Children, teens and adults with Aspergers (high functioning autism) vary in personality types. One type of personality is called “avoidant.” Avoidant personality is characterized by a pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation. This type of "Aspie" is often described as being extremely shy, inhibited in new situations, and fearful of disapproval and social rejection. Avoidant personality becomes a major component of an Aspie’s overall character and a central theme in how he relates to others.
Avoidant Personality in Aspergers Adults: Case Study—
A 30-year-old computer programmer with Aspergers presents for treatment at the urging of his new girlfriend whom he met online. He describes himself as being painfully shy since childhood. There is no history of language delay, odd interests, or unawareness of social cues. On the contrary, he tends to over-interpret cues, believing that he is being negatively viewed by others. He has always had difficulty forming close friendships – not because of a lack of desire – but because of an intense fear of rejection and disapproval. He endured adolescence with difficulty as his self-esteem dropped. In college, he became absorbed in his studies and avoided most social encounters because they were so difficult for him. After graduation, he looked for work that would minimize social interaction and opportunities to be judged by others. He did manage to meet his current girlfriend through a social networking website, but she complains that he does not relate to her in an intimate manner.
Aspies with avoidant personality tend to do some of the following:
- Views self as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others
- Stays quiet or hides in the background in order to escape notice
- Shows restraint within intimate relationships because of the fear of being shamed or ridiculed
- Is unwilling to get involved with people unless certain of being liked
- Is unusually reluctant to take personal risks or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing
- Is preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations
- Is inhibited in new interpersonal situations because of feelings of inadequacy
- Drinks before social situations in order to soothe nerves
- Avoids social situations to a degree that limits activities or disrupts life
- Avoids occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact because of fears of criticism, disapproval, or rejection
The following situations are often stressful for Aspies with avoidant personality:
• Attending parties or other social gatherings
• Being called on in class
• Being teased or criticized
• Being the center of attention
• Being watched while doing something
• Eating or drinking in public
• Going on a date
• Making phone calls
• Making small talk
• Meeting new people
• Performing on stage
• Public speaking
• Speaking up in a meeting
• Taking exams
• Talking with “important” people or authority figures
• Using public bathrooms
Emotional symptoms of avoidant personality include:
- Excessive self-consciousness and anxiety in everyday social situations
- Extreme fear of being watched or judged by others, especially people you don’t know
- Fear that others will notice that you’re nervous
- Fear that you’ll act in ways that that will embarrass or humiliate yourself
- Intense worry for days, weeks, or even months before an upcoming social situation
Physical symptoms of avoidant personality include:
• Feeling dizzy or faint
• Racing heart or tightness in chest
• Red face, or blushing
• Shortness of breath
• Sweating or hot flashes
• Trembling or shaking (including shaky voice)
• Upset stomach, nausea (i.e. butterflies)
For Aspies with avoidant personality, evaluating for the presence of psychiatric disorders, particularly major depression, substance abuse, and other anxiety disorders, is extremely important. Because “social anxiety tendencies” are often found in other family members, a family psychiatric history is beneficial.
Help for Aspies with Avoidant Personality—
1. Avoid or limit caffeine. Coffee, tea, caffeinated soda, energy drinks, and chocolate act as stimulants that increase anxiety symptoms.
2. Challenge negative, unhelpful thoughts that trigger and fuel social anxiety, replacing them with more balanced views.
3. Drink only in moderation. You may be tempted to drink before a party or other social situation in order to calm your nerves, but alcohol actually increases your anxiety in the long run.
4. Face the social situations you fear in a gradual, systematic way, rather than avoiding them.
5. Get adequate sleep. When you’re sleep deprived, you’re more vulnerable to anxiety. Being well rested will help you stay calm in social situations.
6. Learn how to control the physical symptoms of social anxiety through relaxation techniques and breathing exercises.
7. Quit smoking. Nicotine is a powerful stimulant. Smoking leads to higher, not lower, levels of anxiety.
8. Take a social skills class or an assertiveness training class. These classes are often offered at local adult education centers or community colleges.
9. Volunteer doing something you enjoy, such as walking dogs in a shelter, or stuffing envelopes for a campaign — anything that will give you an activity to focus on while you are also engaging with a small number of like-minded people.
10. Work on your communication skills. Good relationships depend on clear, emotionally-intelligent communication. If you find that you have trouble connecting to others, learning the basic skills of emotional intelligence can help.
The opposite of the "avoidant personality" is the "approach personality," which is discussed in another post (click here).