Avoidant personality is classified as a personality disorder in the DSM-5, and it’s widely understood that there is no “cure” for personality disorders. But with treatment and therapy, copious research suggests symptoms can be improved, and individuals with avoidant personality can build healthy, close relationships.
Treating avoidant personality can be difficult, as the condition is a pervasive and enduring one. However, individuals with avoidant personality often genuinely want close relationships. This desire can increase their motivation to seek out and follow treatment plans. Research on treatment for social anxiety and avoidant personality even found that treatment outcomes between those with both conditions and those with only social anxiety were relatively the same.
Psychotherapy is the primary treatment for avoidant personality. Psychodynamic therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are two specific types of therapy often used to treat this condition. Psychodynamic therapy, which involves exploring unconscious factors behind feelings of inferiority, can help people resolve past conflicts that may be causing current issues. The focus of CBT, on the other hand, is the identification and modification of problematic beliefs and behaviors.
Social skills training has also been found to be an effective method for helping individuals reduce the effects of AVPD on their life. Additionally, schema therapy, in which an individual is guided through the process of identifying maladaptive thought patterns and frameworks, or schemas, and changing them, has been shown to be helpful.
While therapy is often a key element of treatment for people who experience avoidant personality, self-help strategies and healthy coping mechanisms can support good treatment results. As personality disorders, including AVPD, may be associated with some unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as escapism, practicing more functional ways of coping can be a helpful first step toward feeling better for many.
To minimize the effects of AVPD, individuals may:
- Join a support group of others who experience avoidant personality
- Reach out to others with similar challenges through online support networks
- Practice meditation to help reduce some anxiety symptoms
As personality disorders may be more resistant to treatment than generalized anxiety, many individuals report that treatment with a qualified therapist or psychologist can be critical to seeing improvement.
There is no medication approved specifically for the treatment of avoidant personality. However, doctors may prescribe antidepressants to target co-occurring anxiety or depression. Some research suggests that individuals with AVPD are more likely to be on medication than those with social anxiety but without a personality disorder.
In some cases, antipanic medication may be prescribed to individuals who experience severe anxiety responses, or panic, along with avoidant personality. However, a study published in the Journal of Personality Disorders found individuals with AVPD were more likely to relapse after going off of antipanic medication than those without a personality disorder.
Psychotherapy for comorbid avoidant personality and depression: Matilda, age 20, has recently begun attending college away from her parents’ home where she had lived previously and struggles to find consistent work in her new town to support her living expenses. She often feels she is being judged for being “too quiet” by prospective employers, making her clam up further and causing her to lose the job opportunity. Instead, she works odd jobs cleaning houses and doing landscaping work for clients she finds online. In addition to her frustration about her ability to find work, Matilda feels deeply alone. Although she shares an apartment with housemates, she often turns down their invitations to go out, feeling she is not currently in the right “mental space” to engage with them and that this would only cause them to ultimately reject her if she chose to spend time with them in her current state. Instead, Matilda isolates herself in her room and avoids entering common living spaces when her housemates are home. She begins to feel more depressed and often eats until uncomfortably full to avoid facing the deep discomfort she feels with herself. A conversation with her mother about her mental health convinces her to seek therapy for depression and possible social anxiety. After a psychological evaluation, her psychologist suggests she meets many of the criteria for avoidant personality. Matilda spends time in therapy learning about avoidant personality and examining some of her currently held thought patterns about her own social skills and ability to interact with others. While she still occasionally struggles with a desire to hold back from intimate friendships and relationships, Matilda starts to become more confident in her social skills with the help of therapy. Soon, she finds steady work, and she continues to work with her therapist to build skills that will allow her to form healthy connections with others.
- Green, M. A., & Curtis, G. C. (1988). Personality disorders in panic patients: Response to termination of antipanic medication. Journal of Personality Disorders, 2(4), 303-314. Retrieved from https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/abs/10.1521/pedi.19184.108.40.2063
- Lampe, L., & Malhi, G. (2018, March 8). Avoidant personality disorder: Current insights. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 11, 55-56. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5848673