Avoidant Personality Type

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The idealized image of the Sensitive personality type describes persons who are inspired, creative, and imaginative. They have a spirit of exploration, finding freedom with their minds, feelings and fantasies (Oldham & Morris, pg. 180). They are:

  • Warm, giving, open, spontaneous, likable, friendly, loyal, kind, confident, with a good sense of humor and strong opinions.
  • Cautious and aware.
  • Circumspect, thoughtful, deliberate, and discreet.
  • Polite, courteous, and self-restrained.
  • Play their roles well.
  • Private, creative, artistic, imaginative, and spiritual.


Definition, Synonyms, Analogous

Definition: 1. Sensitive: Susceptible to the attitudes, feelings, or circumstances of others; 2. a. Capable of perceiving with a sense or senses; b. Responsive to external conditions or stimulation (AHD).

Synonyms: susceptible, subject, exposed, open, liable, prone; sentient, impressible, impressionable, responsive, susceptible (MW, 723).

Analogous: impressed, influenced, affected ... : predisposed, inclined ...; alert, watchful, vigilant, wide-awake; sharp, keen, acute; aware, conscious, cognizant, sensible, alive (ibid).

Character Strengths and Virtues

Attributes of the idealized self

  1. Familiarity, comfortability with the familiar, the known, habit, repetition, routine, predictability; family orientation, strong family ties, closeness, home life, family values; within the family and with familiars, warmth, giving, openness, spontaneousness, likability, friendliness, loyalty, kindness, confidence, self-confidence, a sense of humor, and strong opinions.
  2. Concern, empathy, care, awareness, cautiousness, reserve, reticence; highmindedness, refinement, idealism; reliability, steadiness, effectiveness, thoroughness, concentration, responsibility.
  3. Circumspection, thoughtfulness, deliberativeness, discretion, ability to concentrate; attentiveness, watchfulness, alertness, vigilance, anticipation, bravery, courage, protectiveness.
  4. Polite reserve, courtesy, self-restraint, politeness, coolness, well-mannered, conforming, self-effacing, self-discipline, self-control.
  5. Role-seeking (scripted settings, what is expected, defined role, role-play).
  6. Privacy, creativity, artistry, imagination, spirituality.

Traits and Behaviors

Strategies to actualize the idealized image

  1. Familiarity
  2. Concern
  3. Circumspection
  4. Polite reserve
  5. Role-orientation
  6. Privacy



Excessive attachments to limited goods.

"His idealized image, chiefly, is a glorification of the needs which have developed" (Horney, 1950, pg. 277).

acceptance, being close to others, living up to one's intellectual and vocational potential, a sense of mastery from accomplishment, introspection, sensitivity, hyperawareness of feelings, low expectations, remaining on the fringes of groups


being hurt, being unsuccessful, getting involved, being socially inept, being incompetent in academic and work situations, being criticized, being demeaned, being found uninteresting, being worthless, being unlovable, unpleasant feelings, doing new things, unpleasant situations, unpleasant thoughts, being evaluated, being discovered to be a "fraud", being put down, attracting attention, new responsibilities at work, seeking advancement, failure, reprisals


Dogmas of the private religion

  • I am socially inept and socially undesirable in work or social situations.
  • Other people are potentially critical, indifferent, demeaning, or rejecting.
  • I cannot tolerate unpleasant feelings.
  • If people get close to me, they will discover the "real" me and reject me.
  • Being exposed as inferior or inadequate will be intolerable.
  • I should avoid unpleasant situations at all costs.
  • If I feel or think something unpleasant, I should try to wipe it out or distract myself—for example, think of something else, have a drink, take a drug, or watch television.
  • I should avoid situations in which I attract attention, or I should be as inconspicuous as possible.
  • Unpleasant feelings will escalate and get out of control.
  • If others criticize me, they must be right.
  • It is better not to do anything than to try something that might fail.
  • If I don't think about a problem, I don't have to do anything about it.
  • Any signs of tension in a relationship indicate the relationship has gone bad; therefore, I should cut it off.
  • If I ignore a problem, it will go away.

