A common response to trauma is emotional avoidance. Those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sometimes include emotional avoidance to avoid unpleasant or painful emotions. This is part of the avoidance cluster of PTSD.

Any action intended to stop the occurrence of unpleasant emotions, such as fear, sadness, or shame, is referred to as avoidance. For instance, a person might turn to drugs or dissociation to avoid unpleasant emotions.

Short-term relief of emotional avoidance may both be possible but it frequently does more damage because avoidance behaviors are linked to more severe PTSD symptoms.

What link exists between avoidance behavior and PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder appears after a terrifying event or series of events often referred to as trauma. Understandably, PTSD sufferers want to avoid repeatedly going through the traumatic event that left them scarred. They engage in avoidance behavior to protect themselves from experiencing physical and emotional pain.

People who have experienced trauma will go to great lengths to avoid interacting with anything or anyone that makes them think of their trauma.

According to research, people with PTSD frequently attempt to suppress or push away their emotions, both those related to traumatic events and general emotions. Additionally, it has been discovered that attempting to suppress one’s emotions can exacerbate some PTSD symptoms or even hasten the onset of PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event.

Why is it bad to avoid things?

The best way to cope in the short term may seem to be to avoid thoughts or memories of the trauma, but continued avoidance will only cause more suffering.

Trauma survivors who use avoidance as a coping mechanism are very likely to also reject the medical care they require to heal. Why? Because discussing specific trauma-related events or triggers is sometimes necessary during trauma therapy.

Avoidance tactics only serve to increase fear and anxiety. Humans learn best through practice. Additionally, PTSD symptoms will last longer the longer avoidance behaviors are used.

In other words, actively avoiding stressors while dealing with PTSD will make your pathology worse. Avoidance is a very easy way to impede your progress and affect your daily life causing problems. Doing this can make it challenging to carry out simple tasks like going on errands and commuting to work.

Important psychological and physiological functions are supported by emotions. Your emotions tell you things about who you are and what’s going on around you. They convey information and inspire action.

For instance, sadness indicates that you may need some time to take care of yourself or seek assistance from others, whereas fear suggests that you could be in danger. The difficult emotions that you’re trying to avoid may be temporarily suppressed by emotional avoidance, but over time, they might become more difficult to ignore. Your feelings may seem to fight back in an effort to be released.

If someone is adamant about not feeling their emotions, they may eventually resort to more extreme and unhealthy avoidance strategies, like abusing substances.

It takes a lot of effort to avoid your emotions. As your suppressed emotions get stronger, it gets harder and harder to control them. This can result in having less energy available for your loved ones and other important people in your life.

Utilizing all of your resources to suppress certain emotions may also make it challenging to control other emotions, such as frustration and annoyance. This can increase your likelihood of being on edge and angry when you normally would not be. Additionally, research has shown that avoidance coping results in persistent worry.

Control and therapy.

The best way to begin controlling your symptoms is to create healthier coping strategies that let you recognize, accept, and deal with your feelings. Therapy can give you the chance to explore the causes of your emotional responses, as well as express and understand them.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may address how specific thoughts or ways of evaluating a situation may be contributing to your emotions in addition to examining emotions directly linked to the traumatic event.

CBT therapists typically concentrate on the client’s present circumstances rather than their past experiences, and they emphasize moving forward to come up with better coping mechanisms for life.

Therapeutic Acceptance and Commitment (ACT).

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) concentrates on overcoming avoidance and assisting a person to channel their energy toward leading a meaningful life. This requires a willingness to experience whatever emotions arise as a result. ACT uses commitment and behavior change processes, as well as acceptance and mindfulness processes, to create psychological flexibility.

Self-control and social support.

Getting help can give you a safe space to express and approach your emotions, regardless of the therapy you select. Receiving social support from dependable family members can also offer a secure environment for expressing your feelings. Writing about your emotions can also provide you with a secure and private outlet for your inner thoughts.

Self-monitoring might be a helpful tactic for you if your emotions seem particularly nebulous or unpredictable. It can help you get a sense of the circumstances that trigger particular ideas and emotions.

If your feelings are too intense, you can try distraction rather than avoidance. You could think of distraction as temporary avoidance. Distraction involves taking a break from a strong negative emotion by doing something like reading a book, making a phone call to a friend you can rely on, or taking a bath. This might allow the original feeling some time to wane and become more manageable.

Recognize avoidance behavior techniques.

Any maladaptive behavior needs to be changed, but you must first learn to recognize it when it’s happening. To begin, consider how you used avoidance behavior throughout the day as you wind down each day. Note any avoidance behavior that stand out.

These can be small things in your day. You might have caught yourself doing this in little ways. For instance, perhaps you avoided a co-worker because you were reluctant to approach him and engage in conversation.

You might be surprised to learn that you engage in more avoidance behavior than you had previously thought once you start tracking your behavior consistently.

Tracking these behaviors will help you identify more overt instances of avoidance, such as choosing a different route to work rather than driving on the highway because it makes you feel uneasy. You won’t be able to alter these behaviors until you notice them.

Finding support and trust.

The secret to overcoming avoidance behavior is to keep facing what you’re avoiding little by little until it loses its power over you. Of course, it’s much simpler to say than to do. It is advised that you engage in previously avoided situations with a reliable friend or family member by your side rather than going it alone.

The best way to overcome this fear is to acquire the skills necessary to manage your symptoms. Utilizing coping mechanisms can help you manage your panic attacks and keep your anxiety under control.

These abilities can be acquired with the aid of a therapist or independently with the aid of self-help books. Some typical methods for reducing anxiety are:

  • Anxiety monitoring
  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Exercises for deep breathing
  • Progressively relaxing the muscles

Getting assistance with avoidance behavior.

Although not every person with PTSD engages in avoidance behavior, many people with this condition find that their lives are overly constrained by these problems. It might be time to get professional assistance if your avoidance behaviors are becoming unmanageable and out of control.

It’s in no way a sign of failure on your part to seek professional assistance for your symptoms. Many sufferers of panic disorder have discovered that receiving treatment hastens their recovery. Contact us and speak to a counselor today.

“Hope”, Courtesy of Ronak Valobobhai, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Spy-hole”, Courtesy of Dmitry Ratushny, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Lonely Tree”, Courtesy of Gary Meulemans, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Watching the Water”, Courtesy of Pierre Bamin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License


Articles are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All opinions expressed by authors and quoted sources are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, publishers or editorial boards of Mill Creek Christian Counseling. This website does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the Site. Reliance on any information provided by this website is solely at your own risk.