No matter how old or wise we get, it can be hard to stay strong when difficulty comes knocking. Facing emotions or challenges that make us uncomfortable is never easy, but avoiding our problems only compounds our stress and anxiety and leads to further upset later on down the road.
Avoidance is a real problem and one with far-reaching consequences for our happiness and long-term wellbeing. If you want to avoid the perilous pitfalls of avoidance coping, you’ve got to learn how to face your problems head on — but that takes know-how and substantial amount of understanding.
What is avoidance coping?
Avoidance behaviors are basically the maladaptive form of coping that requires us to change our behavior in order to stop ourselves from thinking of or feeling things that make us feel uncomfortable.
This type of coping is commonly referred to as avoidance coping, avoidant coping and even escape coping, encompassing a wide range of behaviors that are as toxic as they are varied.
In order to truly heal and recover from the traumas and hardships in our lives, we need to face them and deal with them open and honestly.
As humans with delicate human egos, we engage in avoidant coping like an Olympic sport, and we do so in the belief that it will reduce the stress that challenging situations create. The problem, however, is that it’s only a temporary fix; a bandaid on an evisceration. Avoiding the hard things only leads to more stress hardship no matter how you look at it. If you really want the discomfort to end, you have to turn and face the things that cause pain in your life.
The dangers of avoiding the tough stuff.
It’s dangerous to avoid the tough stuff in life, despite what our natural instinct might tell us. Avoidance coping falls under the maladaptive category because — rather than helping us — it harms us, exacerbating stress and creating bigger messes in our lives that lead to an undermining of our mental and even physical wellbeing.
Your relationships take a hit.
Carrying around unresolved conflict actually compounds the stress in our lives, which can manifest in some pretty surprising (and nasty) ways. One example of this manifestation is an increase in personal conflict — a truly damaging side effect of our avoidance mechanisms. Walking around, clinging to stress that’s putting you on edge, can cause you to lash out at the people that surround you; coworkers and loved ones alike. This lashing out can lead to some serious escalations and can leave you feeling more isolated and hopeless than ever.
Your health hits the rocks.
Avoiding tough talks and tough situations can negatively affect your physical health in a number of surprising ways. Prolonged stress can dampen our immune systems, worsen skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema and acne, and even cause reproductive problems for women due to the hormonal side-effects. Unaddressed conflict can also lead to neck and back problems as well as an array of aches and pains which further undermine our happiness and ability to engage in the world around us.
Why we avoid tackling issues in our lives.
There are a slew of reasons we avoid the things and conversations that make us uncomfortable. To our instinctual self — avoidance is a payoff worth avoiding the things that make us squirm; but to our true selves it’s far more complicated. Dealing with your avoidance issues starts with understanding why we avoid hardship in the first place. It’s not always as simple as you think.
We believe we have too much to lose.
When you believe that you have too much to lose, it can make it difficult to tackle your problems in a way that leave you vulnerable to conflict or disagreement. Threat of fallout and negative reaction is a fear everyone struggles with and it can often feel as though it’s a consequence that is too difficult to bear.
Worst of all, however, is that believing we have too much to lose leads us to also believe that trading short-term discomfort for long-term dysfunction is a fair trade. A dangerous miscalculation that undermines our wellbeing and overall happiness.
We allow hope to become the main strategy.
Only the naive make hope their main strategy but, sadly, that is the case. When you put all your eggs into the basket of hopeful belief that life will just “work out” — you fall into a host of problems and pitfalls that make your life that much more difficult for the living.
While hope can be an important factor is surviving the difficult points in our lives, hanging all your plans on hope is sure to lead you down a path to avoidance. Without an aligned action plan, hope leaves you nothing but lackluster imagination. Dreams are unsustainable unless they are defined by action and concrete facts.
We let our past experiences determine our future.
The experiences of our past go a long way into shaping the coping mechanisms we use in the future. Many of us grew up in homes in which people dealt with problems poorly or resolved their issues through heated conflict that made it clear we weren’t safe to express ourselves.
