I suspect that I may have AvPD (Avoidant Personality Disorder); I want to connect with other people but I am afraid and usually end up hiding in social situations (bathroom breaks, pretending to study things that I’m not really interested in, going for a walk, etc.). I am miserable because I desire friendship that I cannot cultivate, but I can be anxious and defensive when I am around potential friends. I have not tried to get a diagnosis because I don’t want to spend time and money (especially money).
I am wondering if I have any prospect of joining an Order (either active or contemplative); would my lack of ability to connect and form friendships be an automatic disqualification?
Is this something that I need to address with a psychiatrist or therapist on my own before entering the discernment process, or would a community allow me to try to live among them and just let them decide on whether I will fit in or not?
First, dont be discouraged one bit. The Lord does not inspire desires He will not fulfill, although fulfillment may not be quite in the way of life anticipated - or it may. I think it is an excellent idea to seek out a psychiatrist or therapist and as soon as you can. As well as this, you can make enquiries of religious orders. They may want you to have successful medical treatment prior to applying. The only way to find out, is to ask.
Motivation is an important point in discerning God’s Invitation for our life. If I am trying to escape in some way into religious life, then it is unlikely that I have a vocation. Religious life is certainly no escape for sure. Religious life is also primarily community life in which relationships are important. If I desire to enter religious life in order to serve God with the gift of my whole life, then I might have a religious vocation. Keep it in mind that there are many ways of giving one’s whole life to Godand we are all called to do this - religious life is not the only way. The important thing is to discern God’s Invitation and you may need spiritual direction to do this. Spiritual direction and professional therapy. While Catholic discussion sites are a wonderful resource and even support, they can also be places of discouragement. Nothing replaces a good spiritual director and sound spiritual direction. And if one has psychiatric problems, then it is important and also might be a duty to seek theraputic assistance. Of course, if one has very real problems in seeking theraputic assistance such as severe just limitations on time and money, then the duty is mitigated by that much. The Lord does not ask the impossible.
Never try to self-diagnose any kind of mental disorder. It is exceptionally dangerous to do so. Nowadays with the internet and such things people think they can just look up the diagnostic manuals and go “yup, that’s what I’ve got” but it doesn’t work like that. The diagnostics manuals are guides to only be used by trained professionals and should never be used to self-diagnose. The criteria for these disorders is purposely very wide and just reading it as un untrained person it seems to everyone that they have at least one disorder. So do not assume that you have a mental disorder simply because you fit a symptoms list. I don’t say that to diminish your feelings or your sufferings but the chances of you actually having a personality disorder are very slim.
That is not to say you do not have a problem that needs solving, but it is not necessarily a disorder. Honestly, I used to be a lot like what you describe yourself as, after I was severely bullied at school as a teenager. I did eventually seek counselling and it was very helpful, simply to have someone impartial to talk through things with. Seeing a therapist may be beneficial to you, not to seek diagnosis but to simply work on your issues. Even only a short time seeing a therapist could give you a kick start to be able to go on to work on your issues yourself. If I remember correctly you are a fairly recent convert so you have plenty of time to work on your issues before you would be able to join a community.
Community life is very different to everyday life in the world - there is no hiding from your sisters!
PerfectTiming, thank you for the warning. I’m sorry, I realize now that I came across more convinced of a self-diagnosis than I intended. I obviously have no idea what is wrong with me, if anything at all; hence the “would a community allow me to try to live among them and just let them decide on whether I will fit in or not?”
I’m sorry if I came across as harsh! Psychology is my degree subject and we’re warned against self-diagnosis so often that we tend to be very zealous about it.
Religious communities do not expect one to be perfect before they enter. Everyone will have aspects of the life that they will struggle with. For you the living in community may be something you will find difficult. But you cannot know until you try whether it will be a barrier for you or not. The graces one gets from God on entering a vocation can help us overcome even our greatest fears and weaknesses.
I’ve had increased difficulty with anxiety, and finally decided to bite the bullet and seek cognitive behavior therapy. I was diagnosed with AvPD. The advice above is excellent. I too would recommend finding a therapist. What is more important than the label, is addressing the underlying thought patterns that make things difficult. I too used to dream about a religious vocation, even though I already have one as a husband and father. I’m coming to terms with my desperate need for people to like me, rather to own my worth in our Lord’s eyes. I know I cannot serve Him fully if I do not allow myself to see Jesus in others, but rather assume rash judgments about how they view me.