While the fear of rejection can keep people from reaching their goals, for some it can be so overwhelming that they are frozen in place and unable to move forward in life. This is the plight of many Millennials. The growing “Failure to Launch” trend among young adults, especially young men, and the rise of personality disorders related to avoidance and anxiety are linked.


The term Failure to Launch was described in Psychology today as “an increasingly popular way to describe the difficulties some young adults face when transitioning into the next phase of development—a stage which involves greater independence and responsibility.But what causes young adults to fail to launch? Although there can be many contributing causes, Avoidant Personality Disorder is one difficulty that can lead to “Failure to Launch” and it’s worth examining.


What is Avoidant Personality Disorder?

Wikipedia describes people who have been diagnosed with Avoidant Personality Disorder as having “…a pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, extreme sensitivity to negative evaluation, and avoidance of social interaction despite a strong desire to be close to others.[2] Individuals with the disorder tend to describe themselves as uneasy, anxious, lonely, unwanted and isolated from others.”


It is important to note that only those who have a “strong desire” to be close to others, but are unable to as a result of their symptoms are considered to have Avoidant Personality Disorder.


In practical terms, those who suffer with Avoidant Personality Disorder tend to be unusually withdrawn or isolated. Although they long for honest and open communication with others, they withhold their true thoughts and feelings because they fear rejection.They become overly sensitive to criticism and other forms of disapproval.

For young adults, Avoidant Personality Disorder can be extremely disruptive, preventing the achievement of independence. For some school is too overwhelming, so they avoid going to class. For others work may become unbearable. For many socializing feels too risky, so they avoid it altogether.

The cruel irony is that although they desperately want and need to connect with people, their fear of rejection leads them to push people away, even when those people really want to be in their life. This can obviously make intimate and romantic relationships very tricky indeed.


Why does someone with Avoidant Personality Disorder fear rejection?


While there is no definitive answer, most theories support the idea that it is because of a belief that they are unworthy of love and acceptance. Feelings of inadequacy or inferiority leads to a pervasive feeling of unworthiness, which is responsible for hypersensitivity to disapproval of any kind. For someone who struggles with this disorder, the slightest disapproval, even if it is imagined can be totally devastating.


How do you tell if someone has Avoidant Personality Disorder?


Although it requires a licensed therapist or psychiatrist to make an official diagnosis, knowing the symptoms can tell you if your son or someone you know fits the pattern of Avoidant Personality Disorder.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, four of the following seven symptoms must be present to be diagnosed with Avoidant Personality Disorder:


  1. Avoids occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact, because of fears of criticism, disapproval, or rejection
  2. Is unwilling to get involved with people unless certain of being liked
  3. Shows restraint within intimate relationships because of the fear of being shamed or ridiculed
  4. Is preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations
  5. Is inhibited in new interpersonal situations because of feelings of inadequacy
  6. Views self as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others
  7. Is unusually reluctant to take personal risk or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing


While Avoidant Personality Disorder is considered to be incurable, the right treatment can alleviate many of the symptoms and greatly improve the sufferer’s quality of life. Other disorders commonly associated with Avoidant Personality Disorder, include, Social Phobia, Borderline Personality Disorder and Dependent Personality Disorder


While not everyone who struggles with Failure to Launch is diagnosed with Avoidant Personality Disorder, almost without exception, those who are treated for Failure to Launch have at least some of the symptoms listed above.

Other behavioral traits that are frequently associated with Avoidant Personality Disorder include:


    • Absolutes; using absolute language like “You never listen.” or “You always lecture me.”
    • Dependency; an adult inappropriately and chronically relies on another individual for their health, financial needs, decision making, and other personal and emotional needs.
    • Depression; those with Avoidant Personality Disorder are also frequently diagnosed with depression.
    • Escapism; using a variety of distractions to avoid dealing with life in the present, especially video games, internet and other online entertainment media.
    • Manipulation; manipulation tactics vary, however there is always a hidden agenda and goal. Those who suffer with Avoidant Personality Disorder frequently use manipulation to get their needs met.
    • Perfectionism; nothing is good enough, the standard is set unrealistically high for themselves and often for others.
    • Victim-stance/Entitlement Mentality; adopting the paradigm that the world/life is/has been unfair to them, so they should receive “special” treatment.
    • Inflexible; unwilling to tolerate or consider anything that goes outside their comfort zone.
    • Mental Fixation; a chronically narrow focus on one goal or priority to the exclusion of other important goals and priorities. Example: having such a narrow focus on physical fitness that going to the gym is prioritized over going to work, with the result of losing their job and the problems that come with unemployment.


The great new is there’s hope. Those who suffer from AVPD, when following the correct Avoidant Personality Disorder treatment plan to include group therapy, DBT, CBT as well as psychodynamic therapy, can experience remarkably lower symptoms, giving them the confidence to move forward, connect with others and live a fulfilling life.


If you would like more information regarding Avoidant Personality Disorder (AVPD), please reach out to one of our therapists today by contacting Brad Francis at brad@fortestrong.com.





Eric Hatton has spent most of the last six years working as a field staff in wilderness therapy where he coached students on primitive fire skills, making and setting traps and other important wilderness skills. He also coached staff as they learned leadership skills and as they learned to disrupt dysfunctional behavior in the students. Eric loves brainstorming with people. He loves to help people organize their thoughts and change their dreams and desires into tangible, achievable goals. He loves to help people to discover their passions and to help them find ways to use their passions to realize their goals. He is passionate about building great teams and organizations and helping others succeed.