Signs Of PTSD: Why Do I Avoid Everything?

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated November 28, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article mentions trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Some people associate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with war. This misconception may be because the first known studies of PTSD were conducted on WWII veterans. In the present day, research has been conducted on the impacts of PTSD on veterans and the general population. However, trauma can impact anyone, and there are many reasons PTSD might develop. 

If you are currently dating someone with PTSD, have been diagnosed, or want to know more about the condition, it can be valuable to understand its symptoms. One of these symptoms is avoidance, which can occur in response to distressing memories or beliefs about the initial traumatic event you’ve experienced. Learning more about avoidance can help you understand how to combat it and recognize it when it occurs.

Avoidance Behavior Can Be Telling

Avoidance: Post-Traumatic Stress And Triggers 

A post-traumatic reaction can be brought on by sensory triggers, which are stimuli that cause a direct correlation with a traumatic event to occur, often causing significant distress. Colors, noises, words, and sounds can trigger flashbacks of a traumatic event. For some people, the reaction to specific triggers is so severe they will avoid any possible trigger exposure.

Avoidance of remembering an unpleasant or traumatic event may seem understandable. Avoidance and numbness to stimuli can be significant symptoms of PTSD and may require professional support. Although one develops these behaviors to keep oneself safe, prolonged avoidance could prevent coping with trauma and eventual healing. 

Avoiding thoughts of a traumatic event is another defense to keep the psyche from the trauma. For some, to think of an event means fully re-experiencing it, which might cause crying, shaking, angry outbursts, and violence. There may only be intense sadness or fear for others, with no extreme external reactions. The levels of discomfort can range from intense to complete avoidance of places, people, and dates that trigger emotional reactions.

Many people react to a traumatic event with shock symptoms, which may remain or recur over a temporary period. However, these reactions to discussions or memories of the event can dissipate over time if PTSD has not developed. Delayed onset PTSD is also possible.

How Are The Senses Connected To Trauma Avoidance? 

PTSD is often associated with sensory experiences of trauma. The senses revive the memories and put the individual back in the moment of the original occurrence. Over-stimulation of sensory detail unrelated to the trauma can also trigger a reaction.

Some individuals who have avoided thoughts or feelings of an event for an extended period may avoid sensory experiences to avoid retraumatization. 

For example, someone who was wearing a red shirt during an earthquake where they were traumatized may not want to wear that shirt anymore. This behavior is a form of generalization in which the individual associates related colors, sounds, or people with the trauma. 

This behavior might be different from an individual who was a survivor or witness to a gun shooting. This individual might experience a trigger when they hear loud noises. This type of trigger is sudden and might cause an immediate reaction, such as running or jumping to escape. 

Someone traumatized in an automobile accident may avoid riding in cars for some time. Survivors of sexual assault might struggle to return to certain areas or may associate people of a particular look with the person who abused them. Sensory reminders could include the smell of cologne, substance use, or a scent that reminds one of the location where their trauma occurred. 

The mind is complex, and avoidance is a safety-seeking technique. People without PTSD can also use avoidance as a tactic. However, with PTSD, an individual avoids people, places, objects, and situations that are reminders of a traumatic event, even if avoiding them begins to impact other areas of life. 

If you are experiencing sexual abuse or have experienced assault, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) has a hotline dedicated to supporting individuals experiencing sexual assault, harassment, or intimate partner violence. You can contact them anytime by calling 800-656-HOPE (4673) or using the online chat.

If you are managing substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.


How To Find Support 

For those experiencing post-traumatic stress symptoms, reality-based therapy, systematic exposures to sensory triggers, and cognitive-behavioral therapy have proven effective for some individuals. Below are a few support options for those who are living with PTSD. 


Medications may be beneficial for coping with co-occurring symptoms like anxiety, depression, or substance use. However, these treatments focus on addressing symptoms, and cannot cure PTSD itself. Consult a medical professional before starting, changing, or stopping a medication. 

Social Support 

Studies have indicated that social support is essential for health and well-being. Talking to friends and family about your symptoms may help you move forward by allowing you space to talk about your experiences. If you have a safe social system, you can ask them to help you address your avoidance by accompanying you when you face situations or locations that remind you of a traumatic event. 

Professional Support 

For some experiencing PTSD and avoidance, a therapist can be a valuable resource. If you struggle to open up with family or friends or find that your existing social support is insufficient, you can try multiple therapeutic modalities. A therapist can offer you the structure of a session that you feel most comfortable with, whether it is solutions-based, based on exposure, or focused on healing trauma. 

In some cases, an individual’s schedule or fear of leaving home may prevent them from seeking therapy. In these situations, an online therapy platform like BetterHelp can offer a matching system with licensed therapists available to work with clients via phone, video, or chat sessions. People may feel more safe working with a provider from home and can reach out throughout the week 24/7 to ask questions and receive feedback from the therapist. 

Researchers have found online therapy effective in the treatment of PTSD. A recent study identified internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (iCBT) as having positive outcomes for individuals experiencing these symptoms. In addition, studies have found online therapy more cost-effective, which may lessen the stress of attending therapy for some individuals. 

Avoidance Behavior Can Be Telling


If you’re living with avoidance related to PTSD, you’re not alone. This symptom is one of the several diagnostic criteria for PTSD and can be addressed by a professional in a therapeutic setting. What works for you may be unique from what works for another person. Consider contacting a licensed therapist for guidance to discover which approach works best.

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