Why are we afraid of meeting ourselves just as we are? Scared to simply be with our thoughts, emotions and our true feelings? The major source of unnecessary anguish I see in my work are those who use avoidance as a way to cope. We have been taught to be afraid of so-called difficult emotions. We dismiss uncomfortable feelings, instead of allowing ourselves to experience and feel fear, anger, sadness, grief, etc.
The natural human response to emotional pain is to do anything to avoid more pain: ignoring or running away from it. This proves counter-productive and keeps the pain active . Your brain continues to believe there is a threat. The brain reasons if no threat existed, why try so hard not to think or feel something? This only serves to increase our fear.
How do you know if you are using avoidance as a way of coping? Experiencing emotional numbness, inability to feel love or enjoy life, feeling as though you are on autopilot, isolating, unwilling to talk about your experience and shutting yourself off from others.
We find ways to distract ourselves and avoid our thoughts and our feelings. You dodge anything that might evoke a memory or feeling by focusing too much on work, staying too busy, using drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, or spacing out, etc.
An experience we can collectively share is to feel uneasy about a situation. Our typical reaction to this anxiety is to avoid the situation. Have you ever walked away from an important goal because it was too hard to face your fears?
Examples of avoidance behaviours: routinely avoiding social activities, public speaking, replacing unwanted thoughts with repetitive phrases, compulsively saying positive affirmations, procrastination, eating disorders, excessive cleaning, perfectionism, etc.
The problem with avoidance is that each time you avoid doing something, it unintentionally reinforces your fear. If you always leave a social event at the first sign of anxiety, you never have the chance to discover that if you stay long enough your anxiety will eventually decrease.
Be aware of situations that still cause you anxiety. Then begin to identify what you might be doing in these situations to avoid feeling anxious or fearful. Maybe it is avoiding eye contact, or talking really fast, or blending into the background, wearing clothes that avoid calling any attention to yourself or just leaving so you escape the situation. Consider doing something different the next time. While it may increase your anxiety in the moment, over time it will help to diminish your anxiety.
Some have such a fear of their own inner experience or are so confused internally, that they avoid even knowing their own needs or wants. They appear to be placating by usually going along with what others want. Not out of a conscious fear, but simply because they are unable to access their own inner compass to guide them toward what they need. They view conflict differently: you win but I don’t care as it really doesn’t matter to me.
Changing the Cycle
Adjust the Frequency
Be with the uncomfortable feelings. Allow them there. You don’t need to label it good or bad. You don’t need to do anything with them. If you can be with them even for a few moments… this allows something to move.
In stressful situations you may get really tired. Your body has been conditioned to make you feel tired… it’s less painful than actually dealing with the situation. Re-frame how you perceive stress. This is an opportunity to grow. Set an intention. Be clear on what you want to accomplish in dealing with this stressful situation and how you want to grow from it.
Try doing the opposite of your avoidance habit. If there are situations or people that you’ve been avoiding, then it’s time to find ways of facing these issues. Maybe it’s you’re isolating. Avoiding organizing clutter, personal finance, studying for an exam, learning to drive… take small steps to address this. It might feel impossible, but by taking that first step then you may feel far more capable to take a bigger step next time.