Do you have Avoidant Personality Disorder?

This Grey Knight has a weakness in his suit of armour. It’s difficult to spot and few assailants have ever got close enough to exploit it, but those that have managed to have done great damage to me. You see, just beneath the surface of this imposing frame, not far from what seems like a normal, well-adjusted person is a crinkle in my psyche, an imperfection in my emotional make-up.

Like anyone else, I guess, all my life I’ve thought that I’m normal and that most people are just like me, except for a few oddballs and nasty people. All along I’ve lived with what I thought was just one of the negatives of human existence.

It was when I was watching a YouTube video with The Cockaholic that I learned of ‘Cluster B personalities’. My enquiring mind demanded that I know more. There are four types of these: Narcissist, Histrionic, Borderline and Anti-Social. I saw that in my dating experiences I had encountered several Narcissists and a couple of Histrionics. A friend in the know has suggested that Krazy Girl was of the Borderline Personality Disorder variety. All good to know.

What my reading on the internet then led to is ‘Cluster C personalities’ of which there are the ‘Dependent’, the ‘Obsessive Compulsive’ and the ‘Avoidant’. I am the latter.

My blood ran cold as I read a description of myself that I could never extol or describe any better.

I’ll quote Wikipedia:

Avoidant personality disorder (AvPD), also known as anxious personality disorder, is a Cluster C personality disorder recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders handbook as afflicting persons who display a pervasive pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, extreme sensitivity to negative evaluation, and avoidance of social interaction despite a strong desire to be close to others. Individuals with the disorder tend to describe themselves as uneasy, anxious, lonely, unwanted and isolated from others.

People with avoidant personality disorder often consider themselves to be socially inept or personally unappealing and avoid social interaction for fear of being ridiculed, humiliated, rejected, or disliked. As the name suggests, the main coping mechanism of those with avoidant personality disorder is avoidance of feared stimuli. Avoidant personality disorder is usually first noticed in early adulthood, with both childhood emotional neglect and peer group rejection being associated with an increased risk for its development.

People with avoidant personality disorder are preoccupied with their own shortcomings and form relationships with others only if they believe they will not be rejected. Childhood emotional neglect—in particular, the rejection of a child by one or both parents—has been associated with an increased risk for the development of avoidant personality disorder, as well as rejection by peers.

It goes on to list a variety of issues that afflict most people at some time, but with AvPD most of these feelings are permanent.

The ones that I’ve never felt are:
– Avoids physical contact because it has been associated with an unpleasant or painful stimulus
– Severe low self-esteem
– Emotional distancing related to intimacy
– Feeling inferior to others
– In some extreme cases, agoraphobia
– Self-loathing

What I feel on a daily basis is the following:
– Self-imposed social isolation
– Hypersensitivity to rejection/criticism
– Extreme shyness or anxiety in social situations, though the person feels a strong desire for close relationships
– Feelings of inadequacy
– Mistrust of others
– Highly self-conscious
– Self-critical about their problems relating to others
– Problems in occupational functioning
– Lonely self-perception, although others may find the relationship with them meaningful
– Uses fantasy as a form of escapism to interrupt painful thoughts

The World Health Organization’s ICD-10 lists avoidant personality disorder as anxious (avoidant) personality disorder. It is characterized by at least four of the following:
1. persistent and pervasive feelings of tension and apprehension;
2. belief that one is socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others;
3. excessive preoccupation with being criticized or rejected in social situations;
4. unwillingness to become involved with people unless certain of being liked;
5. restrictions in lifestyle because of need to have physical security;
6. avoidance of social or occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact because of fear of criticism, disapproval, or rejection.

Every single one of the above applies to me. I’ll share how this all manifests itself in my existence.

I dread social settings. Being part of a group activity makes me go cold inside and my stomach tighten. I am at my best on a one-on-one basis. Even a third person being present makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. Anything more than three people and I’m instantly in defensive mode, even if I’ve known the people present for many years.

