It is not uncommon for someone who has experienced trauma to utilize avoidance in many situations; even something that sounds like fun. We might make plans with friends with every intention of going, but cancel at the last second. Perhaps it is because we don’t want to leave the comfort of our own home or deal with distressing memories by being around people or things that are reminders of what happened. These are just some of the attempts to avoid feelings provoked by previous trauma.
Helpful or Unhelpful?
It must be said that some avoidance is helpful, right? It might be a good idea to avoid a movie that might cause me to get upset or avoid a dark alley way at night. However, avoidance might not be helpful if it causes difficulty functioning in every day life. If someone was in a car accident and is afraid to get back into a car, this may cause problems getting to work. Over time, this may lead to financial stressors. According to the Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57, avoidance frequently corresponds with anxiety and causes anxiety symptoms to increase. Too often, the anxiety will continue to increase so much and our inability to tolerate difficult situations also increases. This creates an even deeper urge to avoid.
Working Through It
Dealing with difficult emotions is tough. It makes us feel raw and vulnerable. Some of us worry that if we open up about what happened and reasons for our avoidance that we will never be able to control those emotions. Maybe we are afraid the emotions will cause us to become uncontrollably angry or depressed. An essential element in the recovery of trauma is gaining the skills to effectively handle our emotions, triggers and memories in the absence of avoidance. Talking to a professional about this behavior can increase the ability to cope and overcome trauma. It may involve processing those scary experiences. It won’t be easy, but with hard work and a compassionate therapist, better times can lie ahead.