Avoidance or Something More?

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Hello. I am a 22 year old male and have been shy and insecure pretty much my entire life. Though I might say I had a normal childhood, there were early signs something was wrong with me. I was afraid of heights, afraid of dogs, afraid of water (I never learned to swim or even ride a bicycle). I missed out on many things because of fear and insecurity. That is probably where I started developing low self-esteem and things just went on their own. My father was rarely present at home and my mother and grandmother were rather inadequate in their behavior. A person on the side might say they were the children in the house. I did feel neglected and singled out in my own family, that transferred into my social life. I did have other oddities as a child for which I have no explanation. In my early teens I started staying more at home, than going out with friends.
Entering high school was a life changing event for me. Going to school became a nightmare, I quickly developed fear of people, couldn’t talk normally to anyone, I had nausea with waking up, before leaving the house. I started avoiding people and social events terrified me. I had very low grades throughout high school, I often had severe depression episodes (I still do). Nobody seemed to make it easier for me, there was no one to talk to. I became very quiet and withdrawn, I couldn’t speak my mind properly in front of people, because I couldn’t relax.
A year before graduation I started visiting a therapist. I underwent verbal therapy (cognitive-behavioral) for about a year and it didn’t help me with anything. She diagnosed me with Avoidant personality disorder. Only when I left for college and changed the scenery, did I start experiencing some very slow changes, but I don’t believe it was because of therapy. I started a sexual relationship with my therapist (female, 20 years older than me) which is still going on, I suppose. About two and a half years now. We became close and she seems very emotionally attached.
Since there was no effect in her therapy, I decided to visit someone else again (male this time), allegedly one of the best therapists in my country. But I can’t relax speaking my mind even there. He practices hypnosis and rebirthing-breathwork, which is cool, but it seems insecurity is getting in the way even when I’m at my therapist’s office.
I dropped out of college after my first year because of this social anxiety thing, it is unbearable at times. I just enrolled in a Psychology class, hoping this might help somewhat with my issues.
Though I am experiencing some very slow changes, so slow I’m not sure I can call them changes, I still feel there is a darkness that gradually engulfs me. I still have major depressive episodes, thoughts of suicide, etc. In these cases thoughts are just piling up and I don’t know what to do with them, I don’t know how to vent, it just feels like my head is going to implode.

A: I am glad that you have been trying different therapies and therapists. Since you are now back in college I would recommend you use the counseling center there. But rather than use an individual approach to therapy I highly recommend a group. The group process itself is the intervention. Working with others in a group at the hands of a good therapist will allow the feelings and behaviors with avoidant personality disorder to emerge and have the opportunity to be corrected. The individual therapy should be continued to process the reactions you experience within the group. But the group will give you a chance to work through the dynamics you have identified.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Aug 2013

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2013). Avoidance or Something More?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/08/19/avoidance-or-something-more/