Psychology behind Avoidance Behaviour

Psychology behind Avoidance Behaviour

Avoidance behaviour

Avoidance behaviour is the kind of strategy people adopt to distract themselves from tough situations and escape out of their mind to get rid of their own negative thoughts, feelings, ideas or assumptions. It could be as a result of stress, fear or anxiety. People tend to run away from their own responsibilities through avoidance behaviour. They avoid dealing with relationships, social interactions, family gatherings, new job opportunities, career advancements, marriages, etc. Many times people use avoidance behaviour to cope up with some trauma, illness or pain.

Avoidance behaviour has its own pros and cons and although avoiding dangerous, life threatening situations that deteriorate one’s mental health is understandable, avoidance of important tasks and events only leads to it’s delaying and one could possibly lost several opportunities and newer experiences due to it.

Also Read: Dialectical Behaviour Therapy’s Role in Mental Wellness

Picturing avoidance behaviour: How does it look like?

Avoidance behaviour can be seen in form of escapism, wishful thinking, daydreaming. It is mainly practiced by individuals by suppressing ones emotions or isolating themselves from others. People misuse drug and alcohol to avoid the situations. The behaviour indicated by those being avoidant could be avoiding maintaining an eye contact, lowering ones voice so that it couldn’t be heard by others, changing ones path when seen someone known, avoiding or dismissing going to the social gatherings and functions and even if attending then leaving the place early by making some excuses.

Some other indications to avoidance behaviour, including procrastination, keeping mobile phones on silent for avoiding phone calls or texts and even cancelling plans at the end moment by making some excuses. Such ways of avoidance behaviour can provide short term relief and satisfaction of being in control, but it may lead to worse conditions and at times regretful thoughts.

Also Read: Health Harmony: Balancing Act for Sustainable Behaviour Changes

Still unsure about when someone is showing avoidance behaviour? Read further…..

Being true to self is the very first step to detect the signs of avoidance behaviour in oneself or the others. Examine and analyse the situations or events that triggers the symptom of avoidance behaviour or leads to one avoiding the situation.

People can also ask themselves the following questions to know if one is engaging in avoidance behaviour knowingly or unknowingly:
  • What’s making me feel like avoiding this particular event or circumstance?
  • What I think could happen utmost if I don’t avoid the situation in hand but instead face it with whole courage and strength?
  • How seriously do I actually plan for it and how long it takes?
  • How does avoiding specific situations makes me feel or impacts me as well as others?
  • Is this idea of avoiding something as a coping mechanism my idea or someone else’s?

Such questions when asked seriously to oneself could help in overcoming that urge to overcoming avoidance behaviour. People generally avoids the stressful situation as avoiding it makes them feel more in control and they feel more protected. In real life, avoidance behaviour doesn’t always means having true control over one’s life situations, but quite the opposite. Avoiding situations can exacerbate the ongoing issues in life.

Types of Avoidance behaviour

Situational avoidance:

Situational avoidance, as the name suggests, refers to the avoidance during specific situations only. People avoid being in specific situations or getting associated with any kind of risks. It could include avoiding a specific person, place, timings, situations or scenarios that might have had a past history or some deep distant memory associated with it or simply because that makes them uncomfortable and nostalgic. For example when a person creates memories at specific spots reserved for them or discovered solely, then after break up both the the partners avoid revisiting that specific place.

Also Read: Transtheoretical Model of Health Behaviour Change

Cognitive avoidance:

Cognitive avoidance involves avoiding ones own specific thoughts, especially negative and risk engaging ones. Mind which was previously filled with positive thoughts gets distracted because of some unwanted negative thoughts and desires. No matter how a person avoids the behaviour, it’ll enter in person’s unconscious mind and haunts them.

Protective avoidance:

In order to protect oneself, people generally adapts protective behaviour to ensure their as well as their loved ones safety. It could involve checking, cleaning or any other obsessive compulsive habits and this kind of protective behaviour is often seen in people having obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Somatic avoidance:

Somatic avoidance leads to avoidance or limiting of several physical responses that can harm an individual or puts them in danger zone. However, being too strict for ones safety or being too sensitive could limit the options for fun and adventurous experiences in life. For example, many people avoids long horror rides after considering the risks associated and protecting themselves.

Also Read: The Psychology behind Aggressive Behaviour

Substitution avoidance:

Substitution avoidance refers to replacing the negative, uncomfortable feelings, thoughts or emotions with more positive, assuring, pleasurable alternatives. For example, people who get angry to avoid being sad.

    Causes of avoidance behaviour

    Avoidance behaviour can be a symptom of various mental disorders like depression, anxiety disorders (social anxiety), panic disorder, Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), avoidant personality disorders, etc. It could also be the result of abandonment issues, avoidant attachments and toxic relationships.

    It also occurs due to lack of appropriate coping skills or techniques. When one thinks too much about the future results or outcomes, they get worried and tends to avoid trying out new things by staying at home or more familiar place. When a person got rejected in the past, it leads to that thinking process of getting judged or rejected every time while performing that particular task and so they adapts Avoidance behaviour towards it.

    Also, people at times avoid some situations where they know they might be pushing their limits which could make them regret afterwards, it happens when an individual is unable to set right boundaries in life.

    Breaking the cycle of avoidance behaviour

    Deal with the stress:

    It has been seen that dealing with some sort of stress or the stressors itself is a great to reduce it’s effects. It is called Avoidance or Avoidant coping in which a person changes behaviour to cope up with stress and negative thoughts and feelings.

    Also Read: The Psychology of Behaviour

    Approach coping:

    Instead of avoiding something, it’s best to develop strategies of talking out of ones problems. As communication is the key and by changing negative thoughts with positive ones, one could avoid the Avoidance behaviour. It also builds the relationships strong. This is called active coping or approach coping, as the individual approaches instead of avoiding ones situations.

    Pay attention to the timings of occurrence:

    Think of the situations and the timings when avoiding it feels like an only appropriate option and a way of coping. Ask self reflecting questions to oneself. Once an individual gets a hold of Avoidance behaviour related events, they could easily think about the alternative strategies to replace Avoidance behaviour. Journaling and meditating for a while: It’s a great way to reduce stress and fear. Meditation keeps the mind and body relaxed and calm and avoids having anxiety. Journaling is an effective method to clear away all the negativity of mind by scribbling them on paper.


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