The healthy version of avoidant personality in the continuum
We may come across someone in our workplace or in our social circle who tend to enjoy solitary activity and seldom engage in group gatherings. For instance, a client of mine, despite being good-looking and intelligent, seldom accepted the invitation from his colleagues for lunch gatherings. He was always emotionally distant. In fact, even when he accepted some invitations and went for a gathering with colleagues, he excused himself to leave very early at the beginning of the gathering and never came back to the crowd. He had a misterous life and had little contact with his colleagues after office hours. Professionally, he was a very competent specialist in his field. He managed to have regular gatherings with two of his close friends and enjoyed their company. However, he was very hesitated to meet new friends. When his two close friends suggested him to use apps for meeting new contacts, he refused to try immediately. In real life, he was very content and had lots of hobbies. He enjoyed photography and painting. He also had virtual anonymous exhibitions online from time to time. Given his high functioning and stability in mental health, would you comment this person as having avoidant personality disorder?
People with avoidant personality have a diverse presentation. Their social avoidant is spread along a continuum from avoidant personality style to avoidant personality disorder. The example above can be someone with avoidant personality style instead of having some pathological presentation. We can consider him located in the healthy end of the continuum. In terms of interpersonal style, people in the more pathological end are extremely sensitive to rejection. They are unwilling to participate in any social activities unless they can be sure that they are well-liked. For those in the more healthy end, they are only sensitive and concern about how others think of them, but they can still attend gatherings when in need and be able to exhibit adequate social skills. In the more pathological end, people with avoidant personality disorder are overly reticent in social gatherings and they seldom express themselves due to their fear of being negatively evaluated. On the contrary, in the healthier end, people with this personality style are willing to share to some extent, but in a more resevered and self-restrained demeanor.
For those in the pathological end, people with this disorder have no friends and totally avoided activities that require interpersonal contact. They also exaggerated the potential danger of engaging in activities other than their usual routine. On the healthier end, people with this style will have some close friends and only that they engaged more in solitary activities. In fact, they are only more comfortable with their daily rountine and habits, because they prefer life with more certainty. It is very important to differentiate that those in the pathological end that they tended to have lower functioning in occupation and social life. They also have difficulty in engaging in meaningful job tasks and hobbies. For those in the healthier end, they are able to maintain high functioning level in their jobs and in different hobbies. They may also be willing to engage in new activities sometimes.
Since it is habitual for people to categorize someone who are less sociable or more solitary to have some kind of disorder, we need to pay attention to our tendency to over-pathologizing people. In fact, we need to embrace the fact that people are diverse and can be very different in their choice of interpersonal style. For those who are more private and less social, it may be their healthy personal choice. It is important to embrace diversity and respect our fellow human beings.