February 2


Avoidant Personality Disorder vs. Social Anxiety

By NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

February 2, 2022

Avoidant personality disorder (APD) and social anxiety are two conditions that can affect a person’s confidence and ability to take part in social situations. Though they are similar, there are differences between the two that can affect people in different ways. Understanding where the conditions differ can help you seek the most helpful specific treatment options or remedies.

This page can be a helpful guide for learning about the differences between APD and social anxiety, but, for more in-depth support, you can ask our team of dedicated experts for additional resources.

What Is Avoidant Personality Disorder?

Avoidant personality disorder (APD) is a cluster C personality disorder where fearful thinking or anxious behaviors can affect everyday life. APD can influence a person’s ability to interact with others in professional, academic, or personal settings. Those who suffer from APD might experience frequent feelings of worthlessness, self loathing, or embarrassment. Unlike certain individuals who have social anxiety, people with APD can find it challenging to recognize their fearful thoughts as irrational.

Here are some common signs of avoidant personality disorder:

  • Feeling overly sensitive to rejection, criticism, or exclusion
  • Avoiding interactions or social situations
  • Feeling low-self esteem
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Feeling unwelcome among groups or around other people
  • Believing you’re inferior to others
  • Experiencing extreme loneliness or rejection

What Is Social Anxiety?

Girl suffering with social anxiety
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

Social anxiety, also called social phobia, is a fear of social situations or environments. Those with social anxiety might worry about being disliked by a group, or about doing something embarrassing. Their fear can affect their ability to function normally in certain settings. Even if those with social anxiety recognize their concerns as irrational, anxious feelings can sometimes prove challenging to overcome. Anxiety can come in varying levels, from minor to extreme. It might apply to specific settings or people, or it could affect all social interactions.

Symptoms of social anxiety can include:

  • Upset stomach or nausea in social situations.
  • Intrusive thoughts during interactions.
  • Obsessive rumination over past social experiences.
  • Sweating.
  • Blushing.
  • Trembling.
  • Fear of speaking or saying the wrong thing.
  • Nervous behaviors like swaying, fingernail biting or tapping.
  • Worry of embarrassing or humiliating yourself.
  • Avoiding social situations.
  • Imagining negative scenarios.
  • Fear of interacting with strangers.
  • Voice changes.
  • Extreme self awareness or worry that others can perceive physical behavioral changes.

What Are the Differences Between Avoidant Personality Disorder and Social Anxiety?

Though there is significant overlap between the symptoms of APD and social anxiety, the two are separate mental health conditions. The two can differ in the responses they trigger, the severity of their presentations, and in their underlying causes.


Those with APD might feel an increased sense of worthlessness, rejection, or shame. These feelings might prevent them from engaging in social situations unless they’re certain there isn’t a risk of rejection. Often, those with APD might seek to avoid most, if not all, social situations and environments. The condition can develop from many causes, but some research suggests those who experience significant physical changes after an illness of accident might be more at risk for developing APD.

Those with APD often feel increased sensitivity to perceived signs of rejection or criticism. They might imagine that others dislike them or are judging them or avoiding them. Comments about their behavior, even if they’re well meaning, might feel extremely personal or hurtful. 

Social anxiety

Social anxiety can be less extreme than APD, though not always. Rather than avoiding all social environments, those with social anxiety might simply experience discomfort in specific settings. While social anxiety might limit their interactions or decrease their confidence, they may still have the ability to socialize normally. Those who are socially anxious might recognize their feelings as irrational, even if they can’t prevent themselves from experiencing them. Social anxiety diagnoses often occur when individuals are children or teenagers and might have genetic roots.

Social anxiety can be extremely common, and those who suffer from anxiety can experience symptoms at varying degrees. Working with a professional can help you address specific concerns and discover if medication might help.

What Are the Treatment Options for Avoidant Personality Disorder?

Therapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is often one of the best treatment options for those with APD. Therapists can help diagnose APD and design specific treatment plans for their patients. Their techniques often help identify the source of social distress. Family therapy and group therapy are also helpful approaches. Patients can learn to develop social skills, coping mechanisms and strategies where they feel safe and supported. Sometimes, medication can also help relieve severe symptoms or underlying feelings of anxiety or depression.

What Are the Treatment Options for Social Anxiety?

CBT can be a beneficial resource for those with social anxiety, too. In their sessions, patients might engage in role-playing activities to help build their confidence and social skills. Medication can also help ease certain symptoms for those with social anxiety. Anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication can sometimes be helpful tools. It’s important to work with a professional to determine which treatment option is best.

Many people suffer from anxiety, and learning to diagnose and treat specific conditions can help them find relief in different situations, environments, and circumstances. Therapy can be a great way to help mitigate the negative effects of anxiety, helping those who suffer from the condition find relief and normalcy. Sometimes feelings of loneliness, worry, self loathing, fear, or detachment can affect other aspects of mental health, so it’s important to seek medical help if you think you might suffer from either of these conditions.

Those close to our facility in Arlington Heights, Chicago, can find more helpful resources through our family practice. If you or someone you care about is suffering from anxiety or a perceived personality disorder, we have tools and professional treatment options that can help. Our neuropsychological testing program can diagnose specific conditions and help you arrive at a treatment option suitable for your needs. Children, adolescents, teens, and adults can all find valuable information and resources for mental health concerns. Click here to schedule an assessment and learn more.

NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

About the author

For over 20 years, NeuroHealth Arlington Heights has been offering neuropsychological and psychological assessments and treatments for people of all ages. These assessments and treatments address Behavioral, Emotional, & Social Issues, Neurocognitive Functions, and Neurodevelopmental Growth.