How Avoidance Behavior Is Harmful

By Steven Finkelstein|Updated July 8, 2022

Have you ever heard of avoidance behavior? Even if you haven't, you have almost certainly encountered it at some point during your life. You might have even demonstrated avoidance behavior yourself.

Avoidance behaviors are common among children, and they are perfectly natural. Difficulties can arise, however, when an adult consistently exhibits avoidant behavior.

This article will cover everything you need to know about avoidant behavior, how you can spot it, and why it is potentially harmful.

What Is Avoidance Behavior?

Avoidance behaviors are actions that people take to escape from difficult feelings or thoughts. There are many different types of behaviors that could be classified as avoidant. One example could be a child who does something wrong and blames what happened on an imaginary friend who they think can be punished in their place.

Avoidant behaviors often go together with immaturity, which is why they commonly manifest in children. If there is a possibility of getting in trouble or having to do something that they don't want to do, children may exhibit avoidance behavior.

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Another example might be a child who does not want to go to the doctor. They're frightened, but instead of admitting to their fear, they might say that it's their doll who doesn't want to go. A parent might get around this by explaining to the doll—rather than the child—that there is nothing to be afraid of.

As an adult, you are expected to face your fears and conquer them, which is why it can be distressing to see avoidance behaviors in people who have come of age. Those who still engage in avoidance as adults might be living with an anxiety disorder, and avoidance is one of the ways that the disorder is manifesting itself.

The Downsides Of Avoidance Behavior

What is it about avoidance behavior that can cause such difficulties for you as an adult? Well, when you're no longer a child, you presumably no longer have a parent to force you to do the things necessary to live a responsible lifestyle. If you avoid doing things necessary to keep the trajectory of your life moving forward, it’s possible your life will stall.

For instance, let's say that you are engaging in avoidance behavior because you have social anxiety or social phobia. You may not want to leave the house because you are so anxious or fearful. This might mean that even if you schedule a job interview, you can't quite bring yourself to get out there and go to the interview. You might thus end up losing out on that opportunity, which could cause financial issues down the line. This chain of events can be mapped back to your avoidance behavior and not conquering your fears.

Another example could be if a loved one dies. You can't face the thought of living without them, so you act as though they're alive and they've merely gone on a trip for a few days. You stay in the house, convinced that you need to be there to greet them when they get back. Consequently, you don't go to work, and you may even lose your job. Your relationships with other family members and friends can also suffer if you refuse to accept the reality of the situation.

Maybe you're so intent on clinging to the idea that your loved one is still alive that you tell everyone that it was a mistake, and it was someone else who was buried in their place.

This kind of avoidant behavior can cause myriad problems for your personal well-being as well as your relationships with others.

Avoidance Can Make Life Difficult

It is important to proceed delicately with people who have a tendency for avoidant behavior. Just because they refuse to accept something or they act in a way that frustrates you does not make it okay to yell at them or tell them to "snap out of it." People who engage in avoidance behaviors are often in pain. This pain is why they don't want to face a truth that seems self-evident or do something they find to be so upsetting. They may be mentally fragile and trying to bully them into getting better could easily cause them to withdraw even further.

The real challenge with avoidance is that it doesn't help you over the long term any better than it does in the short term. When it's happening, you might feel a sense of relief because you've reconciled what you are doing in your mind in some way. But eventually you're going to be confronted with what it is that frightens you more and more urgently. This has the potential to lead to increased anxiety, which forces you to fall further and further down the rabbit hole. You might even become depressed.

If you find yourself engaging in a series of avoidant behaviors, it is important to develop a plan to get yourself well again.

Treatment For Avoidant Behaviors

Simply learning to recognize avoidant behaviors is an important first step. If you can see that what you're doing (or, rather, not doing) is harmful, it is often easier to begin a treatment regimen. It might take the intervention of family members or friends to get you motivated enough to take action, and that’s okay. Try to remind yourself that they are only trying to help you and resist the urge to lash out at them even if you’re feeling embarrassed or ashamed.

Therapy is also an effective way to help manage your avoidance behaviors. You can speak to a qualified mental health professional and, together, you can figure out what it is that may be causing your avoidant behaviors. It could be a single thing that has led you to get to where you are, or it might be a combination of factors. In either case, talking about your feelings can be helpful because keeping things bottled up generally encourages them to fester and more negatively affect your life.

Medication

You might explore medication to help manage severe avoidance behaviors and any underlying conditions. There are various anxiety medications that can help address avoidance and get yourself back to a healthy state of mind. Avoidance may tend to worsen if left untreated, so talk with your doctor to determine if medication might be right for you.

Self-Help Books

Self-help books can also be a way to help you get to a more mentally healthy place. Some books may teach breathing exercises to hep relax you, some may focus on confronting your fears, and some even speak directly to avoidance behaviors.

While these books can be helpful, it is recommended that you pursue professional help as well. The combination of the two things together will likely be more impactful than reading alone. While it can be difficult to ask for help, there is no shame in reaching out to a therapist. You have a much better chance of getting positive results if you work with someone who can act as your cheerleader and give you further advice if you get stuck somewhere during the recovery process.

Do You Need To Speak To Someone About Your Avoidant Behavior?

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If you are having trouble with avoidant behavior or know someone who is, consider speaking to a medical professional. Therapy is a great way to learn more about yourself and get a neutral, third-party perspective. Online counseling is becoming more and more popular, and research shows it is just as effective as traditional counseling sessions. This study, conducted by Brigham Young University researchers, found that technology-based therapy provides other added benefits including, “lower cost, no travel time, easy access, no waitlists, and trackable progress.”

On BetterHelp, you can get matched with a counselor right away based on your specific needs and preferences. You can easily connect from a smartphone, tablet, or computer and communicate in a variety of ways, including live phone, video, and chat sessions, as well as messaging. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.

“Krisha has a gentle balance of grace and truth. I came into counseling a bit gun shy of what she might say about what I needed help with. Immediately she set me at ease and helped me focus on what was important and where I might want to reconsider my thought patterns. I made more progress in the time I had working with her than I had in years and years before that. I could not be more grateful for her work with me. I am finally starting to find freedom from some things that have followed me for over thirty years.”

“Nadirah is AWESOME. She is a very attentive, active listener. She has helped me uncover patterns and come up with solutions and tools to move forward in varying solutions. I highly recommend her!”

Conclusion

Avoidance is seldom a good thing, and once you fall into the habit, it can be hard to break. Once you stop avoiding, you should have a lot less mental and emotional consternation, and you can start to see the world around you much more clearly.

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