When we don’t learn healthy coping skills in our childhood, it become hard to do so later on in life — leading to avoidance and other negative coping mechanisms that undermine our happiness.
Recent experiences, too, can have a negative impact on the way we deal with things (or don’t deal with them). Being in tough conversations in the past, which had negative outcomes, can make it hard for you to confront and deal with the things that are causing an upset in your life now. Gun-shyness isn’t just for shooting. It applies to our experiences and our need to avoid bad situations as well.
We are too used to functioning in a passive-aggressive environment.
Passive-aggressive culture is a big thing in this social media age and it’s no wonder why. Thanks to our constant need for social comparison, we’re faker than ever — struggling to have hard conversations, or any conversations that aren’t tapped out on a tempered-glass screen. When we become used to operating in a passive-aggressive environment, we take on avoidance techniques that align with the fear of confrontation our environment fosters.
Signs you’re avoiding the things you shouldn’t.
Problems are inevitable — no matter who you are or how hard you work to make everything around you perfect. Relationships falter, conflicts crop up at work. You might not feel like you’re ready to face your problems, but that’s the only way to get through them. If you think that you’ve got an avoidance problem, look for one of these signs. They might be more subtle than you think.
You’re spending a lot of time concentrating on the problems of others.
Spending an inordinate amount of time focusing on the problems or conflicts of others is often a sign that you’re avoiding a frank conversation or issue yourself. When we are afraid to analyze our own thoughts and behaviors, we often zero in on the issues of others, offering them our assistance to the detriment of our own longterm wellbeing.
You always change the subject.
If talking about touchy subjects makes you squirm enough to change the subject, then you’re struggling to deal with something that needs to be resolved.Even conversations that aren’t about you might hit a little too close to home, causing you to jump-to and change the topic before anyone can turn the conversation toward you and the insecurities and stress you’re dealing with.
You’re relying too much on numbing substances.
Substance abuse is one of the most common ways we avoid stress and one of the most common ways we try to numb ourselves to the pain that’s occurring in our lives.
A good drink or a joint might feel like the perfect solution to a stressful situation, but coming to rely on them only numbs the pain — it doesn’t resolve it and it doesn’t help you to heal or recover in any meaningful way.
Escaping reality though gin-and-tonics might seem like a tempting option but it only leads to a compound of stress and an array of longterm physical ailments that undermines your overall wellbeing. When we lean into a life of numbness — rather than dealing with our problems — we lean further into the pit of despair.
You put everything off until “tomorrow”.
When every other day becomes “tomorrow” — you have a problem with avoidance that needs to be dealt with…and fast. Having the motivation to say you’ll do things tomorrow is not the same as having the motivation to do them, and it is most certainly not the same as resolving the issues in your life.
It’s not enough to say you’ll make a change. You have to be proactive about conquering the conflicts in your life but it takes some backbone and it takes a lot of self-respect. Problems don’t fix themselves so tomorrow is always a cop-out. If you’re saying “tomorrow” chances are, you’re putting off something that could be dealt with today.
You have a lot of “friends” but no one supports you.
Having a deep-rooted support system is important to overcoming difficulty in our lives — no matter what form it takes. If you find that you have an overwhelming number of superficial friends, however, with no real or stable connections, it might be a sign that you’re using friendship as a distraction and not as a means to create meaningful connections and experiences.
Being a social butterfly is nice, but using relationships as a way to deflect from deeper issues is a sign that you need to take a step back and reassess.Friends shouldn’t just be a number on a webpage, they should be someone we trust enough to share confidence with and someone we care enough about to be vulnerable with.
Real friends don’t allow us to run away from our problems, they help us sit down and deal with them by being a compassionate shoulder and an optimistic perspective that can help us overcome any hardship. If you see friends as objects to fill your time, there might be a chance you’re running from something that needs to be dealt with. Take a good long look inside using one of the techniques outlined below.
You lean into “getaways” or “self-care” more than you should.
Jumping into random road trips every weekend or falling into 5 “self-care” days in a row is yet another sign that you might be running from a hard conversation or conflict in your life that needs to be dealt with ASAP.
