It is not uncommon for adolescents and teens to struggle with a certain degree of shyness. As young men and women, they enter high school with a certain degree of apprehension about what the next four years (and the years after that) will look like. The teen years are a time of new relationships, first loves, lost friends, breakups, academic achievements and anxieties, and a host of other emotionally challenging situations.
Part of high school and the teen years requires meeting and socializing with new people. For someone who is shy, this can be understandably challenging but not abnormal. However, a small segment of the population struggles with shyness so severe it results in significant social and functional inhibition.
Understanding Avoidant Personality Disorder
Someone who struggles with avoidant personality disorder experiences extreme shyness and overwhelming fear of rejection from those they interact with. For teens in adolescents who struggle with this, these emotions can bring about significant difficulties with academic, professional, and social interactions. Avoidant personality disorders may result in adverse challenges in relationships, at home with family, or academically at school. A teen with an avoidant personality disorder may reject opportunities (such as a new job, a position on a sports team, or a role in a play) due to fears of criticism or judgment from others. In terms of personal interactions such as those they would have with a best friend or boyfriend/girlfriend, an avoidant personality disorder can cause significant preoccupation with one’s own shortcomings and fears of rejection forming such relationships becomes nearly impossible.
Because of how a teen with an avoidant personality disorder views loss and rejection, it is common for them to prefer loneliness rather than risk connecting with someone else only to lose that relationship. An avoidant personality disorder is not considered a common mental health diagnosis. It is estimated that only about 2% of the population (equally divided among males and females) meets the diagnosis criteria.
What Causes Avoidant Personality Disorder?
Like many mental health conditions, the exact cause of avoidant personality disorder remains unknown. It is thought that genetics, along with other environmental factors such as parental rejection or peer rejection, may play a role in this condition. For many who are diagnosed with an avoidant personality disorder, the condition is generally a lifelong illness despite receiving comprehensive mental health treatment at a teen-focused treatment facility such as Beachside. For some, symptoms of avoidant personality disorder begin in infancy or as a toddler. For these youth, symptoms such as shyness, isolation, and avoidance of strangers and new places are common. Most people who are shy in their early years tend to grow out of the behavior. However, those who develop avoidant personality disorder will become increasingly timid as they enter adolescence and adulthood. Because it is not uncommon for infants and young children to exhibit shyness or avoid strangers, the early signs of avoidant personality disorder are often ignored by members of the medical community as they are considered “normal behavior.”
Who Is At Risk for Avoidant Personality Disorder?
Due to the difficulties with understanding the causes of avoidant personality disorder, it is equally challenging to understand or predict who will develop an avoidant personality disorder. Teens who have the condition are typically very shy as children and do not grow out of that rate as they age. However, it is important to note that not every child who is shy as an infant or toddler will go on to develop an avoidant personality disorder. Likewise, not every adult who is outwardly or abnormally shy meets the criteria for a diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder.
Statistically, there is no evidence to show avoidant personality disorder as being more common in any particular race or ethnicity. There is also no common link between environmental factors such as financial security, educational background, or family history. Interestingly, several prominent celebrities have struggled with an avoidant personality disorder, including The King of Pop, Michael Jackson. The primary family link could relate to parental abandonment in infancy or childhood; however, there is limited statistical evidence at this time to support such a connection.
From a parental perspective, it can be challenging to determine if your teen’s shyness is a natural part of growth and development or an early sign of avoidant personality disorder. If you notice your teen’s shyness becoming more of a challenge to their day-to-day activities, it may be time to consider talking to their primary care provider or a member of the team here at Beachside about your concerns. Due to the nature of avoidant personality disorder, the symptoms your teen experiences are not likely to resolve on their own. On the contrary, they may continue to worsen, eventually having irreversible or detrimental impacts on your teen’s peer relationships, self-esteem, emotional security, or academic successes.
