Avoidance behaviour, is an unhealthy kind of behavior we exhibit in our lives in one way or the other; some more than others.
A few days ago, I felt down emotionally and it affected my mood. I knew what was wrong and what could have caused the way I felt but I wasn’t sure I wanted to think about it either but it still bothered me. I didn’t want to think about it because I didn’t like the truths and feelings I’d discover, I wasn’t ready to take it and of course, it came with anxiety.
What did I do? I pushed the thought and distracted myself and up till now, I still haven’t dealt with it completely although I have prayed about it.
What I did there is simply known as avoidance behaviour/coping.
What is Avoidance Behaviour?
Avoidance behaviour, also known as avoidance coping is simply a change in behavior to avoid thinking or feeling things that are uncomfortable.
The aim of using this type of coping strategy is to avoid stress, anxiety and unpleasant feelings. One of the ways that avoidance behaviour shows up is in the form of procrastination. We have things to do but somehow we push it to a later time because it’s uncomfortable for us at that moment so we feel, why not later right?
I understand that procrastination might not necessarily be as a result of avoiding something, it might just be plain laziness and just wanting to be comfortable (but then again, maybe leaving your comfort zone is uncomfortable and so you just want to avoid the discomfort, just saying).
Why is Avoidance behaviour unhealthy?
It stresses you even more and increases anxiety
Usually, avoidance behaviour is used to avoid stress and unpleasant feelings. It basically reduces your anxiety but guess what? It only does that at the moment. For instance, if there’s something you and your friend have to talk about that scares you, you could keep pushing the meeting to talk about it. You could also avoid them and at that moment, you feel good and relieved but the truth is sooner or later, you’d have to face your friend. In the long run, you simply build stress and your anxiety also increases. What avoidance behaviour or coping does is it gives temporal relief.
It doesn’t solve the problem
You know how we try to run away from our problems and after the whole drama and 360 degree round about, we come back to deal with it? Yes, that’s the same with avoidance behaviour. It basically solves nothing, it only wastes time and strains you mentally and physically in the long run. Take procrastination for instance, after everything, you still end up doing what you have to do and sometimes in a short period, so it just stresses you.
It may allow the problem to grow
When you avoid certain feelings; when you don’t deal with them, it creates problems for you in the future. An example is with confronting people. If someone does something unpleasant to you and you don’t tell them because you’re afraid you might lose them or because confrontation makes you uncomfortable or whatsoever reasons you have, at the moment it might sound like a good idea because there would be peace but with time, it will eat you up and you’d be unhappy and probably bitter towards this person.
The truth is, your friend will know one day and it might hurt them to know you didn’t say anything (or not) or one day when you’ve had enough, you’d explode in a way that would hurt them and that in the end strains the relationship, so the earlier you deal with it, the better, except you can completely ignore without it affecting you (who are we kidding?).
See also: How to Confront Someone
It could strain relationships and create conflict even within yourself
Using the example in the third point, you’ll see that the relationship is affected. Also, within yourself, you’re not totally at peace and it could bring up emotions you don’t want like bitterness, timidity, insecurities and so on. You really don’t want that, now do you?
When can Avoidance Behaviour be used?
There are times avoidance behaviour can be used in a healthy way but that’s for stress relief. An example is relaxation, jogging, basically moving away from the stress. The essence is not to run away completely from it but to get some space and clarity before coming back to deal with it.
For instance, when you’re hurt by someone, you might want to take some time or move away from them but eventually, you’ll have to come back to it. Another example is anger. When you feel angry, you might want to move away from what’s causing it and come back later when calm. That way, you handle it better and not cause any damage by making wrong choices or hurting people with your words. Do you get?
How do you deal with it?
Recognize this behavior
You guessed it. As with every problem, the first step is to recognize that you have this problem. Recognize when you’re doing it; when you’re using this behaviour. If you are not aware enough, you wouldn’t even know it’s a problem. If you don’t know it’s a problem, how can you deal with it?
Use active coping mechanism instead
“Active coping is a type of coping in which a person directly works to control a stressor through appropriately targeted behavior, embracing responsibility for resolving the situation using one’s available internal resources”American Psychological Association
All that simply put is that active coping is one in which the individual directly addresses the stress by using certain behaviors to help them achieve that.
Example of behaviours one can adapt while using active coping are gathering information, securing social support, prioritizing tasks, turning to faith, requesting and accepting help from family and friends, active distraction and problem solving.
With active coping, you find out what exactly the problem is, how to solve it and go through with it. If someone did something bad to you and you offended them in turn just to hurt them and somehow it makes you feel guilty and bad about yourself, the thing to do is to apologize to them even though it might hurt your ego. There’s really no point pushing it because what’s wrong is wrong.
Active coping is a whole lot and a whole topic on its own to be discussed more in details next month (It’ll be my next behavioral post, so watch out).
As at 2018, I wasn’t a fan of emotional journaling because I honestly didn’t see the point of it and I felt it just brought up things that I already let go plus it was a waste of time. Late last year, I became so aware of my emotions and I really had to start journaling. Sometimes it wasn’t easy to talk about certain feelings, emotions, why things bothered me, getting to the root of a problem and so on but in the long run it helped me. With it, I was able to get to the bottom of the reason I felt the way I felt (not all the time though).
For instance, if someone lied to me and it really pissed me off and made me not want to have anything to do with the person, in my journal I could start by asking why the person’s lie pissed me off. From there I could ask more questions like, could it be the lie or is it because this person in question lied to me? If it’s the person lying that affected me and not the lie, I ask myself, why did that have so much effect on me and the questions continue. Trust me, I feel better afterwards.
To do this, you have to be really honest with yourself and accept whatever you find out so you can be better. You also have to ask God to help you as you do this because it’s truly the Holy Spirit that sheds light in our hearts and reveals things to us.
Talk to God
If I don’t add this, of course this article is not complete. As a Christian, I believe in telling God everything and I’ve come to find out that when I do, there’s a peace and reassurance that comes with it. God also makes healing, learning and unlearning better and easier because the truth is we are all humans and we have been through things that shaped how we behave today. Talk to God, He hears and He wants that too.
We like to run away from our problems and uncomfortable situations and emotions but that isn’t healthy. It bites us internally and can bring about self destructive behaviours. What you want to do is to deal with it and be done so you can move on.
As for me and what I talked about in the beginning, I’m definitely going to revisit it because now I think I can handle it better. I hope this post helps you in one way or the other. I’d love to hear what you think in the comment section.