Avoidant Personality or Passive Aggressive?

What is the difference between Avoidant Personality Disorder and Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder? To tell you the truth, as I research it, passive aggressiveness is a form of avoidant personality. The two could go hand in hand. The one thing about AvPD is it is actually listed in the medical book that therapists go by for diagnosing, the DSM-IV. Passive aggressive personality disorder has been removed as the definition was too vague. They are still working on it, but in the meantime so many of these disorders seem to overlap.

Like Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder, AvPD often stems from childhood, although it’s usually first noticed in early adulthood. It is associated with perceived or actual rejection by parents or peers during childhood. (This sounds so much like the causes of passive aggression) Just like the passive aggressive, many people diagnosed with AvPD have had painful early experiences of chronic parental and/or societal criticism or rejection. The need to bond with the rejecting parents or peers makes the person with AvPD hungry for relationships, but their longing gradually develops into a defensive shell of self-protection against repeated criticisms.

Avoidant Personality Disorder and Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder are so close, that one doctor, Psychologist Theodore Millon identified four subtypes of avoidant personality disorder. One of those was the-

* conflicted avoidant – including negativistic (passive-aggressive) features

The conflicted avoidant feels ambivalent towards themselves and others. They can idealize those close to them but under stress they may feel under-appreciated or misunderstood and wish to hurt others in revenge. They may be perceived as petulant or to be sulking.

How many of us live with someone just like that? LOL

People with AvPD are preoccupied with their own shortcomings and form relationships with others only if they believe they will not be rejected. Loss and rejection are so painful that these individuals will choose to be lonely rather than risk trying to connect with others. This would help to explain the reason we feel so emotionally disconnected from the passive aggressive.

The symptoms of AvPD are:

* Hypersensitivity to criticism or rejection
* Self-imposed social isolation
* Extreme shyness or social anxiety in social situations, though feels a strong desire for close relationships
* Avoids physical contact because it has been associated with an unpleasant or painful stimulus
* Avoids interpersonal relationships
* Feelings of inadequacy
* Severe low self-esteem
* Self-loathing
* Mistrust of others
* Emotional distancing related to intimacy
* Highly self-conscious
* Self-critical about their problems relating to others
* Problems in occupational functioning
* Lonely self-perception
* Feeling inferior to others
* In some more extreme cases– Agoraphobia
* Utilizes fantasy as a form of escapism and to interrupt painful thoughts

Except for the “Agoraphobia” part, doesn’t that sound like it could be taken right out of the passive aggressive‘s handbook? LOL. Many of them may try to hide their feelings of inadequacy by being overbearing or aggressive, just like many people with inferiority complexes will cover it by being arrogant and obnoxious. Notice the “emotional distancing when it comes to intimacy” and “avoids physical contact because it is associated with pain”. Doesn’t that sound like “no sex”?

One thing I hadn’t thought about, but now I remember seeing it, is that people with AvPD excessively monitor their own internal reactions when they are involved in social interaction. However, people with AvPD may also excessively monitor the reactions of the people with whom they are interacting. The extreme tension created by this monitoring may account for the hesitant speech and taciturnity of many people with AvPD; they are so preoccupied with monitoring themselves and others that producing fluent speech is difficult, which would explain why sometimes it takes a passive aggressive some time to put the words together to strike out. Now, I don’t see this particular trait often in passive aggressives to the point of interrupting their speech, but I can see where it would come into play. Of course they are always monitoring our reactions so they can see if they are getting to us or not.

And last, but not least, the similarity when it comes to treatment. As it is hard to “fix” the passive aggressive because they won’t admit anything is wrong, or they manipulate the therapist, people with AvPD will start avoiding treatment if they lose trust in the therapist or feel a fear of rejection. There again, treatment actually being effective is pretty slim.

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22 Responses

  1. I work with a person who has a personality disorder–not sure what kind, but mainly avoidant features. I stumbled across this great description of Avoidant Personality types that you’ve posted. It explains to me the person’s life history of chronic job loss, lack of relationships, and periodic outbursts of anger and/or paranoia that, to an outsider, seem out of place and puzzling. It helped clarify a lot of this person’s issues for me. Thanks for this posting. It was very helpful.

