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Social Anxiety vs. Avoidant Personality Disorder

In today’s age, good mental health is increasingly recognized as an essential aspect of a balanced lifestyle. While new discoveries about the brain are being made every day, modern science has advanced to the point where mental disorders can be diagnosed and treated with confidence.

Two of the most common mental conditions are social anxiety disorder and avoidant personality disorder. Both of these disorders can cause one to feel extremely anxious in social situations, and although they may desire social connection and close relationships, they will avoid interacting with others as much as possible. Each one also has the potential to significantly impair one’s ability to cultivate healthy relationships, grow their career, and maintain high self-esteem. 

With so many different known conditions, it’s not surprising that many have overlapping conditions. When it comes to social anxiety disorder and avoidant personality disorder, the two can be hard to differentiate, causing many to misdiagnose themselves.

Learning the difference between each disorder can prevent misdiagnosis and promote good mental health.

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is a disorder that causes everyday interactions to trigger extreme feelings of anxiety, self-consciousness, and embarrassment; likely due to the fear of being scrutinized or judged. 

While feeling nervous is normal in some situations, those with social anxiety experience severe feelings of anxiousness even in seemingly basic social scenarios. This nearly constant sense of stress can be disruptive to one’s life, affecting their relationships, work, school, and daily routines. 

Symptoms of Social Anxiety

Feelings of nervousness or discomfort in social situations are not necessarily signs of social anxiety, because everyone’s natural comfort level is different. Rather, abnormally strong feelings of fear and anxiety over social situations can indicate the presence of social anxiety, especially if these feelings are interfering with one’s daily life.

There are many symptoms of social anxiety, and while they may not be present, those diagnosed usually exhibit more than one during the course of their condition. The symptoms of social anxiety can be broken down into physical and emotional behaviors for easy recognition.

Emotional Symptoms

Some of the emotional symptoms of social anxiety include:

  • Excessive worrying about potential embarrassment
  • Intense fear of interacting with strangers
  • Avoidance of doing things out of fear of embarrassment
  • Anxiety in anticipation of a feared situation
  • Anxiety throughout social situations
  • The expectation of the worst possible outcome in social situations

Physical Symptoms

Similarly, some of the physical symptoms of social anxiety include:

  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty catching breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Muscle tension

What is Avoidant Personality Disorder?

Avoidant personality disorder is a condition that causes chronic feelings of inadequacy, along with high sensitivity to the potential that one will be judged by others. While those with avoidant personality disorder may long to interact with others, they avoid social interaction completely due to their intense fear of rejection.

Similar to social anxiety, social anxiety disorder can potentially damage the relationships, career, and education of those who are diagnosed. Thus, it is vital that treatment is sought right away to avoid any long-lasting effects. 

Symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder

There are several symptoms that those with avoidant personality disorder may display. These include:

  • Oversensitivity
  • Easily hurt by criticism
  • Have few close friends and are reluctant to form new relationships
  • Extreme anxiety in social situations, causing them to avoid interacting with others
  • Awkward and self-conscious around others due to fear
  • Reluctance to trying new things
  • Poor self-image
  • Tendency to exaggerate even small issues

Social Anxiety vs. Avoidant Personality Disorder

While these two disorders have overlapping characteristics, they are not the same and can be distinguished by a few key factors, including:

  • Patient Outlook
  • Causes
  • Treatment

Patient Outlook

One of the biggest differences between social anxiety and avoidant personality disorder is that those with social anxiety often recognize that their fears are completely irrational. 

While people with social anxiety fear rejection and embarrassment, they may have high self-esteem in other areas. On the other hand, people with avoidant personality disorder feel that their humiliation and rejection are inevitable. 

orange county avoidant personality treatment

Those with avoidant personality disorder will have an underlying sense of inadequacy that causes them to feel that their rejection from society is only a matter of time—they do not see these fears as irrational, but rather necessary. Those with social anxiety will feel anxious in social situations and may even have low self-esteem, but they can recognize that such fears have no basis.


Another difference between the two disorders is the cause of their development. While experiencing abuse or other negative effects in childhood is a common cause of both, other environmental causes can differ.

Some research suggests that avoidant personality disorder may be more likely to develop after one has experienced unexpected physical changes, such as after an illness. 

Conversely, those with an active amygdala are more likely to develop social anxiety as they cannot regulate their response to fear adequately. 

In terms of genetics, those who have a parent or sibling with social anxiety are up to six times more likely to develop the condition themselves, according to the DSM-5.


While social anxiety and avoidant personality disorder can be treated using the same methods as most personality disorders—including therapy and medication—their most effective treatment differs.

Those with avoidant personality disorder are better off seeking treatment via therapy. This is mainly because the root of this disorder is an inherent sense of inadequacy that leads to a fear of eventual social rejection. To eliminate the problem at its source, therapy is generally needed to correct such thinking.

Social anxiety is often treated with a combination of medication, healthy eating, and exercise. Since those with social anxiety know their fears are irrational, treating the symptoms can effectively neutralize the disorder.

For more mental health resources in the Orange County area, visit Acera Health today.


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