Avoidant Personality Disorder vs. Social Anxiety Disorder

Wondering the difference between avoidant personality disorder vs social anxiety? Here are the differences and similarities.

Disclaimer: This isn’t a “tips and tricks” article for those who are experiencing avoidant personality disorder or social anxiety disorder. This is just simply an overview for those who have a loved one who was recently diagnosed with one of these conditions. For diagnosis, please see a medical professional. 

Do you ever feel anxious whenever meeting new people? And does it happen repeatedly? If so, you may think that you have avoidant personality disorder or social anxiety.

Both of these conditions affect many individuals in terms of developing relationships with others mainly because of the fear of rejection and embarrassment. 

At surface level, avoidant personality disorder and social anxiety have the same meaning. After all, they’re both about disconnecting from others in the fear of establishing relationships.

However, while there are common features, there is a slight difference to both conditions.

People with social anxiety disorder are often unsure of the cause behind their fear of interacting with others; they may fear rejection but they are often aware of their fear.

On the other hand, those with avoidant personality disorder believe that they are inferior to others, which in turn makes them believe that they will be and deserve to be rejected. 

These condition leas to social inhibition, lack of social connection, fear of social situations, avoidance of social situations and social events, fear of public speaking, poor self-image, retreating to a safe space, low self-esteem, poor relationships with family members, intense fear of social situations, negative self-talk, and/or negative patterns of thought.

Let’s learn more about avoidant personality disorder vs social anxiety.

Avoidant Personality Disorder vs Social Anxiety

Let’s first examine each mental health disorder: 

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety disorder, otherwise known as social phobia, is a condition which causes anxiety or fear in social settings.

Around 15 million of American adults are diagnosed with social anxiety, and many of these following symptoms often stem from adolescence. 

Some of the physical symptoms which people can experience include: 

  • Blushing
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Dizziness

Whereas, some psychological symptoms are: 

  • Intense worry
  • Avoiding social situations 
  • Missing school or work
  • Constant fear of interacting with others. 

However, keep in mind that social anxiety disorder exists on a spectrum.

Some people may feel socially anxious in certain situations such as presenting in front of others, whereas others may feel anxious in most types of settings. 

The causes of social anxiety disorder are vast and intersectional. There are plenty of biological (genetic), psychological (such as emotional abuse), environmental (such as substance abuse), and social factors.

Some of these risk factors include genetic causes and correlations: Researchers observed that those who have social anxiety often have changes on the SLGA4 gene, which is responsible for producing a chemical called “serotonin.”

An excess or shortage of serotonin production often causes social anxiety. 

Additionally, research also shows that parenting styles and environmental influences cause social anxiety. When parents are controlling, children often become less trustful of people, which often leads to anxiety in terms of interaction.

Moreover, bullying, family conflicts, or maternal stress can also impact a child’s self-esteem when interacting with others. 

Avoidant Personality Disorder

Avoidant personality disorder is when people experience chronic feelings of inadequacy and are highly sensitive when being negatively judged by others.

Around 2.4% of the US population is affected by avoidant personality disorder. 

Some signs and symptoms of avoidant personality disorder can be: 

  • Avoidance of activities at work that include interpersonal contact 
  • Less intimate relationships 
  • Preoccupation with criticism 
  • Reluctance to engage in activities that involved socialization

Similar to Social Anxiety Disorder, the causes of avoidant personality disorder aren’t exactly pinpointed.

Many say that the condition can be biological and passed down through genes, and some say that environmental factors also play an important role.

Early childhood trauma and neglect also leads to higher rates of avoidant personality disorder, as children may avoid interacting with others as a coping mechanism. 

Symptoms of avpd can range from severe symptoms to mild depending on the situation.

Avoidant Personality Disorder vs. Social Anxiety 

When comparing these two conditions, many researchers have come up with various conclusions.

Although both were thought to be co-occuring conditions, it was later discovered that some people who were diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder did not have the symptoms to be classified as diagnosis for social anxiety disorder.

However, it was discovered that around 32 to 50% of people who suffer from avoidant personality disorder also suffer from social anxiety.  

Moreover, people who were diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder have experienced other co-occurring conditions including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or other personality disorders. 

Unlike social anxiety disorder, avoidant personality disorder is rarely diagnosed before adulthood.

Research also shows that avoidant personality disorder and social anxiety disorder are influenced by the same genetic factors but different environmental factors.

However, childhood abuse and neglect is a common factor which people who are diagnosed with both conditions may have experienced. 

Those who are diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder may also believe that criticism or judgment against them is justified.

They are highly critical of themselves, and tend to avoid most social situations. However, for those who have social anxiety disorder, they tend to only avoid specific situations and do tend to have higher levels of self-esteem. 

How Both Conditions Can Affect Adulthood Friendships

Those with avoidant personality disorder and social anxiety disorder both want to develop friendships with others, but they’re all aware of criticism and rejection.

Those with avoidant personality disorder often find themselves in trouble when connecting with others at work and at school. However, the scenarios can look completely different. 

For example, let’s say you’re doing a group discussion and your prof tells your group to choose the spokesperson.

Someone with social anxiety disorder may not want to present in front of the class because they aren’t comfortable with speaking in front of multiple groups of people.

However, they may feel comfortable sharing their ideas with other group members in a small group. 

On the other hand, someone with avoidant personality disorder may share less of their ideas with group members as they feel uncomfortable expressing their opinion.

Moreover, they will feel less comfortable sharing their group’s ideas to the whole class because they may feel that the professor or other classmates will reject their points. 

This is to say, their comfort level with various social interactions can vary greatly.

What To Do About Both Personality Disorders – Treatment Options

Both avoidant personality disorder and social anxiety disorder can be treated with therapy. The first step to treatment is getting a correct diagnosis.

Some of these include psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy options, schema therapy, and emotion-focused therapy.

In terms of medication, most people who are diagnosed with these conditions take antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, such a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIS). These specific medications will be prescribed by your doctor.

However, if you have a partner who is diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder or social anxiety disorder, it is important to validate their feelings. You should encourage them to speak openly whenever they feel comfortable about sharing their experiences.

When they share what’s bothering them, you can be the listening ear by asking them open-ended questions, and focusing on their strengths. Let them know that you’re there to listen to their situation and are available to them.

Moreover, if you feel that you’re experiencing avoidant personality disorder or social anxiety yourself, it is best to acknowledge that your feelings are valid.

When people pressure you to get into a social situation that you aren’t comfortable with, it is best for you to recognize these challenges and give yourself breaks.

However, you can also recognize some of your positive traits and see the positive traits from the peers around you. As a result, you can work collaboratively with others while keeping your independent nature. 

In Conclusion: Avoidant Personality Disorder vs Social Anxiety

People who are diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder or social anxiety disorder may say that they have a hard time interacting with others.

Both disorders may seem similar at first, but often are different in terms of awareness and intention.

However, people suffering from both conditions do require support, compassion and empowerment in order to gain confidence in themselves to interact in social situations.

Other than forcing interaction, it is best to validate the experiences and empathize with the situation. After all, being in entirely new social settings after a terrible experience isn’t an easy feat. 

About the Author

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Candice is currently attending school for social service work. One of her passions is helping others through my writing. In her downtime, you’ll find her listening to music, watching random YouTube videos, and writing about career goals and resumes. She hopes to start freelancing for writing and obtain a leadership position in a public services sector.