning APD experiences internal distress, but they likely have adapted to their disorder well. They’ve chosen lifestyles, careers, and relationships that go along with their disorder.
High-functioning APD traits
Because they fear getting rejected socially, high-functioning APDs have an excellent ability to adapt to different social situations. They’ll behave how others want them to behave in different social situations.
While it helps them get accepted, it decreases authenticity. They feel like they have to wear a mask all the time.
2. Lone wolf
They prefer working alone because they don’t want to deal with people. They can’t focus when they’re in the presence of other people. They get hypervigilant in the presence of others, which steals attention from them that they could be devoting to work.
Working alone is also an excellent way to avoid criticism.
3. Social skills
They tend to develop good social skills. They’ll pay attention to social cues that others ignore. They’ll rehearse social behaviors in their minds and devise strategies for better performance in the future.
While all this does improve their social skills, it can get burdensome and is driven by anxiety and fear of rejection.
Hypervigilance is a double-edged sword. While it can create unnecessary problems in life, it can also increase self-awareness. High-functioning APDs tend to be very aware of how they react in different circumstances. They know their strengths and weaknesses.
They tend to be highly focused workaholics. In their minds, they can separate (compartmentalize) their disorder from their career goals. They’re trying to prove their competence badly because they’re trying to avoid criticism, real or imagined.
Those who avoid others and struggle with forming relationships have to become independent. There’s no other alternative. Self-reliance is a survival strategy when you know you can’t rely on others.
7. Selectively social
It’s not that they completely avoid other people. They tend to have a small social circle consisting of people like them who like and accept them. They feel comfortable, in control, and anxiety-free in such situations.
8. Internal distress
Even though they’re successful, the self-criticism, striving for perfection, anxiety, loneliness, and fear don’t go away.
They’re likely to get burned out because they constantly push themselves to achieve more. The constant ‘high-functioning’ can quickly become unsustainable. So they’re forced to take breaks to get back into the zone.