When something feels uncomfortable, do you tend to avoid it?
Are you avoiding commuincating with someone because it makes you feel uncomfortable?
Are you avoiding doing something because you fear the outcome?
Are you possibly in denial about something, pretending it doesn’t exist?
When we avoid or go into denial mode, we keep the inner turmoil and fear going.
Avoidant coping is a temporary defense. What ends up happening is that discomfort and unease within us grows. When we don’t tackle things in a way that truly reflects our values, it’s like swallowing poison. I have seen many people who have been in denial of reality and have witnessed the accumulative effects of this. It usually doesn’t end up well. We all hate feeling vulnerable and we have to do this at times to really break the ice and forge meaningful relationships with others. Denial and avoidant coping hinders open and honest relationships.
Avoidant coping also increases anxiety and depression over time. When we sit with stuff and don’t deal with it in an effective way, it can affect our mental health as well as our physical health. Just consider psychosomatic illnesses as proof of this!
I had a client who sat with real anger over the person he had become and how his life had turned out. Intead of using that anger is a productive way by unpacking it, he stifled it and kept inside. He tried to tell himself that his life was fine. It was far too threatening to him to acknowledge that maybe he had an issue that he needed to tackle. So he directed the anger inward, this made him bitter and twisted. He was angry at the world and he regularly reported incidents of road rage.
When we finally got to the bottom of it, he realised he was in denial about himself. He felt a failure and was disappointed with where his life had ended up. He was alone and miserable and this hadn’t been part of the plan. He had grown to dislike himself but seemed unable to get himself out of the funk he was in.
Slowly, over time, he learned self compassion. he understood the anger at the world was really anger at himself that he had never fully dealt with. He acknowledged mistakes he had made, he built bridges with those he had avoided and he began to feel more at peace within himself.
He saw that it was okay not to be perfect but that it wasn’t okay to cope by avoiding what needed addressing. Today, this client is in a happy stable relationship and communicates when he feels tense inside instead of trying to pretend everything is fine. He rarely has road rage and is far more self aware of his moods and his avoidant coping tendencies.
Avoidant coping may save you in the short term but when we accept things in life that go against our values, or try to make ourselves believe things that aren’t okay, actually are, we run the risk of betraying ourselves.
Avoidance is an unhelpful behaviour. It keeps the fear going. Learn to be open and honest and deal with your true feelings and worries. Communicate and approach rather than deny and avoid. You’ll be far happier for it and achieve peace of mind that you can’t get when you’re an avoidant coper.