The case of Ellen, avoidant university student. Ellen is a 21-year-old university student who has gone to the university's psychological clinic with the general complaint that she is uncomfortable in social settings. Because she is so shy and nervous, she keeps her contact with others to a minimum. She is worried about starting new classes next semester and having to be in rooms with total strangers. She is especially worried about her psychology courses, where "they might find out I am a nutcase." She adds, "They are going to think I am a dysfunctional idiot because I am so shy and I go into a panic at the thought of speaking up in a group of strangers." She adds that she is thinking of switching her major from psychology to computer science. Although she is curious about people, and therefore likes psychology, she neverthless feels awkward around them. Computers, she thinks, are much easier to get along with.
Ellen reports that, as a child, she was teased mercilessly by the other children in her school. She remembers withdrawing from others at about this time in her life. She says that in grade school she would try to make herself small and inconspicuous, so others would not notice her. As a teenager, she took some jobs baby-sitting, but she has never held a real job. At the university, she apparently has no friends, or at least cannot name any. She says she is afraid others will not like her "when they find out what I am really like," so she avoids social contact. In fact, she never once makes eye contact with the interviewer at the clinic.
At the university, Ellen follows a pattern of letting work pile up, then works hard to get it all done. She tries to do a few errands each day, keeps her apartment neat, and goes to the grocery store twice a month. She describes her life as "not very happy, but at least predictable." She likes exploring the Internet on her home computer. She says she enjoys going to chat rooms on the Internet, but, when pressed on this, she confesses that she just watches and has never actually interacted with anyone over the Internet. She likes staying in the background, watching others interact: "When they don't even know I'm there, then I can be pretty sure they are not laughing at me."
Because avoidant persons fear criticism, they may restrict their activities to avoid potential embarrassments. For example, an avoidant man may cancel a blind date at the last minute because he can't find just the right clothes to wea . Avoidant individuals cope with anxiety by avoiding the risks of everyday social life. However , by avoiding the anxiety, they create other problems, often in the form of missed opportunities. In addition, avoidant individuals are typically seen by others as meek, quiet, shy , lonely, and solitary.
Avoidant persons are sensitive to what others think of them. Their feelings are easily hurt, and they appear vulnerable and inhibited in social interactions, withholding their own views, opinions, or feelings out of fear of being ridiculed. They typically have very low self-esteem and feel inadequate to many of life' s day-to-day challenges. Because of their social isolation, they typically do not have many sources of social support. Even though they typically desire to be involved with others, and may even fantasize about relationships, they tend to avoid intimate contact out of their fear of rejection and criticism. The paradox is that, in avoidantly coping with their social anxiety , they shun the supportive relationships with caring others that could actually help boost their self-esteem. Table 19.8 presents the main features of the avoidant personality disorder, along with several examples of thoughts and beliefs that might occur in someone with this disorder .
Whereas the avoidant person avoids others to an extreme, the dependent person seeks out others to an extreme. The hallmark of the dependent personality disorder is an excessive need to be taken care of, to be nurtured, coddled, and told
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