While spontaneity sounds like a nice excuse, it’s often just another way we allow our avoidance coping take charge of our lives in a destructive way. Travel is a wonderful and mind-opening experience, but using it to run from our problems only compounds our stress and anxiety. Our problems are always waiting for us when we return — and they’re often worse than they were before. The only way to deal with our problems is to face them, but that takes courage and a lot of know-how.
How to face the hard things and deal with the problems in your life.
Avoidance coping is a fickle mistress, but she can be tackled and overcome by taking a good hard look inside and dealing with things head-on, step-by-step. The reasons for our avoidance are as varied as the solutions for dealing with our complex issues and conflicts. These 8 techniques, however, are a good place to start if you’re looking to confront the darkness that’s causing stress in your life.
1. Face and embrace reality.
Avoiding our problems forces us to avoid the stunning brilliance of the reality around us. When we turn away from reality, we turn away from life. In order to enjoy the lives we’ve been given, we have to be present in the moment and the only way to do that effectively is to face and embrace reality.
Detaching yourself from your emotions and the hangups that keep you chained to the past allows you to orient yourself toward a reality and a path forward through the hardships you are facing. Being guided by the reality principle creates the ability to deal with greater capacity of life, and strengthens our resolve and our resilience in transformative ways.
Ease yourself into this radical acceptance by starting a mindful journaling practice. Consider the situations in your life and how they made you feel. Describe how you believed the situations would be resolved at the outset and then describe how things actually came to a close. More often than not, you’ll discover that the emotions you have around a situation are not aligned to reality.
2. Accept that success and failure are equal parts of the experience.
Whether you’re struggling to have a difficult conversation or you’re struggling with a situation that transcends explanation — accepting that success and failure are equal parts of any journey is one of the first steps in building the confidence and strength you need to combat any hardship.
Give yourself permission to get things wrong and have enough compassion (and self-respect) to take it easy on yourself when you slip up or say the wrong thing.
Life is a dynamic process and it’s filled with success and failure in equal measure. We learn through our experiences and it is the only way we develop lasting and genuine confidence in ourselves and our abilities. More than that, we learn to be humble and — through our failures — develop a view of ourselves that makes it possible to remain grounded in a present reality. Reality is key in facing our problems, but it takes a certain amount of acceptance to cultivate the bravery you need to face the real world.
3. Set the right intent.
It’s important to set the right intent when facing conflict — whether it’s circumstantial or relational. While facing our problems head-on and with bravery is important, it’s more important to be focused on resolution rather than conflict or just plain old “winning”.
Seeing our issues our important discussions as competition is the wrong mindset to have if we’re looking for true and honest resolution. This kind of rigid thinking creates more conflict and exasperates problems by compacting them and leaving all affected parties on edge and distrustful.
Once you’ve accepted the potential outcomes and embraced the reality of your situation, approach your issue with openness and interest in problem-solving rather than a need to conquer it like an invading Caesar.
If your need to be right is greater than your need for a peaceful resolve, then you’re looking for more trouble and you might just be avoiding the real work that has to be done. Set the right intent before dealing with your issues and you’ll find a quicker resolution.
4. Take responsibility for your actions…and your feelings.
Even when we are the true and honest victims of an unfair situation, there are still lessons to be learned. It’s important to take responsibility for the actions that led you to difficulty, but it’s also important to take responsibility for your emotions and the way the people or circumstances around you have made you feel.
Accept the way you feel and avoid blaming the people around you for those emotions. Rather, express your emotions as though they were simply a part of the situation; another circumstance that’s arisen as a part of another, a never-ending chain of cause-and-effect that is no one’s fault — it just is.
No one can make you feel a specific way. If you’re having a hard talk with someone that can no longer be avoided, be clear and specific about what’s happened to affect you and focus on behavior’s rather than specific characteristics or personality flaws.
5. Tend to your support systems.
When we’re stressed out and avoiding the tough stuff, we often lose sight of the things that do matter. It’s easy to become neglectful of the relationships that give our lives meaning but it’s important to correct this and cultivate our support systems for the rough times when things go wrong.
