Overcoming Avoidant Personality and Social Anxiety, part 1 – theory

I. The introductionchildren-reading-art-children_bw_small

Everything described here stems from my personal struggle with Avoidant Personality Disorder. It appeared in my life suddenly when I was eight, turning my life to existence filled with shame and little joy. For another fourteen years I struggled to live with it, knowing that something is very wrong, but not being sure what is it exactly and how to deal with it.

In my early twenties, I finally started actively searching for a solution, terrified by the prospect of doomed future. Half a year later I was for the first time reading DSM criteria for Avoidant Personality Disorder, struck by the exact match with every one of them. The definition was here, but there was no solution to be found, no cure, no guidelines. I was fighting chaotically, searching and trying different methods. However, it wasn’t a magic method that saved me then, but the persistence. Thanks to it, I was able to slowly diminish the symptoms, establish a family, have a good job and live a happier, but still not good enough, life.

Only a year ago, after seventeen years of fighting and researching, I came to a theory reliably explaining the causes and background of Personality Disorders. Subsequently, based on this theory, I developed a set of self-work practices and have been using them since then. The results so far are promising and, by sharing this, I hope to help others as well.

I’m continuously improving and enhancing this theory. Read it with understanding and a critical eye.


  • Avoidant Personality Disorder and Social Anxiety are similar disorders, differing mostly in the level of severity. The described methods are dedicated to both of them, with only occasional exceptions.
  • Please read the previous posts [about building the personality and development of personality disorders] for better understanding of the presented concepts. Nonetheless, they will be abstracted in this post as well.

II. Building of the personality

The first thing to understand is that we are not isolated beings, but part of the greater whole, call it the Nature, Society or the World. We evolved like this and each of us was born destined to be a part of this World. The personality, is here understood as a structure in the brain, that defines our place in the World. It is filled with the pattern created from our relations with the World, like the beautiful, colorful fabric or the nest built with thousands of twigs. Threads and twigs represent the relations with other people, mostly from the childhood period.

Infancy is the first stage when, our almost empty then, personality is filled with the basic foundations by our primary caregivers – it’s built from their relations toward us, from love and acceptance. As childhood progresses, next layers are being assembled and attached to previous ones, filled by relations with other important people in our surroundings and later with our peers and colleagues.

The progress of this construction seems to be well defined and controlled. It goes layer after layer, controlled by innate mechanism opening and closing subsequent development phases.

At the end, we will have this wonderful, extremely complicated, and beautiful construction, called personality – core of our self. It will direct us through life with confidence, love, sense of belonging and happiness …

III. How it is broken

… except sometimes it fails.

In case of Avoidant Personality Disorder the beginning is promising. The first layer, the very basic foundation build in infancy, seems to be correct. More or less, but still good enough. It is good information as we avoided the fate of the Borderlines, but the later, the worse. Next layers build in early childhood are still constructed, but construction is a mess. Emerging connection patterns make a chaotic pile of connection, sometimes accepting, sometimes rejecting, often contradicting with each other. The construction finally stops, unable to being continued.

Then we enter another phase where relations with peers are supposed to be main building blocks, but the personality construction field is already halted and the broken personality sees rejection in every outside relation.

In normal circumstances the rejection is not a bad thing, it is built into the child’s personality to show the ways it shouldn’t go, expose the threats that should be avoided. However, if the caregiver demonstrates inconsistent behavior and too much of undeserved rejections, then the construction will be broken.

  • note: the genes may also influence this process by disturbed relation assessing, e.g. taking the neutral or positive signals for rejection.

There is another kind of distorted connection: the engulfment. The rejection’s kin, but opposite in some aspects. It is possessive and subjective love aimed at enslavement. The personality of an Avoidant is often also filled with this kind of connections with not much less proportion comparing to rejections.

IV. The inside and outside

Most of the personality disorders have one thing in common, that differentiate sufferers from people with healthy, well constructed, personality. Disordered people obtain the sense of belonging, the direction, mostly from the outside. They cannot do otherwise because their inner personality structures are damaged and unfinished.

Apart from patching the holes in the personality, the outside relations are used for some other strange purposes.

