Emotional Wellbeing

Mandy Kloppers

How to reduce avoidant behaviour

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How to reduce avoidant behaviour

Fear often underpins avoidant behaviour. When we don’t like the idea of something or it seems threatening, the easiest option is to avoid the feared person/object/event. The bog problem with avoidant behaviour is that when we avoid something or someone, we never get to test out our feared prediction. More often than not, we imagine what will go wrong and this ‘hypothesis’ never gets tested out in reality. The result is that the feared situation remains unchallenged and keeps its fear factor and we also never get the opportunity to see how well we cope despite the fear.

One of the best tips I can offer you on improving your confidence is to approach your fears and try regardless. The more you approach life the more you learn how to master different coping skills in varied situations. Yes, it’s true that there will be times when things go wrong. No one escapes rejection, humiliation and failure but what’s so bad about that? It certainly won’t kill you and the more you get through difficult situations, the more able and competent you will feel about managing life.

Steps to take to reduce avoidance

Adjust your attitude to failure/rejection

Take two people – one believes failure is absolutely awful and sees failure as a personal shortcoming. They see themselves as a failure rather than seeing the actions they took as being incorrect. The second person has a healthier view of failure – they see it as a necessary evil but see failure as a part of life. Which person do you think is more likely to cope better with failure and avoid it less? Obviously it’s the latter.

Identify areas of avoidance

Many of my clients don’t even realise that they are avoiding some things. They have learned to justify their behaviour and have convinced themselves that they have chosen a specific path when in fact, they are practising straight-forward avoidance.

Some examples:

Regular procrastination – there will usually be fearful thoughts behind procrastination. Get to the bottom of the ‘story’ you are telling yourself. I avoid exercise and when I experience that feeling of dread, it’s usually because I have been telling myself I will feel tired and get out of breath and that I am not fit enough. When I stop focusing on the negatives and focus more on the positive benefits of exercise, I am far more likely to get stuck in.

I know many people who have had bad experiences in the dating game. As a result, they have avoided dating altogether and tell me that they are just not interested in dating and feel happy on their own. This may be true for the minority, but humans are social creatures and enjoy the company of others. When these people are truly honest with themselves, they admit that they are in high avoidant mode. Identify the negative thinking behind the avoidance and find a more objective way of thinking about it – such as: dating can be rewarding and I could possibly meet a few great new friends even if I don’t find the love of my life straight away.

Opposite-Action Theory

Do the opposite of your usual patterns of behaviour. You can’t expect a different result when you keep engaging in the same behaviour. If you avoid the social get-together each Friday at work, make an effort to attend. If you constantly avoid members of the opposite sex, make a point of seeking out someone of the opposite sex to chat to.

Behaviour alters attitudes so try new things and this will automatically create a different way of thinking as you will have more information in order to make decisions.

Costs and benefits

You may regularly focus on the advantages of avoidance but I can assure you that there will be many disadvantages to avoidance. When we avoid, we stunt our personal growth and learning. We slow down our progress in life and we limit our opportunities to really see what we can achieve. Often, staying in the same situation can be a far worse outcome than venturing out and seeing where life takes us.

See life as an adventure. Often, we can take life too seriously and forget to relax and just have fun. We fill our heads with fearful thoughts that paralyse us from living life freely. Get out there – make mistakes, fail regularly and see what happens. Failure and rejection aren’t pleasant but they teach you immensely about your strengths and weaknesses. They will make you braver in the long run.

Mandy X




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