Social Anxiety Vs. Avoidant Personality Disorder


While there are specific overlapping characteristics of Social Anxiety and Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD), key differences distinguish them. Regarding social limitations for both disorders, a deep-rooted, all-consuming fear of disapproval, rejection, harsh judgment, and shying away from social interactions. Social Anxiety Disorder (S.A.D.), on the other hand, is associated with social inhibition, overwhelming worry, and anxiousness in social interactions. Despite these critical differences, individuals can be diagnosed with both disorders, and the intensity of the symptoms may have a changing variance.

Critical Differences Between AvPD and S.A.D.

Avoidant Personality Disorder presents itself through:

  • Feelings of not being good enough, socially inept, hypervigilance to over-critical social judgment
  • Wanting to appear 'small' in social settings, a person may hide in oversized, plain clothing and be a social wallflower.
  • Self-analyzations and interpersonal relationships of a broader spectrum
  • Anxiety during public interactions, such as taking public transportation or dining at a crowded restaurant
  • Overanalyzing and picking apart perceived hidden meanings in conversations, body language, jokes, humor, etc
  • Widespread, internalized behaviors and patterns that affect multiple areas of one's life; for example, 'always reading the room' as a fixated habit

Social Anxiety Disorder presents itself through:

  • Rigidness in social dynamics with intense feelings of fear and tension, overcome with worry about humiliation or criticism
  • Worry about feeling overly inspected or examined during social interactions, especially being perceived as nervous by others.
  • Specific social interactions are intense triggers of anxiety
  • 'Psyching up for a social situation; experiencing the urge to be mentally prepared for it for up to several months in advance
  • Being outwardly awkward and clumsy in new places, doing new things, or around new people

What is AvPD Caused By?

It's unclear what exactly leads to Avoidant Personality Disorder, but several factors are believed to have influence, including biological, environmental, and genetic factors. Generally speaking, the prevalence of AvPD or similar anxiety disorders is more likely if other family members have a history of it. Roughly half of the variation in Avoidant Personality Disorder is due to genetic factors, as studies on twins have proven. The onset of AvPD may also occur due to multiple environmental influences, such as dismissal, abuse, and abandonment during adolescence.

Avoidant Personality Disorder also has ties to cultural and social influences, including cultural practices/beliefs that uphold perfectionism or highly high standards of oneself and minimal or non-existent social support. AvPD may also be caused by growing up as a loner or spending the majority of time in solitude.

What is S.A.D. caused by?

The cause of Social Anxiety Disorder is unclear; many influences, including environmental factors, genetics, life experiences, and brain chemistry, may be at play. A family history of Social Anxiety Disorder means it may be passed down as a hereditary disorder.

The likelihood of being diagnosed with A.S.D. is more prevalent if there's an anxiety disorder among immediate family members, such as parents or siblings. Social Anxiety Disorder may manifest into adulthood if childhood trauma occurred, such as bullying or growing up in a dysfunctional household. Cultural or family expectations of being an overachiever with high social/career status can also be direct factors in the onset of S.A.D.