(Beck, Freeman & associates, 1990, pp. 359-360, modified)

Ego Defense Mechanisms

Self-glorification requires deception.

  • Avoidance
  • Escape
  • Fantasy
  • Wishful thinking
  • Denial



Gain emotional security by building their own small worlds.

Emotionally free in their own territory.

But outside it they feel vulnerable.

They become cautious and emotionally reserved.

"prefer to explore the known rather than the unknown" (Oldham, 183).

But some Sensitive types challenge their anxiety by jumping into the unknown.

They are worriers.

While they may impose limits on themselves in the physical world, they are often explorers "in fantasy, imagination, and creation, their minds and feelings free and easy in the unkowns of their inner worlds" (185).


They are other-directed.

Need the approval of others.

Social anxiety.

Avoidant personality disorder.

Reticence blocks intimacy.

Believe they have to put on a facade to impress somebody new.


Attentive and watchful parents.

Must take care not to transfer anxiety and fear of taking risks to children.

Stress comes from the unfamiliar.

Count on having at least one close person to rely on.

Good/Bad Matches



(See Oldham & Morris, pp. 188-89)



Outside their boundaries they may temporarily lose perspective.


They have good self-discipline and self-control.

Real World

The world beyond the limits of their territory is full of threats.


Need to "build a comfortable work 'nest' and find a standard role from which to operate" (190).

Comfortable with routine.

Like defined roles.

Frequently cope by carrying their professional persona wherever they go.

They role-play automatically.

Management Style

Promote a family environment among their own staffs.


Occupations with defined role:

  • Accountant
  • Computer programmer
  • Doctor

Steer clear of having to deal with strangers:

  • Contracting
  • Public relations
  • Sales
  • Careers that require public speaking


  • Change routines.
  • Do what you would prefer to avoid.
  • Accept your flaws.
  • Stop trying to 'read minds'.
  • Stop projecting your negative thoughts about yourself.
  • Establish eye contact.
  • Observe your reaction to criticism.
  • Do what you can do
  • Have faith that things will work out.
  • Deal with your anxiety instead of having partner protect you from it.


Avoidant Personality Disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, pp. 664-665) describes Avoidant Personality Disorder as a pervasive pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

  • avoids occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact, because of fears of criticism, disapproval, or rejection;
  • is unwilling to get involved with people unless certain of being liked;
  • shows restraint within intimate relationships because of the fear of being shamed or ridiculed;
  • is preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations;
  • is inhibited in new interpersonal situations because of feelings of inadequacy;
  • views self as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others;
  • is unusually reluctant to take personal risks or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing.

Noteworthy Examples

Jane Austen, Ingmar Bergman, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Emily Dickinson, Joan Didion, Bob Dylan, Janeane Garofalo, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Søren Kierkegaard, D.H. Lawrence, Rollo May, Margaret Mead, Joni Mitchell, Anais Nin, Camille Paglia, J.D. Salinger, Jerry Seinfeld, William Shakespeare, Kenneth Starr, James Thurber, Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf.


The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1981, c.1969). William Morris, Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Aaron T. Beck, Arthur Freeman, and Associates (1990). Cognitive Therapy of Personality Disorders. New York : Guilford Press.

Aaron T. Beck, Arthur Freeman, Denise D. Davis, (2004). Cognitive Therapy of Personality Disorders. 2nd. edition. New York: Guilford.

Merriam-Webster (1984). Webster's New Dictionary of Synonyms: A Dictionary of Discriminated Synonyms with Antonyms and Analogous and Contrasted Words. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.

John M. Oldham and Lois B. Morris (1995). The New Personality Self-Portrait: Why You Think, Work, Love and Act the Way You Do. New York: Bantam.

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