  • Narcissists and Histrionics must fuel their defence mechanism, using adoration and attention from the outside.
  • Schizoids, seemingly shy away from the outside world, but they build their own made-up fantasy world to fill their needs. This fantasy world should be also counted as the outside.
  • Avoidants and Borderlines craves for caregivers approval and try to obtain it from people around them. Unfortunately the approval is used only for short time elation, nothing is built from it. It is thrown away as suspicious or being the potential for future rejection.
    The defence mechanisms that lie at the core of Narcissistic, Histrionic and Schizoid Personalities are also present. Often all of them and well developed. Thankfully, they are not completed, therefore, not “protecting” the whole personality, leaving some space for insight and self work.

The behavior of the Personality Disorder sufferer is therefore mostly driven by outside influence making the life fake, tough and confusing. Moreover, the outside relations do not contribute to personality development. The improvement chances look therefore very bleak.

V. Reconstruction

The idea proposed below is simple. Every relation has two participants, every connection has two ends. One end is you and the second one is some other person. It doesn’t matter from which end the connection was initiated. If it doesn’t work from the outside we may as well do this from the inside. You can build connections and your personality by yourself.

As mentioned earlier, what comes from the outside is mostly wasted or thrown away, even the good, accepting relations. However, if we evoke the sincere connection from ourselves to the others, the situation is different. Such connection, if well prepared, will be useless for defence mechanisms and approval’s craving, will also not pose a threat. Such connection may have a fair chance to omit the obstacles and stay in the personality. It can become another twig in the nest.

To understand, what makes the connection “well prepared” see two simple examples:

  • Saying to the other person, even sincerely: “you look good”, is a bad idea. It either creates in our mind an immediate expectation that the other will like us back for it, or it will bring the fear of rejection of being silly. In both cases it will be lost: consumed by the need for acceptation or defence mechanisms, or just thrown away.
  • The situation is different if we relate to others, without letting them know. Consider sincerely thinking about your friend: “you are beautiful and unique person”. It doesn’t bring any threat, as we cannot expect a negative reaction from the other person – he/she just doesn’t know about it. For the same reason we cannot expect anything positive, so the defence mechanisms, or approval need won’t consume it.

We need dozens of thousands of such connections. We need to manually rebuild what is normally built during most of the childhood. It will be an arduous and time consuming task, but worthwhile.
I also believe that after the most severely damaged parts will be repaired, the outside relations will begin to be accepted again, contributing to personality construction. Perhaps slower than in childhood, but still.

Will continue in the next post, moving towards more practical information.

12 thoughts on “Overcoming Avoidant Personality and Social Anxiety, part 1 – theory

    1. Thank you for your comment.
      Yes, I was self diagnosed. I was so mortified by simplest everyday interactions that visiting the therapist and being diagnosed was impossible to even consider.
      I did have AvPD – if you tell me why you think otherwise I can try to resolve your doubts. It is important for me that you and others believe for genuineness of my disorder, without this you won’t believe the self work plan I present here.


  1. Hello. I definitely think there is something to this. I’ve notices before that when I think nicely about someone in my mind, I then feel good about myself. It is like it slowly increases my self acceptance. Often I will notice when I’m thinking loving thoughts towards someone, and it feels kind of narcissistic that I notice it but it makes me feel better about myself and I tell myself that I’m allowed to feel like a good person, and that my thoughts about the other person are still sincere. I start to trust myself more and trust in my own abilities to love. But I can be oh so judgemental too, and I’m working on that.

    Just found your blog today. I was reading one of your Quora answers 🙂 I’m looking forward to read some more of your material.

    Best regards,


    1. Thank you for your comment.
      I was myself wondering many times whether my particular feeling toward other was sincere and validated or it was the result of my condition – I think most often they are both. I agree with your attitude – don’t judge yourself, let the narcissistic part just be there and cultivate the sincere one.
      As for judgments: the better our condition, the more judgmental we become – at least at the beginning. It is because we cease to see/feel others in a child-parent manner, step by step we start feeling them as ordinary persons. Our emotions will transform, less shame, more anger and resentment. This is actually a good sign, indicating the next stage of healing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi. I’m back and once again thankful for all the work you put into this. but, I realize there is not much reference, other than on this page, of genetically inheriting this disorder. I came from good caregivers and although they had their struggles, I was important to them and loved by them. This has made me wonder about how/why I exhibit these criteria. You said it could be because of disturbed relation assessing, and my dad’s family side had some trauma and I have noticed OCD in a sibling of his. Is trauma inherited and could that lead to disturbed relation assessing?


