Aspergers and the "Avoidant Personality" Type

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).

==> Living With Aspergers: Help for Couples


Unknown said...

This is very interesting, but I am confused about how this differs from extreme social anxiety. Are you saying these characteristics develop along with other Aspie tendencies?

Anonymous said...

Lisa Zahn This sounds like my 14 year old son, who became much worse when puberty hit.
2 hours ago · Like
Betty Rossborough-Nichols Sound just like my 26 year old son and it's getting worse as he ages.
2 hours ago · Like
Betty Rossborough-Nichols After many years of dealing with him...all I can say is "welcome" to the club. It doesn't get any better no matter what. You can't say a thing to him without him taking it the wrong way and him getting angry then isolating himself.
2 hours ago · Like
Carol Harding Sounds like me!
about an hour ago · Like
Lisa Zahn Gee thanks, Betty. That's hard to hear. I can only have hope, at this point...and his teachers at high school tell me there is hope, that these kids often do better as puberty wanes and they become adults. The advice given in this article is really for an older, higher functioning adult. Not sure what else can be done at this point. My son won't even say a word to a doctor or psychologist. He does okay in school, though.

Mark Hutten, M.A. said...

Avoidant personality is usually a coping method used when one has social anxiety issues. Social anxiety and "avoidance tendencies" are often part of the Aspergers experience for many - but not all. Some have an "approach personality" where they get in your face and talk your ear off.

Anonymous said...

Lisa Zahn True, most Aspies I have met are "in your face" social without reading the cues that it's too much. My son is definitely more avoidant so it's very helpful for me to read this.
5 hours ago · Like
A Is For Apple, Inc. (Therapy Services) We have helped several children with Aspergers and the description of the "Avoidant Personality" Type is pretty accurate

Anonymous said...

My son is avoidant. We are working with his therapist though to overcome it somewhat if we can so that he doesn't disconnect and shut himself off from people so much.
11 minutes ago · Like

Mark Hutten, M.A. said...

Re: Is it possible for an Aspie to have some of the characteristics from both "avoidant" AND "approach" personality styles.

Answer: Yes... but the Aspie in question will tend to gravitate toward one style more than the other. An 80% to 20% ratio is typical (i.e., the child exhibits approx. 80% of the traits from one personality style - and about 20% from the other).

Anonymous said...

having aspergers myself & being in my late twentys the best advice i can give to the younger folks is this. over the years my siblings and i have devolped gentle teasing ive adjusted to this over the years, siblings are closer and may not be viewed as much of a THREAT. additionally pets are ALWAYS good,provided your not allergic, Animals won't judge, good talking companions for troubled teens and good for getting axiety down. I think the soda coffee thing is rediculous chemically it may make sense socially if they drink less or none it singles them out more. Puberty is ALWAYS a pain regardless of autism or not its like a carousel for normal folk its like a tilt o whirl for autistic folk id say not only can you not clearly see where you are in space seeing others is even more difficult. Simple questions and relations make alot of sense here. Confirming that you are ok with your childs sexuality may go a long way. It takes the am i fitting in stress off.

Momma Leelee said...

I see the same thing in my son. He is 14 and has therapist but it doesn't seem to make a difference. And if I take him to the doctor he clams up and looks at me for all of the talking. But as for making friends that doesn't happen. He's a good kid and does well in school, but thinks that all the kids hate him or they won't talk to him. I have no idea how to help him, and can only hope that it does get better.

Anonymous said...

Hello. First of all thanks for your useful websites. I am just surfing to diagnose my disorders correctly. I have been disappointed by psychologists as most of them just diagnose the disorders theoretically and generally. I am pretty sure that I have severe inattention ADHD but doubt about ASD (Autism), AvPD and RSD. If we disregard Autism (although online tests shows my mild ASD), I am very confused between AvPD and RSD (Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria) as they have very similar symptoms and internal/external appearances. Can you please distinguish between AvPD and RSD? I know that DSM-5 doesn't include RSD as a disorder or even a symptom of ADHD and ASD.


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