Avoidance – Is it helpful or not?

Many of us tend to avoid things we don’t want to do. Whether we eventually complete the things we avoid or not, avoidance is one of the most common behaviors of the human being. In this post, I’d like to analyze more about this behavior. If you think a little deeper about what avoidance is, you will notice there are many aspects of it. What are you trying to avoid? What kind of things tend to happen as a result of avoidance? First of all, why do you avoid certain things? Let’s look at the answers to those questions systematically.

1. Different levels of avoidance

Avoidance may manifest as a behavior, but it usually starts as emotional avoidance. You would not take specific actions because you don’t “feel” like doing something, correct? Sometimes it may be a physical sensation you are trying to avoid, such as getting up from bed in the cold morning. Still, certain emotions are usually there in addition to physical sensations.

2. Pros and cons

  • Positive aspects of avoidance

You may think it is all bad to avoid something, but there are some positive consequences of avoidance, at least for a certain period. For example, it can be good to postpone responding to someone’s email or text if you are the type to always reply to people’s messages right away. While you wait, you might come up with better things to say. Especially if you are in the middle of an argument, it can be helpful to have a cooling-down period before writing an emotional response to someone. Also, if you are injured, you may avoid using that body part to prevent pain. This is necessary as your injuries can worsen if you use the damaged body part too soon. Similarly, if you break up with someone, you may avoid dating for a while in order to have a recovery period. Once you feel better, most likely, you will have the mental energy to go out and start dating again.

  • Negative aspects of avoidance

Of course, there are many negative consequences of avoiding things.

I. You may get into trouble if you do not finish what you are supposed to do, such as assignments/homework, chores, paperwork, etc.

II. Imagine you avoid certain people or general interactions with others. In that case, the negative consequences might be more significant as you avoid not just one particular thing but many places or situations. Your life will be limited because avoidance ends up controlling your life.

III. If you avoid failure and would not accept new challenges, your life will also be limited. You will not grow as a human and might even get stuck in the same place for the rest of your life.

3. Reason

The most common reason for avoidance is fear. People are often afraid of the negative consequences of their actions. For example, a girl may avoid her homework as she assumes she won’t be able to solve certain math problems. At the moment, she concludes the negative consequences of encountering difficult math problems are greater than the negative consequences of postponing her homework. As you can see, the girl’s thinking is not necessarily logical, and her assumption is a bit off. It is probably worse for her to avoid homework than to avoid the minor frustration of facing complicated math problems. This example leads us to another question.

4. What should we do to avoid “avoiding”?

The answer to the above question is simply this: check if your logic is correct. Isn’t your current avoidant behavior influenced by your exaggerated imagination based on fear? CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) is often helpful in realizing those types of cognitive distortions. Once you notice them, it will be easier to re-train your brain by practicing new ways or by using other methods, such as neurofeedback, EMDR, etc.

At times, however, we still avoid certain things even if we know it is better not to. For example, addiction is one of the avoidant behaviors. People often drink/gamble/engage in harmful activities in order to avoid facing difficult emotions. In that case, most often, there are hidden underline issues, such as severe health or mental health issues, past trauma(s), or ongoing relationship issues. More intensive self-reflection or psychotherapy is needed if they seriously want to get rid of their addiction problems (avoidant behavior).

In conclusion, there is a difference between short-term and long-term/permanent avoidance. It may be OK to avoid certain things for some time, but it is normally detrimental if avoidance lasts for a long time. I want to emphasize, however, there are other ways to deal with difficulties besides avoidance. You will find them as long as you are open to new ideas. Permanent avoidance is, simply put, giving up. If you are struggling to eliminate your avoidant behavior, all it takes might be to open up your mind a little more.