Environmental Factors

1. Parental Rejection
An important environmental factor ín the development of avoidant personality disorder ís parental rejection (Kantor; Millon & Everly). Although normal, healthy infants may encounter varying degrees of parental rejection, the amount of rejection seems to be particularly intense &/or frequent for people who subsequently develop APD. Frequent or intense rejections crush children’s natural energy & optimism, leaving instead attitudes of self-deprecation & feelings of social isolation. Rejection by parents appears to be particularly devastating because ít may be interpreted as a direct contradiction to the commonly held edict of unconditional love & acceptance of offspring by their parents. The rejected child asks, “if my parents won’t accept me, who will?”, yet some children learn that their parents do not accept them, thus the question ís always present & every person the avoidant interacts with will be put to the test.

Although avoidance ín children does not appear to be necessarily linked to APD ín adulthood, ít appears that particular kinds of rejection by parents can alter the attitude & behavior of children ín a way that disposes them to develop the disorder more easily later ín life. For example, Kantor suggests that íf a child’s expression of positive emotion ís met with remoteness, criticism or punishment, he might learn to spare himself anguish by keeping positive feelings to himself. Perhaps such a child might abandon positive feelings altogether. There ís little doubt that this would jeopardize later adult relationships.

Likewise, íf a child’s negative feelings are rejected, for example, íf she ís repeatedly told “it’s bad to feel angry”, she might forego otherwise workable relationships ín order to avoid not only the intermittent feelings of dissatisfaction or anger that are an inevitable part of practically all close relationships, but also her ambivalence toward negative feelings ín general.

Furthermore, parental rejection may indicate some underlying parental fear, which the child unconsciously imitates. In such a case, the child may learn not only to fear rejection from others, but also to believe that the world ís a fearful place.

2. Peer Rejection
A 2nd environmental factor implicated ín the emergence of APD ís rejection by peer groups. If a child leaves a hostile or rejecting situation & encounters positive reinforcing experiences outside of the home, early rejection by parents need not result ín self-deprecating attitudes. However, íf parental or familial (including siblings) rejection ís compounded by rejection from a peer group, the prognosis points heavily toward a personality disorder.

Repeated social interactions expose an individual to potential rejection over a sustained period of time. Such rejection, íf ít occurs, can wear down the individual’s sense of self-competence & self-esteem. Following humiliation & rejection by peers, individuals then begin to criticize themselves. Feelings of loneliness & isolation are made worse because of harsh self-judgments & increasing feelings of personal inferiority & self-worthlessness contribute to withdrawing behavior. Rejection by their peers seems to validate the rejection by their parents. When children cannot turn to their parents, their peers, or even themselves for gratification or validation, they retreat. Avoidant personality may be the result.

3. Other Factors
In addition to rejection by parents & peers, ít ís speculated that several other factors can play more & less significant roles ín the development & persistence of APD. For example, children who are infantalized by their parents may have difficulty relating to people outside of the family. As adults they may be regressive & dependent ín relationships. Avoidance may also be recommended by parents, peers, teachers, entertainers, religious leaders & the media as protection against the evils of the world. Unresolved rivalry with siblings has been suspected of inducing transferential jealous competition among individuals, leading to avoidant behavior. Also, sexual feelings, for example Freud’s (1950) “incest taboo”, may unconsciously lead to avoidance of close relationships with parents & later with potential partners. It has been noted that sometimes avoidants isolate themselves ín order to manage strong ambivalent or negative feelings toward sex (Kantor). In psychopathic proportions, avoidance may lead to a purposive distancing ín order to enhance sexual fantasies (Shapiro, 1981). In some cases, a more poignant expression of sexual disgust may be expressed as love revulsion, a condition ín which the avoidant has learned to “love” isolation, not because ít ís a real preference but because ít ís a defense against a forbidden desire to be with others (Kantor). Finally, transference can lead to avoidant behavior when an individual distances herself from people who remind her of something or someone she disliked or feared ín the past — often parents, but also others outside of the family.