    • Brigitte- Glad it clarified for you enough to recognize it. So many personality disorders seem to cross paths with each other. Thanks for the comment.

  2. This describes my husband to a T. We have 2 small children and I want out of this marriage in a bad way. He is avoiding me and giving me the silent treatment right now as a matter of fact. But of course, it’s all my fault.
    This is getting old really fast, and if it weren’t for the kids and the mortgage, I’d be out of here. If you are only “dating” someone like this, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.

    • Erin- Hi and Welcome! I know exactly what you mean about the kids and the mortgage. I happened to finally luck out and the husband filed bankruptcy so that got rid of the bills. I was happy to let him have the house because as long as I was in it he thought he could come and go as he pleased even after we split. Even though I had to take my kids and start over, moving in with my sister and her kids, it was definitely worth it.

      One thing you have going for you. At least if he’s doing the silent treatment, he’s not yelling. LOL. I know that’s not much comfort, but it’s a better option when you have children.

      Good luck to you. Please feel free to drop by anytime and let us know how you’re doing. Many of us have “been there, done that”. Maybe you’ll find something helpful. If nothing else, it’s really important to get those children out from under him before he starts becoming passive aggressive towards them.

  3. I am engaged to somebody like this (AvPD) who calls ME passive aggressive. The part of the description that nailed it for me is the fact that he goes out of his way for me one minute then says i’m too controlling the next. He makes decisions that don’t seem to have “us” in mind. He was VERY romantic for the first year. Now there’s almost nothing. I know i’m far from perfect but I would really like to believe there is some help out there for us.

    • Michelle- Hi and welcome- trust me Honey, if you’re not happy now, get out. You didn’t say how long it’s been that you’ve been together, but if the “honeymoon’s over” after the first year of being together, get out. You haven’t got the right guy. If lights are out, and he’s calling you passive aggressive, you don’t need a whole lifetime of this. Trust me, a lifetime is a really long time. You have a chance to meet your real “soul mate” out there, but you can’t do it getting emotionally beaten up here. You don’t have to settle.

      I see you said there is help “for us” out there, but I’m sorry, if he’s truly passive aggressive, there isn’t. All you have to do is read through the stories here of women who have stayed for years and years, and nothing changes. When you step into a marriage, or a relationship, you have to be able to accept that you will not change it, and that you will live with it forever. If you are this unhappy now, how unhappy will you be in 10 yrs. or 20?
      Thanks for sharing your story. Feel free to come back anytime. We have a great support system here.

      • Sounds like you’re jumping the gun a bit?

        Ever considered that maybe it wasn’t such a big deal? Something might be wrong with their relationship, but if he was great for a whole year doesn’t that mean anything? You’re screaming “Get out!” and sounding the alarms about a guy who goes out of his way for his girlfriend…

        Even in her own words, he STILL goes out of his way for her. He merely thinks she’s controlling. Infact, he said she’s passive aggressive to her face, nothing passive about direct speech.

        Yes, AvPD can have a degree of this, but only when you piss the Avoidant off. And only because the avoidant doesn’t like actual direct conflict.

        • First off, I’d like to say thank you to the both of you. I love as many perspectives as I can get. Secondly,I did leave. I’ve moved out though we still see each other, we both have a lot of growing to do. If he’s right for me, it’ll be right in the long haul too. The insight that the description of this personality disorder has given me has been very helpful!

  4. I do not see any overlap. You’re just incorrect.

    • Hi DanWay- I would love to hear how I’m incorrect. It seems you could have explained a little better if you were going to comment.
      Thanks.

  5. This all seems to fit me really well. As far as the avoidant part, I’m somewhat of a recluse socially (My boyfriend and my parents are my only close friends). I resist dealing with situations that are causing me stress — I don’t ignore them (I’m too anxious about them to ignore them) but I avoid confronting them. The only symptom that doesn’t really fit is avoiding physical contact. I’m quite the opposite in that respect.