    1. Welcome back cahill 🙂

      From what I know the inheritance to environment influence ratio in personality disorders is about 55%-45% (the numbers differs a lot from research to research and between the different disorder – so this is an average)
      It means that genes and environment/upbringing influence the PD development similarly, however genes have slightly stronger influence. It means that with “unfortunate” gene combination you can develop the disorder even in average or very slightly adverse environment.

      Yes, the trauma can be inherited. The DNA structure itself cannot be changed by trauma, but the trauma can affect gene expression in DNA. It means that some genes from DNA can get dormant, why other more active – in response/defense to trauma. This effect can be passed to children and continue for a few generations.

      The environment often has adverse effect even if it’s not seen in the first place:
      a) The very first years of life are crucial period and we do not remember the first 2 to 4 years of life – so we don’t know for sure if it was ok. There could be some childhood upbringing beliefs that parents thought were good, but in fact were very harmful. There could be some other random circumstances, like forced long job hours of the parents, some tragedy/death in family, long post-natal depression, abusive babysitter, etc. (The extreme and moving example can be found in the book “The boy who was raised as a dog and other stories”, “The coldest heart” chapter)
      b) It is generally common that children perceive everything in their homes as “normal”. They simply don’t know other environment (we all perceive “the familiar” as “the normal”, especially in childhood). It is true even if the home environment is very far from being normal. Even severe abusive environment is often recognized only in therapy (really common “discovery” in therapeutic offices) or only later in adulthood.
      c) The adverse behavior of the caregivers can also be really slight, so almost undetectable, and still have very adverse effect on child psyche. The parents may be emotionally shallow and mistake social hierarchy and achievements for love, or maybe even want and try to show love but don’t know (and feel) how. They may also love children deeply, but have own mental problems, and because of them cannot express the love in coherent way. e.t.c. For example it can be expressed by:
      – emotional distance of the caregiver, while all the psychical needs are provided and stating verbally that child is loved
      – conditional love (e.g. contingent on child achievements or good behavior or being subordinate to parents will)
      – chaotic, inconsistent feedback, sometimes accepting/loving, sometimes cold/rejecting in the same circumstances
      – invasive love: trying to control/interfere with each aspect of child’s life
      – over-protection, similar to above
      It can disturb personality development or make it weaker and undeveloped. It not necessary may cause mental problems alone – but it makes child psyche susceptible to adverse experience with other people later in life (like with peers in elementary school – it can be really hard period). Such experiences can then easily elicit mental problems.

      I don’t know if any of above apply to you, but I hope this helps,


      1. Wow, this was very informative and spot on. In a way, are you saying that genes could lead to a child who is more susceptible to any adverse environment? The elementary school reference I related to directly. This was very helpful. I appreciate the accurate and informative response.


        1. Thanks, I’m glad I could help 🙂

          As for the genes and environment: Let’s assume (only for simplicity) that AvPD is caused by a single trait called Avoidance. The Avoidance is then highest in people with AvPD, moderate in people with minor social anxiety and lowest in open, social people with no social anxiety at all.
          By saying that AvPD is 55% heritable the Statistics tells us that in whole population, changes in Avoidance can be in 55% explained by changes in genes and in 45% by changes in environment. It tells nothing else. In particular it does not tell how the genes or environment influence Avoidance and does not tell how genes and environment interact with each other.

          So yes, I’m saying that genes could lead to a child who is more susceptible to adverse social environment. But this is only my personal opinion – it is not based on official researches, because official researches do not provide such detailed explanations.


  3. I’ve been grappling with severe social anxiety (or probably, I now realize, avoidant personality) for decades. I read voraciously, yet the ideas I’m encountering in this blog are almost wholly unfamiliar to me. I feel there’s something important here, even as I’m struggling to understand it. Thank you for sharing.


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