Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I am not a professional, so don't bother suing me for malpractice.

A really good church talk on self-loathing and emotional healing this last Sunday brought the topic of avoidant personality disorder back to my mind. I have absolutely no qualifications other than a whole lot of Internet reading, but I'm pretty sure a good 15% to 20% of my single friends have this disorder to some degree. The percentage in the general population is around 1% to 5%, but among us leftover solitary souls it has got to be much higher. The more I read about this affliction, the more I'm convinced that I'm seeing evidence of it in many of the single people around me:

Avoidant Personality Disorder

An avoidant individual has a pathological mistrust of others, always expects to eventually be rejected, and often subconsciously behaves in such a way as to hasten the rejection and so relieve the anxiety over waiting for eventual rejection. They may have friends, but few or no close friends. By avoiding others or behaving in a hostile manner they mask their vulnerabilities and their desire for connection and enter into a cycle of self-fulfilling negative prophecy--they consciously or unconsciously "test" their friends and family to see if they will be loved unconditionally in spite of offputting behavior. During these tests, people who would not have rejected the avoidant individual often walk away from the relationship not because they want the relationship to end, but because they believe that the avoidant individual wants the relationship to end (because the avoidant individual is continually reclusive or hostile). The avoidant takes this as further evidence that they are not lovable and that people cannot be trusted and the cycle of chronic self-loathing and mistrust continues. In certain avoidant individuals this offputting behavior ironically manifests as a mask of superiority, designed to convince themselves that they are too good for the person who they fear will reject them--this is supposed to protect them from feeling sad or inferior if/when that future rejection (imagined or real) occurs. They often fantasize about themselves in ideal relationships, while believing that good relationships are not possible for them.

Possible genetic predispositions are assumed, but a large percentage of avoidants had childhoods marked by some sort of parental rejection or neglect or excessive criticism. Another common background for avoidants is a parent who required them to serve as a substitute spouse--i.e., to help with other siblings to a degree that was inappropriate for a child or to share in too many of the emotional burdens felt by a custodial parent after a divorce or other family upheaval. In the case of the rejecting/neglecting parent, the avoidant individual comes to believe that unconditional love, which is supposed to be a hallmark of parental love, is a fantasy, or that they specifically are unworthy of being loved unconditionally by anyone since their parent did not love them unconditionally--that there is something uniquely wrong with them that caused that parental rejection and that will cause others to reject them as well. In the case of those avoidants who were required to serve as a substitute spouse for a parent, they come to see love as a burden, a chore, and have trouble believing that it can also be a joy and a comfort, so often they feel a lessened motivation to try to be close to others due to their belief that any real-world relationship will be too much pain and not enough pleasure.

Frequently counseling consists of encouraging the avoidant person to force themselves to endure relationships longer than is comfortable for them. This gives them the opportunity to see that what they have historically viewed as rejections from others often are minor misunderstandings that mean little to the other person and do not reflect any negative judgment of the avoidant individual. By forcing themselves to endure anxiety for longer stretches they get better at dealing with the stress and are able to experience more of the positive aspects of relationships that can only develop over time, thus opening up the possibility that they will begin to accumulate evidence that their views of themselves have been excessively negative and that they are worthy of being loved.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Why is my life so easy? Why did I get away with so much good fortune when so many of those around me suffer every day with anxieties like these? I have such great admiration for those who keep trying, whether or not they understand exactly why they're struggling or how to heal.

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