When I’m walking around my town’s high street all the time I feel that most people are looking at me. I try not to make eye contact, so when I do I always easily see several people looking at me. This just reinforces my beliefs and feelings that I’m not like other people. I don’t see other people staring at each other, but there are always people staring at me. As a teenager I put it down to my gangly awkwardness, as an adult I ascribe it to my height, build and dark hair. I know that many women like tall and dark men, but the attention makes me feel uncomfortable.

I don’t like being the centre of attention. At school, when it was time to present anything in front of a class, I’d make sure I wasn’t there. I’m never the life-and-soul of a party (not that I’ve been to many) but am more likely to found in the kitchen or doing something useful for the group. I prefer to be in the background, orchestrating events and suggesting ideas.

I’ve developed coping mechanisms to deal with my feelings towards other people. I always walk fast because I feel that makes me less visible so people can’t stare. I never maintain eye contact with anyone, am sometimes thumbing away at my phone, thus looking downward, but my favourite escape that calms me is to be listening to music via an earpiece. That makes it all feel okay because it’s like I’m moving through my own private movie scene being accompanied by a soundtrack of my choosing. Sometimes at work I pretend to be listening to music, but it’s just a ruse to get people to leave me alone, freeing me from idle, puerile office banter.

My working life has been the biggest challenge, pain and disappointment of my life. I’ve always found myself in an office environment, a most unnatural construct for most people, but for me it’s a particular hell because I feel so visible and thus vulnerable. My coping mechanism has been to put my head down and work like a Trojan. This has had the unintended consequence of me being perceived as a good worker by my bosses. I’ve been rewarded with preferential treatment from them which has perpetuated the negativity of the setting because people now look at me with jealousy or disapproval. Yes, I’ve been relatively successful in my jobs, but I’ve always been the outsider, the lone wolf. I am now so accustomed to it that I prefer things that way, not because I like it, but because I know how to deal with it.

Better the devil you know is not my preferred way of doing things, but whenever I can I orchestrate things so that I work alone, preferably physically so. I commandeer a free space somewhere, put up a physical barrier of some kind and then I can’t see anyone’s judgemental eyes. I find it much easier to do my own thing than ask permission or seek forgiveness. I am not afraid to be unpopular in a workplace, because that just makes it easier to move on when the opportunity presents itself. Permanent employment has felt like a prison sentence to me, working on a freelance basis has proved more emotionally acceptable because I know exactly when it will be over.

This lack of fearing unpopularity has been a mixed blessing. Because I feel it almost inevitable in certain settings with people I do not know, it has lead to me being ruthless at times. I’ll even confess that it has made me a horrible person, a heartless bastard especially when in an all-male environment. I have had no compunction in resorting to bloody violence to get my way. Men really are like dogs in that we adhere to a pack mentality…and there can only be one top dog: me. I don’t fear violence, in fact, I like it because I know I will always win. There’s a certain look men give off when they realize that they can’t defeat me because I’m always willing to go one depraved step further than them. I’ve never started a fight, I’ve only ever finished them. Sadly, the few times my ex-wife and ex-girlfriend saw my vicious streak when I was provoked led to them losing some respect for me and having it replaced by a little fear. On a positive note, I feel that my days of brutality are well behind me; I’m now too old for that shit.

As I have got older these feelings of social inadequacy have grown and become more prominent in my daily existence. As I did away with my young man’s White Knight Syndrome, this avoidant mindset and accompanying behaviour pattern has grown. I can see that it’s getting worse as I experience more negative things at the hands of people.

Why am I like this? All my life I have felt like the outsider in any group setting. It all started when I was little.

My parents were badly married. My father was a raging alcoholic and often out of work. My mother was always at work during the day. They fought every dinner-time and all weekend. I was an only child, so when the fighting started I used to run away and hide in my own little world. My mother was overly protective towards me; overbearing and controlling in fact. She had me when she was almost 41 and I was her way of dealing with her shit life. I was the one thing she cherished…and could control.

