Dealing With Avoidant Tendencies within Yourself (And How to Stop)

Sep 17, 2021

It is not uncommon for people to feel avoidant at some point in their lives. It's a natural human response to fear, discomfort, and feeling unsafe. And

While this emotion can sometimes be beneficial to us by removing us from dangerous situations, it can also work against us if we're not careful.

We're going to explore the ways that people can deal with avoidant tendencies within themselves, and how they can overcome these feelings.

What does it mean to be 'avoidant'?

To understand the way that people deal with avoidant tendencies, we first must understand what's considered to be avoidant behaviour.

Avoidance is an emotional regulation mechanism that causes a person to remove themselves from uncomfortable or distressing situations. It can also involve removing yourself from positive emotions, in order to maintain emotional stability, which often leads to unhealthy numbing of emotions.

This avoidance behaviour is often evident in people who have experienced trauma, and while it can benefit us by protecting ourselves from distressing situations, if not overcome or dealt with, it can also cause more problems down the road.

Why do we become avoidant?

As mentioned above, there are a few different reasons that people become avoidant. These reasons include:

Finding safety and security after experiencing a trauma – If you've experienced a major life altering event, such as an accident or loss of a loved one, it's only natural to want to protect yourself from similar events.

Another example would be getting punished after telling the truth about a bad situation. This could reinforce that the truth = punishment. A person with avoidant behavior may choose to begin lying, rather than having to face the truth, and what comes with it.

However, this fear can sometimes cause you to become too afraid of the world around you, and cause you to begin to self-sabotage your own life.

Being avoidant may be a defense coping strategy, that allows you an opportunity to not have to actually deal with what's going on around you.

It softens the blow.

But, the 'avoiding' doesn't solve your problem or help you live the life you ultimately want to live.

How to Stop Being Avoidant

There's nothing funny about living a life that's completely out of alignment with your values.

A life that you're not proud.

A life where you're hating yourself.

And by having avoidant behavior, you will begin to believe that you aren't enough.

You'll look for validation from your spouse, employer, or even psychologist.

But, it won't ever quite fulfill you... because it's never coming from you.

Let me ask you this: have you noticed yourself prioritizing breath work lately?

Breath work is one of the best ways to immediately halt your avoidant behavior, in the moment. It's a form of grounding yourself back into the moment, and giving yourself a few moments to breathe.

There are many ways that you can do this:

Breathwork.

Visualization.

Meditation.

Through focusing on yourself, and your growth, you're creating an environment where growth can occur.

Basically, growth = purpose (yes, there are some other aspects involved with this equation as well). But for the sake of brevity... I'll keep it at that for now, and we'll save the rest for another day.

Now, in order to effectively move past your avoidant behavior, you need to:

Figure out what's important to you (values).

Acknowledge and recognize your feelings and emotions (emotions).

Allow yourself to actually feel these emotions fully, without compartmentalizing them  (feeling).

When you allow yourself to notice your emotions, in the moment, you're able to express these emotions without allowing them to rule you.

By experiencing your feelings fully (and allowing them to be), and then expressing them in a healthy way (not out of anger), by doing things like creative expression or journaling, you'll be able to see patterns within your behavior.

Once you identify these patterns, you can begin to actively implement change.

Another thing I would like for you to ask yourself, within the moment you begin to respond with an avoidant behavior, is: do you feel safe in the space?

Wherever you are.

Whoever you are around.

Do you feel safe?

Feeling unsafe is actually a high trigger in avoidant behavior.

As soon as you get the feeling that you aren't safe, your body and mind may begin to automatically try to remove yourself from the situation- in whatever means possible.

This could look like:

  • Lying to your spouse in response to a question asked
  • Over-apologizing in a way that seeks validation from your peers
  • Negatively talking about yourself to yourself or others

When you feel shame, regret, or guilt within a situation...big or small...have you found that you engage in negative self talk rather quickly?

"I'm sorry I'm a f*ck up."

"I shouldn't have made that mistake. I'm dumb."

This could be where your avoidant behavior cycle begins.

By creating these patterns, you are actually just seeking validation from outsiders.

(Which means you don't have it within yourself.)

So, if you don't trust yourself, then you begin to question if do or don't know your worth.

This turns into becoming dependent on other people to tell you you're worth.

Since you're worth is contingent on other people and external bills, you're unable to be present in uncomfortable situations.

You lack the confidence to say, "Hey, I'm human. And I messed up."

Instead, you fall back on avoidant tendencies.

Let's look at a quick example of how you could change a conversation from avoidant to healthy communication.

For context, you just got to work and realize you didn't watch a video that your boss had asked you to review over.

The first thing you say it, "I'm a failure. You gave me a video to watch and I didn't. I suck. I had to do x, y, and z, which left me no time to pull up the video. And then I woke up late, which made me late to work, so I couldn't watch it before this meeting."

Instead, you could say...

“I would like to let you know, before we get started on this meeting, that I know last week you gave me a video to watch. But, I didn't get a chance to watch it yet. I just wanted you to know I haven't had time in case that is a topic we're covering!"

Do you see the difference in these two answers?

In the first response,  you're creating a story around why you didn't watch the video.

You're making it this huge thing that's bigger than just not watching the video.

With this response, you give your boss all of the information and let him or her know about things that may be going on in your life (like waking up late), instead of using it as a scapegoat.

When we try to blame our behaviors on external factors, we're just avoiding taking responsibility for what happened.

But, there's no need to justify being a human and making a mistake. That is what makes the second response significantly better.

In the second response,  you're telling your boss you know what happened, you take responsibility, and you will (presumably) watch the video at your earliest convenience.

You're taking ownership of the past and showing that it will be your priority to watch any future videos before meetings going forward.

There's no need to beat yourself up or feel shame.

Now, this change has to come from within...because when it comes from within it changes your response to over apologize and over-everything else.

Practice saying, "I know who I am and I'm human. I know that I always do my best." 

Dealing with Avoidant Tendencies in Conclusion

It can be hard to overcome avoidant tendencies, but there are some useful practices you can use.

If you feel like these negative thoughts and behaviors have become a habit or pattern in your life, it's time for you to start changing the way that things work by practicing self-compassion instead of criticism.

Practice saying "I'm human" when things don't go as planned, so that your brain starts associating this feeling with something positive rather than viewing it negatively.

Believe in yourself enough to allow yourself permission not only to make mistakes, but also learn from them too!

If you have noticed avoidant behaviors within yourself but still aren't sure how to begin implementing change, shoot me an email. Let's work on this together!



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