How avoidance behavior leads to problems


Kevin Mangelschots

Avoidance behavior will inevitably lead to problems down the road. While it might feel good in the immediate present, it will only make things worse in the future.

This can become a vicious circle that’s especially hard to get rid of and will negatively impact your overall quality of life. That’s why we need to learn to tackle our issues head-on instead of letting them grow out of control.

How does avoidance behavior lead to problems down the road?

Multiple possible questions being written on a wooden board.

  1. Problems don’t go away on their own

    Avoiding problems or things that you know you should take care of will lead to problems at a later date in your life.

    People often think and/or rationalize that concerns will go away on their own if they don’t talk and don’t act on them. Let’s call it a sort of willful blindness. However, difficulties do not dissolve on their own. Instead, they grow larger if left unchecked.

    Taking accountability is important to achieve success. This means that you need to take ownership of your own decisions, actions, and possibly the lack thereof. Your worries and issues are yours to solve.

  2. Problems grow larger over time

    Unaddressed issues linger silently under the carpet. They’ll remain there until they get so large that we just can’t ignore them anymore.

    It’s better to tackle the concern when it’s still small and manageable. Then you can still win.

    If the difficulty gets too large, then there’s more chance of getting hurt in the process of fixing it. There’s even a chance that we can’t solve those problems anymore because they have become so big and problematic.

  3. You don’t learn anything new by avoiding the unknown

    A funny image of a cat poking apples with the quote “confront the unknown with curiosity” written next to it.

    You won’t learn anything new if you stay in your comfort zone all the time. Your safety zone is what you already know. Your safe little bubble, so to speak.

    It’s not what you know that’s the most important in life, it’s what you don’t know. That unknown place is where growth lies.

    You’ve got these problems that you know you need to work out, but you don’t know how, or where to start.

    Chances are that what you need to know lies on the other side of the river, in the territory that’s unknown to you.

  4. You’ll get anxious because deep down you know that you should address the problem

    Black, white image of someone holding their chest due to anxiety.

    Approach avoidance leads to even more, and larger concerns since they don’t magically disappear. They stay, even if we try our hardest not to remember, or talk about them.

    But because the troubles are not yet large enough, there’s no immediate need to address them. Or so we think. Because eventually, the issue becomes so large that we can’t possibly ignore it anymore. It’s just a matter of time.

    They stay lingering in the back of our minds. Deep inside, whether we want to admit it or not, we know that we need to address these concerns. 

    It’s knowing that we should fix these concerns, but also recognizing that we are not solving them, that causes these feelings of anxiety. Because we know all too well that we are too afraid, too lazy, too stubborn, or potentially all the above to fix them.

How to overcome avoidance behavior?

Goal, plan, action text on light box on desk table in home office. Business motivation or inspiration, performance of human concepts ideas.

  1. Analyze and realize what and when it’s happening

    We can only learn how to overcome avoidance behavior if we acknowledge that something’s wrong. You can’t fix something if you don’t realize it’s broken.

    This is the hardest step. Admitting to yourself that your life is not in perfect order is not easy. Seeing as we desperately try to protect the image (ego) that we’ve built for ourselves along the way.

    Take a good look at yourself and your current situation. Chances are that there are some things that you’ve been putting off for longer than is good for you. For example, a pile of paperwork at work that you desperately need to fill in.

  2. Formulate exactly what the problem is

    Formulate the problem as correctly as humanly possible.

    For example: “I haven’t been going to the gym 3 times a week because I’m afraid that people will laugh at me because I’m not as fit and skinny as I would like to be and because I have no perseverance.”

    This might sound harsh to a lot of people, but brutal honesty is the best way to tackle the issue in its entirety instead of just some parts of it.

    If you can formulate your concern(s) as precisely and correctly as possible, then it’s easier to come up with the correct game plan to fix it.

  3. Formulate a plan to fix the problem

    Illustration of the appropriate steps to solve a problem.

    The best way to fix avoidance behavior is to make a plan to address the issue.

    In our previous step, we formulated what the concern is. Now it’s time to take a look at the skills we need to acquire or sharpen up to repair the difficulty.

    If we reuse the previous gym example, then we might need to work on our confidence first before we can even get back in the gym. We might have to accept that our body is not perfect at the moment. You might also have to establish a routine to make sure that you’re going to the gym 3 times a week.

    These are all possible solutions to the above difficulties. However, many more potential solutions and concerns that need to be addressed exist.

    A plan has to be formulated for each individual specifically. As nobody and thus, no problem is the same. However, these steps can be used as a general guideline to fix every individual’s issues.

  4. It’s no shame to ask for help, advice, or support from people close to you

    Image of a man holding his head in despair with his other hand holding a sign saying “help.”

    We as humans are all limited in our abilities. That’s a harsh fact in life that we all need to accept.

    What made us survive on this earth for so long is the fact that we’re highly social animals who work together reasonably well.

    It’s no shame to ask for advice or help. We’ve all been through hard times, and we’ve all had difficulties that we couldn’t fix on our own.

