I. The introduction
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.
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.