Emotional Wellbeing

Mental Health


Self Improvement

Mandy Kloppers

Avoidant Coping


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Avoidant Coping

Life is a challenge for all of us. I have never met anyone, not a client nor a friend or family member that hasn’t had to deal with some type of trauma or crisis in their life. Such is life. In an effort to try feel safe most of engage in avoidant type behaviours. When we do this, we actually maintain the problem. We avoid the problem but we do not resolve it. Avoidant coping styles protect us in the short term but ultimately, they prolong the discomfort. Do you practise avoidant coping?

Types of Avoidant Coping

1) Denial

When we refuse to accept reality or a personal truth, we don’t have to deal with it. Acknowledging the issue would mean facing it and that comes with a lot of emotional turmoil. So we deny issues – whether it is drug taking, overeating, or unsavoury personal characteristics. In doing so, the reality continues unhindered whilst being denied. Personal denial only fools the person in denial, no one else.

2) Withdrawal

Another way that we indulge in avoidant coping is by withdrawing from situations. Again,this works as a short-term fix but hiding won’t make the problem disappear. Withdrawing for a set time period to gather your wits is fair enough, but repeated withdrawal over the same issue won’t get you anywhere.

3) Distraction

This type of avoidant coping is very common. All those obsessed hard workers spending hours on the office might very well be hiding from real life by sticking to their structured work lives. I see it all the time with my clients. Work becomes a great excuse for not dealing with the nitty gritty of life – such as a failing marriage or a crumbling personal life. Many think that working themselves to a standstill will somehow make the problems go away. Unfortunately, all it does is exacerbate the existing issues. Passive distraction includes watching endless hours of TV or spending excessive amounts of time on the internet.

4) Self Soothing

We all self soothe to a degree and in small doses this is perfectly fine. The problem arises when we self soothe to the point of feeling numb and incapable of confronting the underlying issues. Ways in which we self soothe:

Drinking too much alcohol

Eating too much/ Bingeing

Addictions – pornography, gambling, drug taking, stalking, hoarding etc

Spending Money – shopping is a great stress reliever but when it starts to deplete the bank accounts and your house is filled with clutter it might not be the best way forward.

5) Psychosomatic Symptoms

When we spend too long with our head in the sand, our body decides to send us a physical message. If we aren’t prepared to deal with stress with our brains, our bodies step in. This is when we start to fall ill – gastrointestinal symptoms, poor sleep patterns, aches and pains, headaches, heart palpitations, rashes and panic attacks are all ways in which the body tries to tell us it is under too much stress.

When suppression no longer works, the body lets us know. There is a close link between mind and body and if your stress begin to manifest in physical ways, this is an urgent sign to slow down and re-assess your life.

6) Excessive Reasoning

This involves ignoring our intuition and natural emotional responses by suppressing them with rational thinking. Again – a balance is healthy but excessive rationality does not allow the natural expression of emotion. This leads to inner tension and the stress builds up.

It really is okay to be human and acknowledge emotion. Anger, frustration and disappointment (et al) are natural emotions that should be expressed.

If you are engaging in avoidant coping, you are not alone. We all do it to some extent but being aware of when you are avoiding underlying issues and setting time limits for dealing with the issues will lead to a more contented life with much greater peace of mind.

Deal with underlying issues by talking to someone, get help from local charities or set a plan in motion to deal with the issues step by step. Take small steps and break the plan down to feel more in control. Looking at the big picture might lead to you feeling overwhelmed. See a Doctor, life coach, trained counsellor or a psychologist for help if necessary but stop avoiding what isn’t working for you anymore. Facing up to it and doing something is less daunting that the imagined version present to ourselves in our minds.

Mandy X