Action 72

I avoid avoidance, since avoidance of my problems and the triggers and reminders slows the recovery process and is likely to make things worse. I can learn to tolerate, face, confront and re-experience what I encountered without falling apart. I “fast-forward” to the present, look to the future and get unstuck from the past. I can make peace with the past.

Avoidance behavior maintains anxiety disorders such as PTSD. Such avoidance behaviors may include “situational avoidance” of places, people and other reminders like sounds, smells, and sights (movies, television programs, and books) that remind the individual of the traumatic events, and “cognitive avoidance” of bothersome thoughts and conversational topics.

As highlighted before, there is a paradoxical (or opposite) effect when individuals attempt to deliberately and actively monitor and suppress unwanted mental states in order to control them. Such avoidant and suppressing efforts tend to actually cause them to occur. Avoidance efforts have a “boomerang” opposite effect. Avoidance forms of coping play a role in the generation of stress, contributing to a higher number of daily hassles and stressful life events which are linked to depressive symptoms. Avoidant behaviors have the negative effect of reducing access to social supports and the opportunity to benefit from the therapeutic effects of talking about emotions with others.

Useful Information

Avoidance can be a helpful protection in the short-term as a way of pacing or dosing oneself and gradually overcoming fear and demonstrating courage. But, when avoidance behaviors become habitual and prolonged, they can become problematic and psychologically destructive. Avoidance can lead to problems piling up. Avoidance behaviors prevent people from working through their emotions and limit their lives as they become hyper vigilant to possible reminders and triggers. Prolonged avoidance can become a negative downward spiral.

As the adage goes:

“It helps to get back on the horse after one has been thrown.”

Gradual exposure and reexperience is the most effective way for the body’s “fear alert system” to be deactivated and for the mind’s “alarm system” to be switched off.

Quotable Quotes

“I have learned to loosen my grip on destructive emotions. I can steer myself in the right direction, with courage. It wasn’t easy.”

“When I realized I wasn’t the only one with these problems and who felt like this, it made all the difference.”

“I finally realized that avoiding my problems was not going to solve them.”

“I thought I would fall apart if I had to reexperience and resolve my traumatic events. I learned that I did not need protection from that which I had previously worked so hard to avoid.”

“I learned to tolerate and accept discomfort that comes when the reminders of the past come and I can neutralize and transform these events.”

“I learned to make it palatable and gave up the fight with the past.”

“I learned to consider in detail the material I would otherwise avoid. I had to learn to sustain my attention in areas that are difficult and challenging.”

“I had to learn to put these traumatic memories in the midst of my life story. It is only part of my memory, not my whole memory.”

“If the river turns, and you do not turn, you end up on dry land.”

“I have learned to shake off threats that do not materialize.”

Action 73