Avoidant Personality Disorder

Many of us struggle with shyness, but 1 percent of the population suffers from avoidant personality disorder. Extreme shyness and fear of rejection make it difficult to interact socially and professionally.


Avoidant Personality Disorder is a psychiatric condition characterized by a lifelong pattern of extreme shyness, feelings of inadequacy, and sensitivity to rejection.

Personality disorders are long-lived patterns of behavior that cause problems with work and relationships. About 1 percent of the population has this disorder, which is equally divided between the sexes. An estimated 14.8 percent of American adults meet standard diagnostic criteria for at least one personality disorder.


Some common signs of avoidant personality disorder include:

  • Easily hurt by criticism or disapproval
  • Has no close friends
  • Reluctant to become involved with people
  • Avoids activities or occupations that involve contact with others
  • Shy in social situations out of fear of doing something wrong
  • Exaggerates potential difficulties
  • Shows excessive restraint in intimate relationships
  • Hold the view that they are socially inept, inferior, or unappealing to other people


The cause of avoidant personality disorder is unknown. People with avoidant personality disorder are preoccupied with their own shortcomings and form relationships with others only if they believe they will not be rejected. Loss and rejection are so painful to these individuals that they will choose loneliness rather than risk trying to connect with others.


Antidepressant medications can often reduce sensitivity to rejection. Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive/behavioral approaches, may be helpful. A combination of medication and talk therapy may be more effective than either treatment alone.

People with this disorder may have some ability to relate to others, and this can be improved with treatment. Without treatment, a person with avoidant personality disorder may become resigned to a life of near or total isolation. They may go on to develop a second psychiatric disorder such as substance abuse or a mood disorder such as depression. See your health-care provider or a psychiatrist if shyness or fear of rejection overwhelms your ability to function in life and relationships.


  • National Institutes of Health
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  • Journal of Clinical Psychiatry
  • National Library of Medicine
Last reviewed 12/27/2015