Avoidance – actively running away from or mentally staying away from something that’s in our world – is a lot more than just doing dishes and cleaning the bathroom to ot do our taxes. Avoidance is a recognized in psychological research, and has even — no shocker — been categorized. In the book “Mind and Emotions: A Universal Treatment for Emotional Disorders,” the authors break down five specific types of avoidance. They are, quote:
1- Situational avoidance, where someone just completely avoids a situation that they are concerned may cause them stress, panic, or anxiety. This can also count for particularly avoiding a trigger, such as dogs for those that have a fear of dogs.
2- Cognitive avoidance, where someone takes actions to suppress or reject certain experiences, thoughts, feelings, or emotions. This type of avoidance often comes in to play when someone does not want to process or confront something, so instead suppresses or replaces it with something they find more pleasant.
3 – Protective avoidance, or taking actions to protect one’s self. While there are healthy — and important — ways to protect yourself, this is also the kind of avoidance that can manifest in obsessive compulsive disorder.
4 – Somatic avoidance, which happens when someone attempts to limit or tamp down the physical responses associated with emotions, such as tightness in the chest or getting out of breath. The idea is by suppressing the physical symptoms, the emotional reactions are experienced less.
5 – Substitution avoidance – straight-up trying to replac one feeling with another that feels more tolerable.
The thing is, all of these mechanisms of avoidance can be very useful coping mechanisms – but as with all coping mechanisms, there is a time that the mechanism may not serve your emotional health. As a 2011 study of breast cancer patients published in the Journal of Health Psychology found, breast cancer patients who actively avoided dealing with and processing the topic of their cancer showed higher levels of depression, stress, and anxiety.
So what topic are you avoiding right now?