    It’s more than likely that other people are more than willing to lend you a helping hand if you give them the chance. Perhaps helping you would even be in their best interest.

    This way, they can ask you for a favor or help down the road when they are having a hard time in their life. They might also learn that other people rely on them and that they have a chance to do something good for others if they’re willing.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is avoidance behavior?

Image of white crooked arrows on a black background, signifying avoidance.

Avoidance behavior can be defined as any actions that a person takes in an attempt to avoid/ignore situations, events, or stimuli that they anticipate as being unpleasant or painful.

This often includes, although not always, staying away from situations where they experience these feelings of anxiousness and fear.

People who are suffering from mental disorders typically partake in avoidance behavior in an attempt to reduce the negatively associated feelings like anxiety, sweating, and shaking.

Examples of avoidance behavior

Image of the word “example” being written with a blue marker by someone's hand.

Example 1

An example of avoidance behavior is the following. A man and a woman are happily married. However, over the years, they start to communicate less frequently with one another.

The wife finds this lack of communication bothersome but decides not to tell her husband about it, not wanting to throw a fit and deem the less frequent communication normal in any long-lasting marriage.

The husband is bothered by the lack of sexual intimacy. When they were just married, they made love every night. Now, after a few years of marriage, that’s down to once a month. He’s bothered by it but decides to utilize approach-avoidance conflict by avoiding the struggle that would potentially arise if he told his wife that it bothers him.

Romantic events like going to the movies also get less frequent. Of course, this places great stress on the wife. But, she rationalizes that, “it is normal to get less romantic with age and being married for so long.”

A man and woman arguing while pointing their finger at each other.

The husband is bothered because his wife can never decide what she wants to do if they go out for a romantic evening together. Even though it bothered him a great deal less when they were just happily married.

After many years of being happily married, the husband cheats on his wife. The wife finds out and is heartbroken. This is a tragic and a bit of a cliché example, even though it happens quite frequently.

Is there anything the husband and wife could have done to avoid such a disaster from taking place? Was the husband always unfaithful? Was their happy marriage just a lie? A fantasy? Could being honest and telling each other the truth have saved their marriage?

Could it have been prevented if both parties hadn’t avoided the unpleasant events and talked to each other about their annoyances? About what bothered them in their marriage? I think it might have.

Example 2

A man lying drunk on a table after drinking a bottle of alcohol.

Another possible example of avoidance behavior could be resorting to alcohol and drug abuse to avoid facing the issues that are bothering you in life.

Example 3

Another instance could be avoiding eye contact because you’re insecure and socially anxious, instead of working on your social skills and putting them into practice.

Avoidance behavior example 4

And finally, instead of studying for the upcoming exam, we resort to watching television and YouTube videos as a way to distract ourselves in an attempt to reduce the amount of stress we experience.

What are the two types of avoidance?

The two types of avoidance are active and passive avoidance.
Active avoidance behavior is a coping mechanism in which an organism acts to stave off a stressor.
Passive avoidance behavior means avoiding a stressor without acting, but rather by suppressing the response. Passive avoidance relies on the absence of the reaction.

Is avoidance a coping mechanism?

Illustration describing how to cope in order to reduce stress and increase health.
Avoidance is indeed considered a coping mechanism in psychology.
It’s defined by the conscious, or unconscious, avoidance of a stressor to protect themselves from the negative consequences of said stressor.

Is avoidance a reaction to trauma?

Avoidance can be a reaction to trauma, although certainly not always.
We may avoid events that we don’t particularly enjoy without having suffered any harm.
Emotional avoidance is when we deflect feelings and/or thoughts about a traumatic experience. It’s an internal event that regularly goes unnoticed by those around us since it resolves in our heads.
Physical avoidance is when we actively prevent being faced with a perceived traumatic event by taking action in order not to be confronted with that dreadful experience.

Is avoidance ever healthy?

Preventing stress as much as possible is healthy.
Avoidance can be a good strategy in the moment, and in the proximate future, since it helps to reduce tension. Nevertheless, it’s detrimental to your long-term health since the issue will become even larger, and cause even more mental strain in the process.

Does avoidance make it worse?

Avoidance typically makes things worse.
Averting something just once is not the end of the world. Deflecting something a few times is even unlikely to cause much trouble. But if you continuously avoid something, then it’s a pattern that will negatively impact your life.

This habit will cause you to experience an increased amount of anxiety through avoidance conditioning.

Final take

Image of the word, “conclusions” written on a black backboard with white chalk.

We often think we can escape the obstacles that life throws in our path. That we can avoid the things we don’t like or are afraid of. But in reality, there’s no escaping it.

If we don’t voluntarily face these challenges head-on, then they will sooner or later present even larger problems in our future lives.

However, to do so, we must first realize when the difficulties arise. Next, we must find the required courage to do something about it.

Are you up for the task? Are you willing to courageously face your issues, or will you stay silent and timid, hoping your concerns will magically disappear someday?

The choice is up to you.

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