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  • Writer's pictureGladys Agwai


“Avoidance is the best short-term strategy to escape conflict and the best long-term

strategy to ensure suffering.” -Brendon Burchard

Avoidance behaviors are actions a person takes to escape from difficult thoughts and feelings. These behaviors can occur in multiple ways. They are commonly seen when practicing avoidance around the need to engage in difficult discussions, completing school or work projects, or speaking up in new environments. Everyone has problems and giving yourself space from these problems can help you get a fresh perspective. In fact, it is normal for you to seek pleasure while avoiding pain and doing this could create an adaptive and healthy space for self-reflection. For example, it is healthy to take precautions about what you eat and to engage in body movement to avoid health problems. It is also healthy to have a coach to avoid the struggles of career or business advancement. However, when you keep walking away from that problem never addressing it, it does not just disappear. Avoidance then becomes tricky and problematic and can result in a worse experience than the one you were running away from. Knowing the situation can worsen, many still choose to avoid the difficulty versus approaching and dealing with it.

Matthew McKay, Patrick Fanning, and Patricia Zurita Ona wrote about five types of avoidance. Which one resonates most and is a pattern of reoccurrence in your life? Situational avoidance is most used and seen when you habitually avoid social activities. You fear individuals or kinds of people, locations, animals, foods, activities, or social situations. Cognitive avoidance is about avoiding unpleasant or distressing thoughts and memories that bring worry and contemplation. You manage thoughts about your future and the various risks constantly, hoping this vigilance will prevent anything bad from happening. Affirmations, daydreams, prayer, and other repetitive phrases are common examples and can be helpful. But when they are used in a compulsive way to avoid distressing thoughts rather than work through them, that is not helpful.

Protective avoidance is the use of excessive safety behaviors, such as, checking, cleaning, over preparing, or perfectionism. Procrastination can also be used as a form of protective avoidance. Somatic avoidance works to ensure you do not experience internal physical sensations associated with emotional distress, such as, feeling hot, being out of breath, fatigue, or exhaustion. Anxiety comes with both mental (distressing thoughts) and physical symptoms like tightness of the chest, shallow breathing, and increased heart rate.

Substitution avoidance replaces one feeling with another, like grief with anger, or other emotions that feel more tolerable now. Numbing is also often used as an avoidance substitute and is often carried out through substance use, sex, shopping, gambling, and food abuses to distract from the problem or situation. Understanding the ways, you may be habitually turning away from or rejecting difficult emotions is a suitable place to start in helping you to develop more healthy and adaptive responses to distress.

Other examples of avoidance behavior are:

• Focusing almost exclusively on work.

• Repeated moves with the intent to start fresh.

• Rebounding after a painful breakup.

• Staying in a boring job to avoid failure. Avoiding may be more comfortable in the moment but approaching the problem is where your real growth happens.

Here’s why you should stop avoiding difficult situations:

• Problems eventually catch up to you, and you’ll find yourself running into the same or similar situations not knowing how to handle them.

• It doesn’t teach you to grow or better yourself.

• Facing problems teaches you perseverance, resilience, and strength.

• You will gain a sense of pride and independence.

It requires strength and courage to stop avoiding the problems you are most afraid of.

To do this,

A) Be mindful of the avoidance patterns you engage in

B) Do not automatically assume the worst; determine if there is any evidence of your worst thought, and if not, go into the situation with curiosity,

C) Decide to stand up to your fears and challenge them,

D) Embrace discomfort by listening to your body (tight shoulders, headaches, nervousness, temper, inability to concentrate) as part of the growth process,

E) “Chunk it” by breaking big projects or conversations into smaller and more manageable


F) Do it now, even if you are scared

G) Seek support from those who have experience and you can trust,

H) Own your mistakes and apologize if needed.

Avoidance is a survival mechanism meant to protect you from danger, like food poisoning from fish and now avoiding eating fish. However, every time you avoid anxiety- inducing thoughts and feelings, you are reinforcing them. You are sending the message to yourself that the world is a dangerous place, which creates an intensified cycle of anxiety. Expose yourself in small steps to a feared situation to allow your anxiety to lessen. In time, you will learn it is not as dangerous or bad as you originally thought. Remember the impact on those you avoid. It hurts to be ignored and causes undo stress upon them as well as you. You do not have to deprive yourself or others of the many experiences, adventures, and connections that will help ensure a fulfilled life. Run toward the emotional difficulty of your problem and not away from it.

“Avoiding the problems you need to face is avoiding the life you need to live.” Paulo Coelho

Article by: Gladys Agwai

As featured in Business Daily

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