When both my parents had jobs when I was under six years old, a maid would come take care of me and the apartment. She was under strict instructions to never let me outdoors. For years I would sit at the window watching the other kids play. A couple of times I sneaked out to play with them, but the maid caught me and took me back inside, fearful of losing her job. I think that’s how I developed my observant, analytical, voyeuristic streak.

Then one day my mother said to me that one of the kids had invited me to their birthday party. I was so excited. On the day of the party, I woke up early, relishing the chance to finally get to play with the other kids. My mother had bought a navy-blue trousers with harlequin waistcoat, white shirt and sky-blue bow-tie. (Yep, my mother dressed me funny.) By lunchtime I was tired and asked my mother if it was okay for me to nap for a little while and that she must wake me for the party.

She didn’t wake me and I slept the entire afternoon. I missed the party and I was upset. I convinced myself that now, for sure, the other kids would never want to play with me ever again. I resumed watching them from a distance, in my prison, overseen by the maid.

The city where we lived was a compromise choice for my parents because they had married across the cultural divide. In Apartheid-era South Africa, although both were white, my father was an Afrikaner and my mother of English descent, this was a socially inappropriate union. Their families shunned them and they moved to a city where nobody knew them, thus neither had friends or family in this neutral city. I have no recollection of us ever having visitors in the first 10 years of my life. Sadly I also have no recollection of ever being hugged or shown any kind of affection by either of my parents; they were too busy with their private war.

I can count on my one hand (and have fingers left over) the number of times I interacted with other children before I had to go to school at the age of six. On the very first day of school, my mother said to me, “I want you to be the cleverest kid in the class. I want you to get the highest marks for every subject.” I said, “Yes, mom” and I did exactly that for the next eight years.

All the other kids in my class were different to me. They also all knew each other. They went to pre-school crèche together, which my mother didn’t want me to. From day one I felt like the outsider, but it was in effect, just a continuation of what was the norm for me. I couldn’t figure out how to fit in, but I figured out how to excel and I became the class “brain”. Not the typical geek, because I was bigger than the other kids, so nobody picked on me. I just felt that collectively I was being shunned. Inadvertently I had made things worse for myself by becoming the “brain”, but I only figured that out in later years.

Because of my intellect, physique and forceful nature (courtesy of being a badly-socialised only child) I was the captain of every team in my school career. I was unknowingly a so-called “alpha male”, but largely because all the other kids were intimidated by me. It was easier to lead and browbeat kids into line, than to learn how to compromise and fit in.

My mother then decided that I should go to a different high-school than what my few primary school chums went to. So I arrived at a new school, at the age of thirteen, knowing nobody. Again they all knew each other, having been to the same primary school for the previous eight years. Again I was the outsider trying to break in. Teenagers can be nasty and very cliquey. My first year of high school was awful; nobody wanted to be friends with me. I remember a couple of break times taking myself off to the toilets and sitting in a cubicle, sometimes crying. Eventually a couple of boys warmed to me.

Then tragedy struck. My father dropped dead from a heart attack a week before my fourteenth birthday. That was 1st September 1985; it was a Sunday. On the Monday morning my mother went to the bank to tell them that my father had died. The bank manager instantly froze all the bank accounts and my mother had no cash. There were no friends or family to borrow money off of. There was no food in the house, as bad luck would have it. By the Wednesday night my dinner was a cereal with hot water. That’s how the next 10 years of hardship with my mother began.

We were literally left penniless. I stayed off school for a few weeks and when I returned all the kids ignored me. Nobody wanted to speak to me, they were all so uncomfortable around me, not knowing what to say. I became a social outcast and, as usual, it wasn’t of my making. The last few months of my first year of high school passed in splendid isolation.