Meaningful and fulfilling relationships don’t just happen — just like a garden, they take work and attentive care to keep alive.
Whether your love is found in marriage or family or friendships, dynamic and meaningful connections are a choice that have to be made every single day…hard times or not. Tend to your support systems in the good time and the bad and make sure that your family and your friends know how beloved they are.
Relationships are a daily process of overcoming distance and honoring the different-ness that binds us together. All love is repair work and our relationships are no different. If you’re struggling through something tough, reach out to your friends and focus on making those relationships stronger as a means to heal yourself.
6. Drop all of your assumptions.
No matter how long you spend dealing with a person or an experience you ultimately can never know the full story of what’s going within and without.
As humans, we are our own limitless universes — filled with complex and churning thoughts and emotions that shift as often and as irregularly as a tropical storm. It’s impossible to know what we are thinking at any given time, and it is impossible to judge the full range of our decision making no matter how intimately we come to know one another.
People grow. They change. What we want, need or expect from the things and people around us can change in the blink of an eye.
It’s important to remember that the things we need have to be renegotiated from time to time and that sometimes means change that can make us feel uncomfortable or out-of-sorts.
Drop all of your assumptions at the door and realize that the only way to ensure a happy future is to adopt a fluid method of getting by. Problems never end; they never go away. Life is hardship. The only thing that changes is the way we react to it. Develop a new reaction plan that allows you to live a life free of worry. Lose the assumptions and embrace the ride.
7. Break things up and take a break.
Big problems can’t be solved over night and important issues can’t be hashed out in one single conversation. Allow for the possibility of time-outs and agree to give yourself a “time-out” when it’s needed. When you’re already dealing with more stress than you can handle, pushing yourself to the brink will only lead to more problems. Break things up and take a break with things get too tough to bear.
Deal with one issue at a time and make sure you keep focused on the topic at hand before moving on to deal with another facet of your issue. If you’re bringing up complaints with another person, focus on one topic at a time and make sure you don’t allow the issues of the past to tinge the conversation and issues of the here and now.
Listen and always make sure your solutions and responses are centered around clear and specific examples or facts that lends to the logic of your argument or positive resolutions that add to the results, rather than detract. When we’re in the heat of a difficult moment it can be easy to overgeneralize and jump to conclusions, but it’s important to remain accurate and focused on results that are anchored in reality.
8. Focus on gratitude.
Tough times force us into a corner and then cause us to fixate on our troubles in a way that erases our blessings from view. That kind of a negative attitude undermines our ability to find the silver lining and it changes our perspective in a way that can be damaging to our relationships and values.
Staying focused on the good and receiving it with gratitude can often lead to transformative changes in our lives. Practicing gratitude has been proven to have a dramatic impact on our lives, improving our emotional health and even our physical wellbeing.
When we’re grateful, we see possibilities that would otherwise be lost to us in our negativity haze. An outlook focused on gratitude is one with an expanded horizon of opportunity that allows us to make use of the good we’ve been given — no matter how small that good might be.
Think of it like a wellbeing maximizer. Focusing on gratitude — rather than your feelings of hurt or injustice — increases your resilience and boosts your ability to cope with the hardships and difficulties you encounter in life. It takes a lot of courage to exercise, however, and it takes some radical self-acceptance. It’s not always easy to spot the silver lining, but it’s always there. You just have to make the decision to see it.
Putting it all together…
Facing up to the people, situations or feelings that make us uncomfortable is never easy. If you want to stop avoiding and start dealing with the conflicts in your life, you must start by facing and embracing the reality of your situation and the circumstances around you. Tend to your support systems and accept that success and failure are equal parts of the experience. No one is perfect, so be grateful for what you can get right and let go of the rest.
Face your problems before they have an opportunity to fester. Only by bravely embracing the challenges that Lady Fortune throws our way can we get to the joy that’s waiting on the other side. Let go of your fear and take a leap of faith that’s supported by the knowledge that everyone our there is just doing the best they can. You’re doing the best you can too. Give yourself some credit. No one can live your life better than you can.