    With the passive aggressive aspect, I’m a really nice person, but frequently I become bitter, resentful, or act petulant — but this stems from becoming defensive as a result of my insecurities from the avoidant behaviors, and being too shy and lacking in confidence to deal with the situation better. It’s as if the avoidant and the passive-aggressive create a vicious circle and compound upon each other. It often leaves me really depressed, and if I have a really bad incident, I become hysterical because I feel like everything I care about is falling apart. What a mess! I am fully aware I have a problem — I don’t deny any of it. Too bad I don’t have the financial means to get help 😦

    I could go on and on, but I know this isn’t a therapy session so I won’t write a novel. Thanks for your article!

  6. I always thought I was passive aggressive because I do not like conflict. I had an affair during my marriage (which I thought was a way to get back at my husband because he was abusive). I assumed this was PA behavior. I now think I may be a conflict avoider. Thank you for this article. It has been very helpful.

  7. My husband has both traits of APD and PA. He is from the outside very friendly and a real caretaker. Everyone says “You have such a nice husband.” They have no idea that his “niceness” is a defense to avoid all the real feelings he is having. He is a lot like a grown up baby. He can only stand life if it constantly telling him what to do s he can smile and please you. I know he is just so afraid of being rejected. But his passivity has driven me away. It exhausts me. I have also seen his aggressive side(rarely). He will procrastinate. Once when he was so exasperated he said to me Why can’t you just be satisfied! He can wait me out. Leaving me to take care of the issue. I have often been very depressed and anxious. I keep allowing myself to be pulled in, to fix it, to hope things can get better. After more than 40 years and reading about other’s experiences I know there is no changing for him. He has seen 3 different therapists (at my insistence) without one drop of change! He can play the super nice husband so well. He brings me endless cups of tea and does little chores for me and thinks that is a relationship! Intimacy only means I adore him with sex. The end! He rarely shares his real feelings or problem solves issues. Nothing that would potentially let him face conflict. He sees himself as very helpless and vulnerable. His only means of any ego strength is to be overly nice (sublimating his real feelings) and get people to say thank you. Thus avoiding any negative feelings of potential rejection. If issues get discussed it is always me looking like the bad guy. There was a time years ago I considered divorcing him. But I was afraid my family would reject me. How can you be so mean to our Dad who is always doing things for you? Now I am too afraid to leave and be alone at my age. But I have to find a way to disconnect and stay healthy. I know it will be bad for him because of course his issue is abandonment and rejection. I have to let him know its a function of his choices ut he won’t be able to discern the difference. Someone said that AlAnon could be helpful for me.

    • Please please take care of yourself and yes the family support in Al Anon can help you get some of your self esteem back. Living in a similar situation now but doing LOTS of personal work to regain lost self esteem…….suggest you tap into Romancing Your Soul.com…….Regina is fabulous…..

    • Wow times infinity! You described my ex and my life to a T before I left….just replace the “endless cups of tea” with poems and cards. Poems and cards filled with words that never seemed to manifest into actions. I lost 15 yrs(age 23-38) dragging that defiant man-child through life while I raised our son alone (yes we all lived under the same roof). Ughhh…those were my best years, wasted.

    • Lynn, I know exactly how you fell. I’m in the same boat; we could be twins! Some days I’m just trying to survive in the situation!

  8. While I understand the association where passive – aggressive features may be applied, AVPD and Passive Aggressive behavior are not the same conditions. Just as with all personalities ( non/ disordered alike) there are variances of temperaments and depending on an individuals coping mechanism, severe, mal-adaptive, a pathology. PA’s are quite frequently outgoing people whereas generally people with Avoidant Personality Disorder are not. PA’s are frequently dissociative, Avoidants generally are not and are quite reflective types. A PA, while they may suffer from feelings of inferiority, they will project hostility before retreating whereas most Avoidant people will not. They will simply remove themselves and wish they had had the ‘courage’ to handle something assertively. Having said this, an Avoidant can become angry and show it. They can become annoyed and indignant and in moments of “forgetfulness” lash out if it’s something they feel passionate about.

    Where Millon’s subtype – Conflicted Avoidant is concerned, the description focuses on the ‘push- pull’ many Avoidants may
    experience which can be extremely difficult for those closest to them however, what is not clarified is that a large percentage of this dynamic is based on a default behavior, mainly, ‘avoidance’ and is not a hostile act, passive aggressive wise. Because AVPD can be on a spectrum from mild to severe, and because co-morbids DO factor in,
    the subtypes are not exact replicas of every Avoidant and or their experience. Considerably, overlaps and co-morbids play a critical part in the development of AVPD, e.g., post traumatic stress disorder PTSD.