My mother decided to move to another city, where her family was, who had promised to help out. So at the age of fourteen I went off to another high-school. And guess what? Yep, as usual, I was the outsider looking in. However, money was a massive problem for me and my mother. Her nephew (my cousin) owned a scrap metal yard and he gave my mother a full-time job as his book-keeper. I worked for him on weekends (occasional Sundays too) and all my school holidays. I skipped being a teenager and got thrown into the adult world. This made it harder to relate to kids my own age, teachers even; they were all so immature.

I had very few friends in high-school. My best friend was the class “brain”, but he was puny, so us two outcasts hung out together. I had very little to do with girls because I didn’t have time and I didn’t have money. I couldn’t take a girl back to my place, it was a dump and my mother was always there. I felt like no girl would be interested in me because I was so poor.

My stand-out moment in high school was the prom. I didn’t have the money to buy an outfit and one day in class several of the kids, all of whose parents were wealthy, belittled me publicly for claiming to not have the money for everything that was involved. This public grilling went on for ages. They just couldn’t understand that my mother and I didn’t have money. I didn’t go to the prom; the only kid not to go.

I would say that my teenage years were characterized by a feeling of never fitting in anywhere. I sometimes think I haven’t really outgrown that. Whenever I tried to join a group I was rejected, so I learned to reject groups. As a teenager I aspired to normality, decency and respectability. Respect is something important to me. I didn’t get much of it growing up, so I value it. It’s why I can’t love a woman that I don’t respect.

Because we didn’t have money, I couldn’t go to university. The law of the land said that I therefore had to do national service. I am a mixture of Afrikaner and English, so I was fluent in both languages and mindsets. When the other conscripts found out that I was not “pure”, I was shunned. I only had one friend during national service. I was a target for everyone else after that because nobody would side with me. I learned to really fight, physically and otherwise, then.

After that was over I had to get a job and in 1992, the world was in recession. My best friend’s father got me a job in the local municipality. At the time, Apartheid was collapsing and as a white man I was, once again, a target. Local government implemented affirmative action policies and I was told that no matter how hard I studied or what I did, I would not be promoted. My then girlfriend (now ex-wife) was facing the same limited options in her working life, although she was a qualified accountant. We decided to leave South Africa, the only environment we’ve ever known.

We arrived in England at the age of 25, never having been abroad and knowing nobody. Life was tough in the beginning. We both endured a lot of discrimination because we were immigrants. Once again, I was an outsider. We went through a lot together and it pains me that today we are not on speaking terms. I have reached out to her a couple of times asking if we could be friends, but she rejected the idea.

Of all the aspects of this Avoidant Personality Disorder I’ve been blind to, that what has sabotaged me the most, I would say emphatically is the mistrust of others. I can see that I have found comfort of being with woman such as my ex-wife, Sweet Thing, Busty Blonde and Busty Czech because I felt that I could trust them. (All of them are Cluster C – Dependent). As soon as another woman or date gave me any reason to not trust them then my Trust Demon took over and events followed an almost predictable, speedy downward spiral as I emotionally withdrew. At least I’m aware of this now.

The second greatest effect has been that of judgementalism. On the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator I’m an INTJ – Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judgement – one of the rarest personality types. It’s the last letter that has become exaggerated in my being. Because I fear being judged, I thus am highly judgemental of other people as a pre-emptive defence mechanism. I’ll reject them before they reject me.

When it comes to romantic relationships I need to feel I’m in control of the relationship, that makes me feel safe. Any hint of vulnerability and I fear being taken advantage of. This started at age six when the girl next to me would hold hands with me, then ask me to help her with her maths. I eventually realised that she was using me, so I stopped helping her. My only girlfriend I had in high-school cheated on me when I had to go away to do National Service. My ex-wife didn’t love me for the last five years of our relationship. My ex-girlfriend lied to me from day one and all the way through our relationship.

People have always been a source of anguish in my life, never a source of pleasure. However, aside from this and Avoidant Personality Disorder, my greatest positive emotion is that of wanting to give love. I think that my disorder has influenced this because not having received much love, there is an innate need within me to express it.

