Let's Deal with Anxiety Blog: Social Anxiety vs. Avoidant Personality
Fear of social interaction has become more common since Covid-19. A growing number of Americans report higher levels of social anxiety following Covid-19 than prior to Covid-19 (Samantaray & Mishra, 2022). Most social interactions are unstructured, non-task-focused situations. For some people who are sensitive to uncertainty, a lack of structure or predictability in social interactions can cause a great deal of anxiety. Anxiety can be defined as the brain's reaction to uncertainty. When a person consistently dreads or fears social interaction, they may be suffering from one of two mental health disorders: social anxiety disorder or avoidant personality disorder.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD):
SAD occurs when a person is consistently uneasy, nervous, or anxious about social and/or interpersonal interaction to the point where it interferes with their daily functioning. SAD is primarily caused by two major fears. These fears include the possibility of humiliation and or embarrassment while participating in social activities. People with SAD typically have a positive self-image and rarely avoid social interactions. They frequently feel as if they belong wherever they go and do not feel inferior or less than others.
People with SAD, on the other hand, are very concerned about how others will perceive them and are often unwilling to risk being perceived negatively. A person suffering from SAD frequently views socializing as a performance, the outcome of which could result in humiliation or embarrassment. As a result, people suffering from SAD may say little during social interactions in order to avoid negative evaluations and thus a poor social performance.
Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD):
AvPD occurs when a person consistently dreads, avoids, or endures social interaction with great distress, causing functional impairments in their life. Unlike SAD, which is caused primarily by a fear of humiliation and/or embarrassment, AvPD is caused primarily by a profound sense of inferiority to others and a fear of rejection. People with AvPD frequently lack a healthy sense of self and regularly try to avoid social interactions. They constantly feel as if they don't belong where ever they go and, at times, suffer from a crippling inferiority complex.
People with AvPD are mostly concerned about being rejected by others because of their perceived inferiority. They perceive social interactions as a risk of rejection or judgment about their personality. As a result, those with AvPD will frequently avoid social interaction in order to protect themselves from rejection.
In the near future, SAD and AvPD may be combined and placed on a social discomfort spectrum, with SAD on the lower end and AvPD on the higher end. As an anxiety specialist, I frequently see clients who report that the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed them from the lower to higher end of the social discomfort spectrum. SAD is a disorder that many people are able to cope with creatively. Furthermore, evidence-based treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) from a CBT therapist are extremely effective in the treatment of SAD. With the right assistance, SAD can be completely addressed and resolved.
AvPD, on the other hand, is not in this category. Many people struggle for decades to cope with AvPD, and the disorder is never fully resolved. CBT has the potential to be an effective treatment option for AvPD. Nonetheless, treatment success is heavily dependent on your therapist's clinical understanding of AvPD and prior success in achieving positive outcomes with AvPD-affected clients.
Nath Samantaray, N., Kar, N., & Mishra, S. R. (2022). A follow-up study on treatment effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy on social anxiety disorder: Impact of COVID-19 fear during post-lockdown period. Psychiatry Research, 310, 114439.