Sunday, March 22, 2009


Part of therapy and counselling work involves helping the client to identify and express their feelings. However, many people avoid their feelings rather than express them. Sri Lanka has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Part of this might be due to the fact that people avoid talking about their feelings, but suppress them instead. Any long term avoidance of feelings leads to problems.

How do we avoid and why?

Avoidance is another name for “safety behaviour”, that means, something we do in order to keep ourselves safe. Avoidance is a natural or normal safety response to a threat like heights, illness, heat, blood, animals, strangers etc…However, avoidance becomes unreasonable and unhealthy when in the longer term it affects people’s self-esteem and confidence. Avoidance is the key factor which maintains generalized anxiety. For example, a person who is anxious about socializing because he may feel self-conscious or inadequate might avoid going out when asked by friends. This may bring short- term relief when he doesn’t have to face his fear, but in the long-term he will not overcome his anxieties around socializing and not improve his confidence. Challenging avoidance, therefore, is about facing up to the situation or people we fear.

Below is a list of different ‘methods’ we use to avoid, only to bring relief in the short - term:

How do we avoid?

Here is a list, suggested by patients in a psychiatric ward and their staff, of different unhelpful ways people use avoidance to keep themselves safe in the short -term.

· Being late · Sleeping · Missing appointments · Restricting food · Binge/vomiting · Over-exercising · Preoccupation with food · Hiding · Drinking · Minimizing situations · Making routines · Using drugs · Running away · Putting things off · Choosing safe food · Making excuses · High activity levels · Ignoring, e.g., phone calls · ‘Forgetting’ · Focusing on others at own expense. · Agreeing when you don’t · Supporting others and not meeting own needs · Theorizing · Not talking about the things you need to talk about · Being slow about things. · Not saying what you want /feel · Changing the subject · Misusing alcohol · Pushing things to back of mind · Speak slowly · Heavy make-up · Cleaning · Stare at things · Sucking sweets/chewing gum · Cigarettes · Over checking things · Medication before/after · Telling jokes/not · Smart clothes · Relating to pets · Looking at the floor · Hiding behind long hair · Going out in the rain · Hiding behind net curtains · Only relating by mobile phone · Hiding behind sunglasses · Fidgeting · Checking toilets/exits · Gossiping

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