Meaning of Avoidance Behavior

 ”Avoidance” is defined as (noun) – not doing something; preventing something from existing or happening. Avoidance behavior is a person’s effort to consciously or unconsciously avoid dealing with a stressful or difficult feeling or situation. 

Avoidance behavior is a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder which relates to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

 It’s normal for human beings to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

But avoidance behavior sometimes becomes tricky and potentially problematic. You may find yourself avoiding job opportunities, social events, and even friendships in an attempt to prevent stress triggers.

A high level of avoidance behavior could lead to the diagnosis of avoidant personality disorder.

Effects of Avoidance Behavior:

The effects of avoidance coping include; Increased levels of anxiety. Aside from restricting one’s life in general, trying to avoid certain places, people, or situations to prevent feeling anxious tends to lead to an increased level of anxiety. Other effects are; social redraw (Isolation), panic attacks when faced abruptly by a trigger, etc.




Types of Avoidance Behavior

Here are five types of Avoidance behavior deduced by Author and psychologist Mattew Mckay, Patrick Fanning, and Patricia Ona in their book titled: Mind and Emotions.  A practical self-help workbook for behavioral and Cognitive therapies.

  1. Situational Avoidance: This is when a person habitually avoids social gatherings, geographic locations, people, animals, and situations that could trigger panic or anxiety.
  2. Cognitive avoidance: Is about avoiding internal triggers, like thoughts or memories. People adopt actions to suppress these triggers by rejecting unpleasant or overwhelming experiences by choosing not to think about them or adopting measures to numb the thoughts. These measures could look like replacing unpleasant thoughts with positive affirmations, wishful thinking, etc. This might offer temporal relief because they are compulsive or done out of fear.
  3. Protective Avoidance: This is the use of excessive safety behaviors that could include perfectionism, cleaning, over-preparing, etc. Usually associated with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), and eating disorders. Procrastination can also be a protective avoidance behavior.
  4. Substitution Avoidance: This is trying to replace a feeling with another. Examples include replacing grief with anger or numbing an emotion by binge eating, sex, or pornography.
  5. Somatic Avoidance: This is trying not to experience internal sensations associated with emotional distress. Examples could include being out of breath, fatigue, sexual arousal, or any symptom associated with anxiety. 

Treatment Options

  1. Cognitive Behavioral therapy and Psychoanalytical therapy – These are used to help those coping by avoidance to acknowledge, comprehend, and express their emotions.
  2. Acceptance and commitment therapy:- This behavioral therapy focuses on breaking down avoidance behavior by showing it to be an unhealthy method for dealing with traumatic experiences. However, the objective is not to eliminate difficult feelings. It is to be present with what life brings and to “move toward valued behavior.  ACT (Acceptance and commitment therapy) invites people to open up to unpleasant feelings, learn not to overreact to them, and not avoid situations when invoked.
  3. Self help Books.
  4. Breathing Exercises.

In conclusion, Avoidance behavior can reinforce anxieties and fears surrounding a trauma. Avoiding triggers is not healing. Healing happens when you’re able to move through the pain.

Understanding Avoidant Personality Disorder