The aim of this thesis is to inquire into the subjective experience of avoidant personality disorder. How do people who are diagnosed with this disorder experience and make sense of their everyday lives and strategies? How do they make sense of the origin and development of their psychological struggles? In addition, how do they experience their treatments? The methodological approach is a qualitative and interpretative phenomenological one, with an ongoing focus on researcher reflexivity. Furthermore, a co-researcher and two members of a resource group contributed to all stages of the research process with their first-hand knowledge of the phenomenon in question. Fifteen participants who had a received a primary diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder were interviewed twice. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was utilized to analyze the transcribed interviews.
The findings are presented in three separate articles that present different parts of the rich data material (i.e., various aspects of the participants’ subjective experiences). The first article explores how the participants experienced and made sense of their everyday challenges and strategies. The second article explores their sense making and subjective experiences of the origin and development of their current everyday struggles. The third article enquires about how the participants made sense of their experiences with treatments. Findings are presented in the articles as themes that summarize and convey important aspects of the participants’ descriptions.
Together, the findings consist of three overarching themes: (1) struggling to be a person; (2) a story of becoming forlorn; and (3) searching for the courage to be. The overarching themes encompass corresponding main themes to capture both the similarities and variances of the participants’ descriptions. The overarching themes conveyed how the participants struggled to be relational persons within a lifeworld of isolation, creating a longing for and fear of connection, along with an ongoing sense of doubt and insecurity. This struggle emerged in early childhood as a sense of growing disconnection and detachment from significant others and/or peers, which evolved and worsened through transitional periods that demanded ever more complex social and interpersonal skills. Their treatment experiences came across as being colored by a sense of being managed, not being understood, or not being able to make themselves understood, at the same time as they searched for the courage to begin resolving their fears and insecurities. However, experiences of vitality and movement in treatment were also present in the participants’ descriptions. These seemed to be related to a relationship to a therapist who was interested and genuine and had time and space for them, as well as making them feel understood. Each article includes a discussion of findings in relation to theories, research, and practice. The overall discussion of the thesis concerns an emphasis on an interpersonal developmental understanding of personality and of self-organizing experiences. Strengths and limitations of the research are explored. Implications for therapy and future research are reflected upon: in particular, the importance of further inquiry into avoidant personality disorder as understood through the development of self-in-relation-to-others.