Saturday, April 3, 2010

Behavioral Contagion: Avoidant Personality Disorder

Avoidant Personality Disorder

Individuals with Avoidant Personality Disorder can become isolated from other people in a way that looks superficially similar to the schizoid personality type.

The big difference is that the schizoid really does not want, or feel, the need to have a relationship with anyone. They are content in their state of relative social isolation. The avoidant individual is actually lonely, unhappy, and desirous of close and loving relationships. But, after seeking and acheiving a relationship with someone, they thenbegin to withdraw from it. This process may repeat itself many times, and is likely to destroy marriages, romantic relationshops and friendships.

What appears to stand in their way of achieving lasting intimacy is their fear of criticism, fear of appearing inadequate, and fear of being rejected by those who with whom they wish to be close. These individuals withdraw from relationships because and they are uncomfortable with psychological intimacy and they fear shame, ridicule, and failure. They struggle to overcome feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, but they are inhibited and become isolated by these feelings.

If someone with these avoidant tendencies does find the courage to enter an intimate relationship with someone, they are apt to vacillate in and out of it until the relationship is destroyed. These anxieties about inadequacy are pervasive and they can inhibit other social, vocational, recreational and educational opportunities. Through it all, those with avoidant personality features feel lonely and unfulfilled.

A Representative Example

A handsome, bright, and articulate man in his thirties once sought counseling because of his distress in a relationship with his fiancee. His chief complaint was that she was the perfect woman for him, but “he could not help doing the things that damaged their relationship” and made it less likely that they would ever marry.

He would purposefully be late for their various dates and other events. He would not call for long periods of time and at other times would be quiet and cool in their relationship for reasons that he could not understand. At other times he would “pull himself together” and be especially attentive and caring to her, before he slipped into another cycle of avoidance of intimacy. The man was deeply distressed and perplexed by his inability to form a lasting intimate relationship a woman and he recounted many such failed attempts in the past with other girlfriends. Not only was he very unhappy, but so were the ones that he attempted to have relationships with.

Possible Causes

Therapists have found that individuals showing avoidant personality symptoms often were shamed and ridiculed by parents, who were highly critical and who did not showed much love and affection. It is thought that children so treated are in danger of “internalizing” (believing that such treatment reflects their true nature) and then continuing this treatment of themselves in their own thinking.

Many clinicians also think that this culture’s high rates of divorce can traumatize children into fearing such outcomes in their own lives if they attempt to have close and enduring relationships with others. In fact, this appeared to be the case with the man described above. The divorce of his parents was an exceedingly painful loss for him and (as typical of children) he had feared that he might have had something to do with it, hence his feelings of being flawed and inferior in some ways.

This is another example of bad behavioral contagion. There are conditions under which divorce is advisable such as abuse, chronic addiction, or chronic infidelity. However, I believe that divorce is very bad for the children involved and some of the effects are fairly subtle.

Often the tendency of young adults to remain single longer than in the past, and to divorce at alarmingly high rates, is attributed to various socio-economic factors,. The spread of relationship insecurities within our population, now called Avoidant Personality Disorder, contributes to this trend and it self-propagates through the mechanisms of behavioral contagion.

Dr. Tom 4/3/10

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