Understanding avoidance – the ocean and the undertow

Understanding avoidance – the ocean and the undertow

I was thinking about avoidance – and how this can feel like a good strategy for dealing with anxiety though in fact it only makes things worse – when I came across this brilliant blog post on avoidance during bereavement, written by ‘What’s Your Grief’ (WYG), which I regularly read for a greater understanding of grief and loss. Their post underlined for me the promise of safety that makes avoidance look so appealing, and what a hollow promise this turns out to be. It’s like swimming towards an apparently peaceful bay, only to realise that it has a powerful and dangerous undertow.

This is WYG’s definition of avoidance, which does a great job of explaining why we avoid painful/fearful situations or people because of our internal reactions:

Experiential avoidance is an attempt to block out, reduce or change unpleasant thoughts, emotions or bodily sensations.  These are internal experiences that are perceived to be painful or threatening and might include fears of losing control, being embarrassed, or physical harm and thoughts and feelings including shame, guilt, hopelessness, meaninglessness, separation, isolation, etc.

And why it doesn’t work:

Avoiding seemingly painful stimuli might prove beneficial in the immediate, but it is a short term solution.  It’s like taking an aspirin to treat a broken arm; it may temporarily dull the sting, but if one doesn’t address the broken bone they will never be able to heal.

You can read the full blog post here. My thanks to them, and to you for reading. Go well.

Sarah Tomley is a counsellor working in Suffolk, UK, at Insight Counselling Ipswich

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