How to Deal with Life’s Difficulties and Become More Resilient (2 of 3)

As discussed in Part I of this blog, emotional pain and suffering is unavoidable, despite our best efforts. One of the primary tools in the human arsenal to protect against these uncomfortable feelings is avoidance. We all do it to some extent. For instance:

  • What do we do when we are uncomfortable with confrontation?
    We placate others with smiles and compliments or avoid them altogether.
  • What do we do when we have social anxiety?
    We stay inside, order food delivery, and avoid unnecessary human contact.
  • What do we do when have a history of painful and unhealthy relationships?
    We insulate ourselves from others and avoid human intimacy.
  • What do we do when feelings of sadness, anxiety, shame, or fear creep in?
    We reach for our phones or pour ourselves a drink.

Sound familiar?

Avoidance: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Now avoidance isn’t “bad” per se; it’s generally true that there are no strictly good and bad behaviors, and that all behaviors exist on a spectrum. For example, aggression is not “bad”; like all behaviors, it is context dependent, and we evolved to possess these behaviors for good reason. Certainly, some forms of aggression are harmful, such as physical or emotional abuse. But in other cases, aggression is necessary and even helpful; should someone attack us or invade our home with the intent to harm us or our families, aggression may very well ensure our survival.

Similarly, avoidance, like all human behaviors, evolved out of the need to survive difficult or dangerous conditions:

  • We learn to avoid a certain part of the forest if it is filled with dangerous predators.
  • We learn to avoid certain foods if they taste terrible or make us sick.
  • We learn to avoid certain people when they harm us.

But while avoidance can protect us and help us survive, it can also prevent us from growing. For example, Freud identified avoidance as one of our most common defense mechanisms that hinder our emotional and psychological development, keeping us stuck in old, unhelpful patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

  • Avoiding confrontation can prevent us from resolving important relational issues or from drawing appropriate boundaries in our professional, familial, and interpersonal relationships.
  • Avoiding human contact and relationships can rob us of opportunities to create joy and intimacy in our lives.
  • Avoiding uncomfortable feelings can lead to various kinds of addiction, from drugs and alcohol to shopping to pornography to technological gadgets, impeding our ability to become stronger and more resilient in the face of adversity.

Avoidance, unfortunately, is a double-edged sword!

Now in the last part of this blog series, we’ll explore ways of identifying patterns of avoidance and strategies for confronting uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and circumstances so that we can grow in ways that make our lives more fulfilling and that build resilience.

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