Recognizing Avoidant Personality Disorder
The hallmark symptom of avoidant personality disorder is an excessive fear of rejection. If your teen struggles with an avoidant personality disorder, they may have overwhelming difficulties interacting at school or in social settings. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition), there are several common signs of an avoidant personality disorder parents can watch more. Some of these include fear of rejection, fear of disapproval, and anxieties of being embarrassed by peers.
Teens with an avoidant personality disorder may also be highly sensitive to criticism or suggestions that can be viewed as criticism. Unlike peers in their age group, teens who struggle with avoidant personality disorder are likely to be reluctant when it comes to involvement in situations that require contact or interaction with other people. They are also more likely to show excessive restraint in intimate relationships. Fears of close personal relationships typically result in few or no close friends, and a potentially self-destructive avoidance of activities were social situations that involve contact with others. You may notice your teen is unwilling to take risks or try new things edit fear that they may embarrass themselves, feel socially inept, or seem unappealing to other people. They may also exaggerate potential challenges or voices that they’re having trouble believing people could possibly like them or want to be friends with them.
Treating and Overcoming Avoidant Personality Disorder
The most effective treatment for an avoidant personality disorder is psychotherapy at a teen-focused treatment center like Beachside. Your teen’s mental health team at Beachside may use various forms of therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or psychodynamic therapy as part of a comprehensive and evidence-based treatment model. The goal of treatment is to help your teen identify and examine their unconscious beliefs about themselves and how others perceive them. Therapy sessions also aimed to help enhance and better day to day function, both socially and in academic settings.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is a form of talk therapy. During a therapy session, a therapist trained in cognitive behavioral interventions helps participants recognize and replace unhealthy beliefs and thought processes with those that are helpful or “healthy.” The therapist will also encourage your teen to test and examine their thoughts and ideas to see if they have a functional basis. While learning about and addressing existing thoughts and behaviors will also help your teen develop healthier thoughts and beliefs.
Psychodynamic therapy is another form of talk therapy. The goal of this therapy model is to help your teen become more aware of unconscious thoughts. It can help your teen understand how past experiences influence their current behavior and perceptions of their surroundings. It also allows them to examine and resolve past emotional conflicts and painful situations that could contribute to avoidant symptoms. Once past issues are addressed and resolved, your teen can move forward with a healthier outlook on themselves and an improved view of how others see them. Psychodynamic therapy has proven to produce long-lasting results with continuing benefits that persist well after treatment has ended.
To date, there are not any medications approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration to treat personality disorders, including avoidant personality disorder. However, your teen’s primary care provider or mental health therapist may prescribe antidepressant medications or anti-anxiety medications if they have co-occurring mental health conditions related to avoidant personality disorder.
Without proper treatment, the symptoms of avoidant personality disorder will not subside on their own. Teens who do not receive treatment for an avoidant personality disorder may further isolate themselves, bringing about the development of other mental health conditions, including depression and agoraphobia. Also, increased isolation can result in an elevated risk of substance abuse disorders in people of all ages. Contrary to some popular opinions, treatment for avoidant personality disorder does not change your teen’s personality. Seeking treatment from a mental health provider or at a treatment facility like Beachside can help your teen learn to manage the overwhelming feelings of fear that come with an avoidant personality disorder. These fears and concerns limit your teen’s ability to function in their day-to-day life and significantly inhibit their ability to form meaningful and lasting relationships.
If you are concerned that your teen’s shyness may be a sign of avoidant personality disorder, reach out to the team at Beachside to learn more. With proper treatment, your teen can learn to manage the symptoms of their illness and develop vital coping skills that can help them participate actively in academic and social settings, which are crucial to healthy growth. At Beachside, we provide individualized treatment plans designed around your teen’s unique treatment needs and goals. We understand the decision to send your teen to treatment can be difficult and painful for parents and family. Our admissions team and treatment counselors ensure parents are involved in each step of their teen’s treatment beginning with admission and ending with comprehensive aftercare. Our treatment team is just a phone call away.