  9. I am going to agree with Giaden. There is a lot of similarities between the two but there are very major differences that do not make this an overlap thing.

    I have AVPD.

    1) We are not manipulative at all, let alone passive aggressive in doing so. We are just terrible at being upfront about our thoughts, feelings and desires in the moment types. But we are not passive aggressive as a way of expressing these things or manipulating people to get our needs/desires.

    2) Passive Agressive people manipulate people to do what they want the people to do for them because they cannot be direct or honest about it. Avoidants are absolutely the direct opposite where our fear is someone involving us is not being honest with us. (i.e. How can you do this nice thing for me when I am a loser type thought.)

    We are not trying to manipulate anyone but give off no/little information to another person in order we get the pure actual thoughts and feeling of the other.

    3) We are hypersensitive and will see any possible negativity and often made up ones. This causes us to be paralyzed and act very too passively. Your example of sex. For avoidants it is about our negative feelings (there is no way they like having sex with me) and picking up any negative quirk or not really knowing if the other person truly wants sex and would be destroyed if initiating sex and being turned down.

    Avoidants need real big green lights by other people to feel comfortable about doing things with them. It is still bad for others to experience, especially if they have no idea, but it is not manipulative and/or passive aggressive.

    • Dave- Hi and thank you for the clarification, although you are right, there are a lot of similarities. I do see where a spouse/significant other could be confused as to which on is which. Without any expression verbally, definitely things could be taken wrong, such as in your example about sex.

      Thanks again. I always appreciate the input for understanding, even if it does take me awhile to respond.

  10. I think I have AvPD, but I am aware of it and trying so hard to overcome it. It pains me that some of you guys are making fun of people with such a disorder. I am a victim of child abuse – my dad used to beat the shit out of me for asking him almost for anything that I had learned to avoid asking him (and almost everyone else) for anything.

    In order to learn how to be sociable again I had to monitor my classmates in school and ape them. I had to read about game theory. I even had and still have to force myself to be extra clear with everyone and explain myself in detail. Most of the symptoms used to apply to me (expect for “Avoids physical contact because it has been associated with an unpleasant or painful stimulus”). The effort I had put to lift myself from the consequences of my abuse as a child is still in progress.

    But it is not all bad. My situation (and having been a fat kid as well), helped me become extra critical, self aware, and exceptionally empathetic. By having forced myself to watch and learn how people interact and engage socially, I pushed myself into their shoes. I try giving people explanations for what they do instead of excuses and to love them unconditionally.

    A little background info: I am a Middle Easterner (not an American), so a lot of laws against domestic violence in your country are likely nonexistent in mine. I could have added more, but I think that is enough. After having treated my clinical depression, now its time to rid myself of AvPD for good.

  11. I see what you did in this article. You took a diagnosis that was too vague for mental health professionals to realistically maintain as a category in the DSM and simply conflated it with a specific personality disorder because you disagreed with their decision to remove passive aggressive personality disorder. I don’t really see how it benefits anyone to confuse medical terms in this way unless it is an attempt to attribute mental health (i.e. personality disorders) problems to the passive aggressive people in one’s life. And that seems fairly passive aggressive.

    I don’t mean to trivialize the struggles with PA people in anyone’s lives. But judging by the number of LOL’s in this entry it certainly trivializes those with the actual personality disorder. If that makes the PA people seem smaller and more manageable, that’s fine. It just seems like another criterion to scapegoat or ridicule them would be more dignified. Beating up on reclusive folks just comes across as bullying, and doing so indirectly, in a blog seems PA..

    • jim m- I’m sorry you feel that way about the article, but like all of us you have a right to your opinion. What I actually am concerned about is the fact that they had rearranged the category of the “passive aggressive personality” to
      almost an afterthought. As such, many clinicians are not very familiar, or understand very thoroughly, the passive aggressive person. I refer people to counseling all the time here, as a good counselor (therapist) can
      be worth their weight in gold as part of a support system. Unfortunately, many do not understand the manipulation ability of the passive aggressive and have no idea what they are dealing with.

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