The Avoidant Personality Disorder is characterised by a basic fear of beeing judged, shyness and constant social discomfort (rubescence, being embarassed, avoiding social situations). People with this disorder do not commit themself to a relationship, if they are not sure to be accepted. They could even decline a promotion, if the new job involves more interpersonal interaction. When they are together with others, they are always afraid to say something stupid or inappropriate or not beeing able to answer a question.
It is important to note, that Avoidant Personality Disorder is not the same as Social Phobia (more) even though a lot of Diagnostic Criteria overlap. Social Phobia referes to a small set of feared situations, while Avoidant Personality Disorder is extended to all kinds of social situations. The development of the Avoidant Personality Disorder begins in childhood, Social phobias develop mostly because of traumatic events in the late adolescence or in adulthood.
Like for all Personality Disorder, people with Avoidant Personality Disorder see their behaviour, feelings etc. as belonging to themself. They identify themself with the symptoms. For them the (inappropriate) behaviour seems completely normal and appropriate. The feeling for malfunctioning or suffering is mostly diffuse and vague. (This is as well why therapy is difficult. More) People with Social Phobia on the other hand experiences symptoms as not belonging to themself. The symtoms are disturbing and therefore the person suffers.
Diagnostic Criteria of DSM-IV: Avoidant Personality Disorder
The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, More) 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: