Avoidance is a coping skill that individuals often engage in to protect themselves from painful or challenging emotions. While avoidance is not inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’, there are ways in which it can be problematic in our lives.
In this article, we discuss four common types of avoidant behavior and consider how to courageously move towards decisions that support our growth and well-being.
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4 Common Types of Avoidance Behavior
1. Avoid specific situations
Some individuals, particularly those with chronic anxiety, may engage in avoidance by limiting their exposure to certain stimuli or environments that cause some level of distress.
While avoiding something potentially uncomfortable may provide relief at the moment, it only serves to exacerbate anxiety and distress over time. Furthermore, avoidance blocks the opportunity for new learning.
For many individuals with anxiety disorders, exposure is an important part of recovery, as they learn that while certain thoughts, feelings, and situations may be uncomfortable, they are able to tolerate them, and their perceived fear is often worse than the actual fear.
Also Read: Tips To Avoid And Handle Stress In Your Life
Despite the widespread belief that procrastination is due to improper time management or laziness, researchers have discovered that this behavior is actually rooted in challenges with emotional regulation. It is a way of avoiding difficult emotions associated with a task, whether it’s self-doubt, insecurity, fear, or boredom.
Procrastination is at its core irrational, as we put off a task despite knowing that negative consequences will follow. However, the immediate relief of dodging a challenging emotion in the moment continues to take precedence over the long-term benefits of completing the task at hand.
3. Passive-aggressive behavior
Another form of avoidance behavior is passive aggression. This may occur when an individual does not directly express their negative emotions, and they act out their anger or frustration in more subtle ways.
Passive aggressive behavior often occurs in individuals who have learned to avoid conflict at all costs or believe that they have to deny their anger in order to maintain a connection with others.
Ironically, passive-aggressive behavior can often be more harmful to relationships than accepting and directly expressing one’s anger.
4. Excessive rumination
Many people don’t realize that rumination is actually an avoidant coping skill. By continually thinking about the same thoughts, replaying the same event, or trying to solve a problem without resolution, an individual is actually protecting themselves from feeling whatever emotions arise.
Excessive rumination can keep someone stuck instead of confronting the emotions that are necessary to move through for healing and growth.
Also Read: How To Deal With Stress At School/College
Strategies for Overcoming Avoidance
Overcoming avoidance behavior can be challenging, especially if it’s a coping skill that you have engaged in for many years. It often takes time to develop new patterns of accepting discomfort and facing challenging emotions and situations head-on.
To start, it can be helpful to reflect on what you are getting out of avoiding- whether it’s a stressful situation or task, or your feelings.
Consider the benefits of avoiding, as well as the costs. What could happen if you decided to stop avoiding? What impact would that have on your mental health, your work, and your relationships?
Asking yourself these questions can help you to start thinking about how avoidance has served you, how it may be unhelpful in other ways, and the potential of the alternative to facilitate new growth and opportunities.
Once you have gotten clear about the benefits and costs of avoiding and confronting, it is important to acknowledge when you find yourself engaging in avoidance behavior.
Be gentle with yourself, however, take ownership of your decision to avoid. Oftentimes, we forget that doing nothing is also a choice.
If we do decide to confront something difficult, like starting a project that seems overwhelming or navigating a conflict or a situation that evokes fear, it can be helpful to be realistic about what to expect.
As you make the brave decision to dive in, be prepared to face feelings of discomfort and other challenging emotions. Turn towards yourself with self-compassion, and surrounding yourself with supportive people can help you to manage the stress as well.
With each time that you choose courage over comfort, you are reinforcing that things may be challenging, but you are capable of doing hard things.