Avoidance (Sarah James)

We each do it to varying degrees so it’s something we all have in common. Maybe you are avoiding that uncomfortable conversation with your boss. Or you change the subject (again) when your partner tries to connect with you. Maybe you look at the caller ID and don’t answer the phone call from your mother because it just feels too big and you can’t handle her right now. This often leads us feeling more isolated and alone. Maybe you avoid a certain part of town because of what it reminds you of. Why do we avoid situations and people? What is it inside of us that causes us to turn away, ignore, or put things off? We temporary avoid something knowing that we will eventually have to face it: an assignment, a confrontation, a separation, loss and grief. We tell ourselves that if we don’t look at it straight in the eye it will magically disappear. However, things don’t magically disappear (I wish they did sometimes). In fact, avoidance can cause our disturbances to increase and potentially end up causing us and others more harm. Avoidance can increase our anxiety and create a sense of loneliness.

So, what can we do when we are avoiding something or someone? What are our first steps towards change?

Step 1 : Acknowledge

Way to go! Great job for even noticing you may be avoiding something: a person, situation, feeling, a memory. It takes a lot of courage to even slow down and notice what is you are thinking ang feeling.

Step 2 : Be Curious

Do you see patterns of avoidance in your life? Some examples could be you avoid authority figures and now it’s affecting your work performance. Maybe you avoid situations where you don’t feel like you are in control and so you keep a tight ship with where and who you spend your time with. Maybe you try to avoid anxiety and just push through your circumstances but that doesn’t seem to work either.

Step 3 : Notice Your Body

Is your body responding to these memories or thoughts you are avoiding? Maybe your chest gets tight or you start to sweat. Your body gives you wonderful clues all the time. Often, our body will have a sensation that may be connected to a feeling. Are there certain feelings you may be avoiding?

Remember, this is a no-judgment zone. You are simply exploring with an open perspective what is happening inside of your body. We do things for a reason, right? You are becoming a detective to understand why you may be avoiding.

Step 4 : Get a new perspective

What if I’m stuck in the same avoidance loop and can’t create a new cycle? This is when therapy can be useful. Walking alongside a therapist who can be curious with you might be the support you need during these seasons of our lives. We can look at when you started avoiding and why. We can equip you with the skills and tools that will help empower you to take the next steps towards change.

Maybe you have been avoiding making a phone call to a therapist. It may feel like your problem isn’t big enough to see a therapist. Or maybe it feels too big and overwhelming to share with a stranger or to allow your brain to go to those difficult places and memories.  It is common to wonder if a therapist will understand you and what you’re going through.

The most important thing for me as a counselor is to create an atmosphere where my clients can feel safe, to be themselves, to say whatever they want, to not be perfect. I may give you various personality assessments or a new technique to help you understand your avoidant behaviors and move towards desired changes. However, I believe change always comes down to my client feeling safe. I start at my client’s pace and finish at their pace. Some level of trust and comfortability must be created to begin looking at those things you may be avoiding. I would be honored to do that alongside of you.

Here are some helpful resources if you want to learn more about this topic.

The Cycle of Anxiety


Goal Breakthrough


Different Types of Avoidance-PTSD


Understanding Your Personality with the Enneagram



If you find yourself avoiding things and wanting new strategies to engage how you live, then feel free to reach out to Sarah for a free 15-minute phone consultation at sarahj@renew-counseling.org or 407-815-5076.

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