Avoidance Behaviors – And How To Stop Avoiding

by Bob Walsh

There are many ways how we sabotage our own progress and success, and one of the most common ones is avoidance. A person who avoids doing _______ [unpleasant task, activity or emotion], by doing ______ [pleasant task, acitivty or emotion]. We all have engaged in this kind of self-sabotage at some points in our lives, but for some people this has become the “default mode” of dealing with problems.

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The Escape Into Pleasure

One way how people avoid conflicts and negative emotions is by overindulging in positivity. They use pleasure not really to enhance the quality of their lives, but to distract themselves from their problems. This is of course tempting:

  • why not watch another episode of that entertaining TV show instead of dealing with those unpaid bills?
  • Why not get a massage instead of going to the dentist?
  • Why not bring her flowers, instead of talking with her about the problems your relationship is facing?

Yes, positive thinking is important. Yes, it makes sense to focus on the positive. Yes, you should look on the bright side of life. But it shouldn’t become a coping strategy. You should not abuse pleasure just to avoid negativity, because otherwise, the actual pleasure you gain will be short-lived and unsatisfactory, leaving you feel empty and depressed in the long run, and leading to a stagnant life where you don’t evolve, where there is no process and nothing that drives you towards achievements.

As long as you avoid conflicts or negative emotions, you close yourself up to a huge part of life and limit your range of experiences and possibilities.

Recognizing and Admitting Your Own Avoidance-Habits

One of the most difficult things is to recognize (and accept) that you’re often avoiding conflicts or unpleasant situations. Because in a way, these avoidance behaviors do serve a purpose – they are psychological patterns which you have adapted early on in your childhood to help you cope with life’s challenges. So in that regard, your subconscious mind views them as a trusted friend and helper. And that’s why, even when you consciously want to stop avoiding, subconsciously you’ll still be protecting the avoidance patterns, oftentimes by hiding them from your conscious attention, or by justifying them.

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You might feel as if you’re maintaining a sort of equilibrium, as if you’re leading a balanced life, almost like an Eastern sage. You might feel that not engaging in conflict is wise – and even though you sometimes feel anger or resentment or disappointment, you don’t give in to these silly, childish emotions, and instead practice wisdom by not further engaging in these thoughts and feelings.

But is it really wisdom? Or are you shutting down the door on these emotions because avoiding them is simply easier, and most of all: safer.

If for example you are not engaging in a conflict with another person who did something that you consider wrong and that affects you or a person you care about – why not set things straight?

One common justification for a situation like this which is typicall for avoiders is: “They might treat me unfairly right now, but what goes around comes around. I don’t need to fight with them about this, because in the long run they’ll get what they deserve. That’s the way life works. God sees all our actions and knows our motives. The universe has it’s ways of working things out.”

But the truth is, this is merely speculation or theory – we’re living in a physical world, with physical bodies, and we should act as such. So if someone treats you or someone you care about unfairly, then you should not just let them go through with it and do your best to stop them from taking advantage of you.

This is just one example for many of the substrategies which can manifest themselves into your life, and they are different for different people. However, the most important thing is that you have a way of recognizing them when they happen, and being able to GET YOURSELF INTO ACTION, and by that I mean the kind of action that helps you to turn a problem or challenge into a gift.

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