A case can be made that I’m now scared of women, but I don’t think that’s true. I just haven’t met the right one…The One. I realize now that I need to be with a submissive woman. I’ve been oblivious to this. This might have played a role in some of the experiences that I’ve had dating. Non-submissive women will have detected my wanting to be the senior partner in the relationship and that made me wrong for them. Some of the stronger-willed women and I clashed and would have continued to do so if a relationship were to have been mutually pursued. I think this is especially true of my ex-girlfriend and I who clashed daily. The Saffa (Histrionic) and Musician Gal (Narcissist) would have been a replay of that.

In the workplace I express, vent even, but in my private life I bottle my feelings up because that’s what a man’s supposed to do, don’t you know? Sup it up. Don’t show any weakness in front of the womenfolk because it rattles them. Be a man.

When my last job came to an end in August last year, I was leading a team of people who didn’t like me and ganged-up against me. It got ugly and became my worst nightmare. I felt humiliated and I walked out. I got a settlement payment from the company. I haven’t worked since then.

The thought of going back into an office environment nauseates me. I was never happy in my working life, always prostituting myself for the money. I have absolutely no interest in IT, an industry populated by ego-maniacal geeks fussing over petty things, always missing the big picture. (Ever wondered why software is like it is? Now you know.)

Since August last year my ‘working days’ have been me sitting at home by myself, happiest when writing my heart out, only going out to get food (listening to music) and the gym at lunchtimes (again with headphones on). There have been times when weeks have gone by without my talking to anyone. I can not remember another time in my life when I have been so happy. I have felt so calm and tranquil. I’ve loved it.

Don’t worry, I’m not some anti-social, rude, obnoxious, control-freak retard who wants to be a hermit. On the surface I must seem perfectly normal. I’m polite, considerate, humorous, easy-going and a whole host of other good things. I can walk into a job interview, make a positive impression, get interviewers laughing and talk myself into a job. I feel my fears and I ignore them, because my desire to succeed is greater.

It’s just that I am at my best when alone with only one person. If it’s a group setting then it is preferable to be with people whom I have known for a long time. In typical introvert fashion I feel exhausted after a lengthy social engagement, even if it is with people I’ve known for years. An extrovert feels energized by socialising, but I don’t, I need to recover and I seek out solitude and silence.

All I want is silence. That can’t hurt me, that I am comfortable with. I am at my absolute best when alone, with my thoughts. When given time, space and the tranquillity to express myself, to be creative because, like manic-depressants before lithium, it all feels bearable then.

I don’t think I’m disturbed, I just need silence and solitude more than most. My scars need time to heal.

Oh, how I crave silence, for it is then that I feel I am on the comforting edge of heaven.

Disturbed – “The Sound Of Silence”

10 thoughts on “Do you have Avoidant Personality Disorder?”

  1. I suffer with many of the symptoms you described and avoidant, sounds quite true to my choices at times.

    Knowing what it’s called can be both blessing and curse. I feel I am at my best when alone, but is that just a false self image to keep me from people and as a result from being hurt?

    I hope that through finding the One, that you find this happiness that you seek, without the solitude, alone with your thoughts is bliss, alone with your demons is hell, I know both well.

    I continue to follow your blog with keen interest

  2. I love the open frankness about this post, it can’t have been easy to write. I have great admiration for someone who can lay themselves bare to others. Despite your fear of rejection, you have done this nonetheless. There is great courage and beauty in your words. I truly hope you find The One, she will be a very lucky lady. Fight the good fight, Grey Knight!

    1. Thank you, PorterGirl. It is the most difficult thing I have ever written. I have reworked it several times over the course of a year, no piece of writing has ever taken so long.

      Of course I’ve put it out there while hiding behind a nom de plume. 🙂

  3. Your name is often less of a secret than the contents of your heart.
    You’re a guarded man, often for very good reasons, sharing these things are more private and more revealing than any name. You are braver than you think.

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