Avoidance is a behavior that is hardwired into us. It’s an instinctive reaction (think: fight-or-flight response, specifically the “flight” part) that in theory keeps us safe from danger. And sometimes avoidance, or flight, does just that. When we avoid walking across dark parking lots alone at night (whether we’re male or female, young or old), we keep ourselves out of risk of significant danger. What happens, though, when our brain tells us there is danger lurking here or there, and we avoid good things because of it?
Sometimes the human brain is a drama queen, setting off alarm bells for no logical reason. When the brain responds anxiously to our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the world, we are driven to avoid what anxiety tells us to fear.
What We Avoid and Why
There seems to be no limit to what we can avoid. Whatever it is that causes fear and anxiety, we frequently go through great lengths to stay away from it. All types of anxiety disorders as well as anxieties that aren’t diagnosable as a disorder can cause avoidance. Some of the things that we avoid include:
• Leaving the house
• Any object of a specific phobia
• Places and circumstances that trigger obsessions
To be sure, this is only a partial list. Think about your own anxieties. What are you avoiding because of them?
Anxiety is a driving force behind avoidant behaviors. However, it’s not the only thing that causes people to avoid the things on the above list. Sometimes, avoidance is driven by a hatred of discomfort, a fear of failure, or even a fear of success (okay, I got what I wanted, so now what’s going to happen?).
What Avoidance Does
Initially, avoidance provides relief. We feel safer, calmer when we don’t have to deal with something that makes our anxiety, discomfort, and fear skyrocket. It does work, albeit temporarily, or we wouldn’t bother to avoid things.
In the grand scheme of our lives, happiness, and wellbeing, however, avoidance causes more harm than it does good. Avoidance keeps us stuck right where we are, unable to grow or move forward or make desired changes. Again, that might seem acceptable at first. After all, is it not better to deal with the old, familiar stresses and problems than to venture into unknown territory that might be worse? Unfortunately, when we avoid things, we rob ourselves of the chance to find out the answer to that.
By keeping us stuck, fused to our anxious feelings and thoughts, avoidance
• Prevents us from creating the quality life we want
• Traps us on the outside, merely looking in to what we could have
• Makes us tired, wired, stressed, and feeling like a mess
Are You Missing the Feast Because You’re Avoiding Something?
A metaphor from the book Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps illustrates the avoidance problem:
If you’re tired of missing your banquets, take heart. You can stop avoiding what causes anxiety and fear. To discover a way to do that, check out Want to Stop Avoiding? What Would That Mean to You?