The usual onset for APD ís early adulthood, with an equal prevalence rate among women & men (APA). According to one study however, (Greenberg & Stravynski, 1985) most of the people being referred for professional help for social dysfunction, considered to be the same disorder as APD by Marks (1987), were single men. One suggested hypothesis for this finding ís that society expects men to be the initiators ín romantic relationships. Therefore, when they do not form relationships, ít ís seen as more of a problem than women who do not initiate relationships but are not expected to ín any case (Marks). Millon & Everly have suggested 6 dimensions onto which the symptoms of APD can be mapped.
Avoidants do exhibit the stereotypical traits of shyness, timidity & withdrawing behavior although sometimes they appear as aloof. To those who know them well, the avoidants mistrust of others may also be apparent as an almost constant wariness. However, Kantor (1993) argues that behavioral hostility ís also typical of those suffering with APD. Avoidants may use their shyness as a way to hurt others by preventing them from becoming close. Alternatively, they will demonstrate their hostility ín a more overt manner by insulting people who attempt to be friendly, for example. This reaction may be because they are identifying their aggressor & deal with feared rejection by becoming rejecting themselves. These expressions of hostility could be seen as defensive fight responses. To protect themselves from being rejected, they reject others first. This ís maladaptive because the avoidants will tend to reject many people who would never have rejected them ín the first place.
In terms of appearance, íf ít ís affected at all by APD, ít will tend to be affected ín one of 3 ways. 1st, avoidants may put considerable time & effort into making themselves attractive to others. The idea behind this ís, at least they will be liked for their looks, íf not for themselves. 2nd, they may consciously, or unconsciously, ensure that their appearance drives others away. This provides them with some control over their lives. Rather than waiting helplessly to be rejected, they ensure rejection from the start by their own actions. 3rd, ín the case of avoidants who are suffering from PTSD, for example, they may dress ín the style of the era when the trauma occurred. This form of dress ís an indication that they are living ín the past.
Speech ís may also be affected ín APD. Avoidants may be quite silent. As Jerome Kagan explains, For a rabbit, freezing on a lawn ís a sign of fear. I believe that speechlessness ís a similar diagnostic sign for us Theres a circuit ín the brain that controls our vocal cords & becoming quiet can be one sign of fear. (Galvin, 1992). When they do speak, avoidants may use frequent pauses & speak slowly (Millon & Everly). This ís contrary to what we read regarding social phobia, where pauses ín speech tended to be avoided because they were thought to be a sign of lack of knowledge. Avoidants may also be overtalkative, possibly due to an adrenic discharge or a false belief, such as continuously talking will prevent death. For avoidants who try to put people off with their behavior, insults or social faux pas are commonly used as a way to assure rejection (Kantor). While this does essentially realize their worst fear, ít does again give avoidants some control over how others react to them.
Avoidants often test others to determine whether or not they are being sincere ín their friendliness. Because they may frequently see rejection where ít does not exist, people will tend to fail these tests & then later be avoided because they may reject or humiliate those with APD (Millon & Everly). They will, therefore, frequently have difficulty beginning & maintaining relationships (Kantor), partly because they have difficulty trusting others & thus, are very reluctant to share their feelings or allow themselves to be vulnerable. As a protective measure against the humiliation & rejection, they may become avoidant of others and are prone to 'compulsive self-reliance' since they are most comfortable when depending solely on themselves. The perceived obligations of being in emotional debt are untenable.
On the other hand, avoidants may form relationships, even making an effort to meet new people. However, these people are kept at a distance. Therefore, this group of avoidants ís avoiding intimacy, rather than avoiding people altogether.
Avoidants excessively monitor the situation to the extent that they are trying to process so much information, they are no longer paying sufficient attention to the interaction itself (Millon & Everly). The literature on social phobia suggests that the phobics are unable to follow the interaction because they are so focussed on their internal reactions. However, the research on avoidant personality disorder also emphasizes that the avoidants are engaged ín external monitoring of the other persons reactions as well. This additional processing of information could contribute to the increased severity of APD over social phobia. The excessive monitoring by avoidants, combined with a hypersensitivity to rejection makes their perception of rejection almost inevitable.
Their dysfunctional thought processes may also include fear of being vulnerable, because ít makes ít easier to get hurt or humiliated. They may also be perfectionists & reject anyone who does not live up to their impossible standards. This may again be a case of rejecting someone before they are rejected themselves. Another possibility ís that they are degrading the other person so that íf they are rejected they will find ít less painful because they didnt like the person anyway. Some people believe that relationships are just too much work & arent worth the effort. Rationalization may also be present ín this belief with the idea that ít ís not because they are unable to form relationships that they dont have any, ít ís that they do not want to waste their time on relationships. Some avoidants even believe that they must avoid intimacy because giving love to others reduces the energy they have available for themselves & that they need for their vital life processes, (Kantor).
People with APD may exhibit little affect due to the fear that showing their emotions will make them vulnerable to rejection or humiliation (Kantor; Millon & Everly). To observers, avoidants may appear tense & anxious (Millon & Everly).
Avoidants tend to have low self-esteem & believe that they are unworthy of being ín successful relationships. They are also very self-conscious, frequently lonely & see their accomplishments as being of little or no worth (Millon & Everly).
To cope with their unhappiness, people with APD often escape into fantasy which ís a safe medium ín which to discharge affection, aggression or other impulses that would otherwise be inappropriate, uncomfortable or impossible to achieve ín reality, (Millon & Everly). Avoidants will tend to read, watch TV, use a computer or daydream to escape from reality.