Do you feel like withdrawing when things get tough in your life? You may be using avoidance behavior as a defense. This is a common coping mechanism, but it can lead to other problems if not handled in healthier ways.
Withdrawal is a way of dealing with pain. It’s a self-protective method a person uses to avoid getting hurt again. However, when this avoidance behavior is used for long periods, or if it develops into a pattern, it can cause decay in relationships.
Reasons for avoidance behavior.
The reasons for withdrawing are many. They can be linked to either real or perceived threats to a person’s mental, physical, or emotional safety. Here are several common examples of why people may use avoidance behavior to cope.
- A girl is bullied at school and then avoids social contact with peers.
- A young girl is sexually abused by an older male cousin and then withdraws from all other males in her family.
- A teenage boy has a bad breakup with his girlfriend and then avoids the dating scene.
- A wife withdraws from her husband after he is unfaithful to her.
- A father withdraws from his children after divorce.
- An elderly mother avoids contact with her adult children.
- A young woman experiences spiritual abuse in her church and withdraws from corporate worship.
- A man has a conflict with a manager at work, then avoids social contact with other coworkers.
You will find shame at the root of avoidance behavior. In every example above, the victims may inaccurately blame themselves for the mistreatment they endured. They may even believe the lie that they deserve the treatment due to their own damaged self-images. Shame holds us down and keeps us from living the abundant life that God intends for us.
Shame is attached to false guilt. But real guilt may be involved in a situation’s avoidance behavior. Real guilt involves something that we did to hurt others. For example, the father who got divorced might feel guilty for wrecking his children’s lives with hurt. The elderly mother might feel guilty for neglecting her children when they were young, so she avoids them as adults.
Another reason for avoidance behavior is anger. Understandably, the boy who was bullied would be angry at the bully. It’s also reasonable that the wife would be angry at her husband for having an affair. The teenage boy is likely angry about the breakup, and perhaps for good reasons. Though anger is a normal and even healthy reaction to unwanted changes, it can cause a person to withdraw when not handled properly.
Another reason for avoidance behavior is fear. Many people shrink back in fear of getting hurt again. The trauma of the original incident runs deep even after the real threat of danger has passed. This deep-seated fear can drive an urge to withdraw.
No matter the reason for your avoidance behavior, a caring Christian counselor can help you handle it. In most cases, talking with a therapist is a highly effective method for handling withdrawal and moving toward healing. Your counselor will help you identify why you are withdrawing and coach you on making the switch to healthier behavior.
Signs of avoidance behavior.
The signs of avoidance behavior are similar to signs of the underlying feelings of anger, guilt, shame, and fear. These are the signs you may see if you are withdrawing as a coping mechanism.
- Avoiding eye contact.
- Giving one-word answers.
- Using the silent treatment.
- Exiting the room when someone enters.
- Experiencing fear of going back to the place where the original incidents occurred.
- Spending a significant amount of time alone.
- Ignoring texts, emails, or calls.
Since the Bible tells us it is not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18), avoidance behavior can lead to intense loneliness. When loneliness is not handled well, it can lead to depression, which can have major mental, emotional, and physical risks. These are the signs of depression:
- Crying and tearfulness, even in happy moments.
- Feelings of excessive or inappropriate guilt.
- Irritability or uncharacteristic short temper.
- Loss of energy even with normal daily activities.
- Loss of pleasure or interest in past favorite activities.
- Lack of concentration.
- Memory problems.
- Inability to perform well at work or school.
- Avoiding attendance at normal social engagements.
- Restlessness or pacing.
- Significant decrease or increase in appetite.
- Experiencing insomnia, or sleeping too much.
- Slow, quiet speech or slow movements.
- Feelings of worthlessness.
- Recurring thoughts about death, dying, and suicide.
If you have at least three of these symptoms for more than two weeks in a row, don’t hesitate to reach out for help from a Christian counselor. In counseling, you’ll receive the help you need to overcome your depression related to avoidance behavior. Your counselor will help you learn how to start connecting with safe people again.
Avoidance behavior symptoms can last for a few weeks after a triggering incident. If this is not handled right away, symptoms can persist for months or even years. You need help to handle these symptoms, so they don’t put a heavy load on your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. If you have had any of these symptoms for more than two weeks in a row, don’t wait to reach out for help from a qualified counselor.
- Irrational fears
- Not wanting to leave your home
- Marked loneliness
On your own, you can’t navigate these problems well. A Christian counselor can help you discover the roots of your avoidance behavior so that you can move forward on a different and healthier path. If you are not able to make significant progress on your own, consult with a therapist to get the perspective you need plus practical tips for making changes.
Recovering from avoidance behavior.
To recover from avoidance behavior, you not only need to deal with the roots of the problem but find new ways to relate. A counselor will help you discover the roots and the new ways of relating. We can look at the examples from above to see how these people were able to move past avoidance behavior.
- The boy who was bullied learns how to set boundaries with his counselor’s help. He starts to see his classmates as not “all bad.” By practicing calculated risks with his counselor, he builds a friendship with one child in the class.
- As the young girl visits with a counselor, she begins to heal from the trauma. Her counselor helps her see that though her cousin hurt her, other males in her family are trustworthy. She begins taking baby steps toward renewed connections with male family members.
- In counseling, the teenage boy vents his feelings about the breakup, including anger, shame, and fear. Once he learns the reasons why he was attracted to a poor match, he rebuilds his emotional reserves with his counselor’s help. Then he feels ready to date again.
- The wife attends individual counseling sessions in addition to marriage counseling sessions with her husband. The wife tackles her problem of using the silent treatment when she feels hurt. By overcoming in that area, she stays connected to her husband even during conflict.
- The divorced father pours out his guilt and shame in sessions with his counselor. He discovers how much God loves him and begins to rebuild relationships with his children.
- The elderly mother talks with a counselor. She realizes she can’t change the past, but she learns that apologies can build bridges. She practices conversations with her counselor and contacts her children with renewed hope.
- The young woman walks through the grieving process of being spiritually abused. In counseling sessions, she learns what weaknesses attracted her to that church, and how to overcome them. She starts attending a different church with her friends.
- In counseling, the man who has a problem with his manager gains the courage to quit his job. With his counselor’s help, he builds up his emotional strength to start a new job, where he has new skills for making connections with coworkers.
If you are suffering from avoidance behavior, you can find the same healing as in the examples above. A compassionate Christian counselor is ready to help you. Reach out to us today to learn more about overcoming avoidance behavior.
“Alone”, Courtesy of Getty Images, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Pensive”, Courtesy of Getty Images, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Woman by the Water”, Courtesy of Virginia Marinova, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Water”, Courtesy of Yucar Studios, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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