When someone lives through a traumatic event, they can be left with physical and emotional scars as a result.

There are typically many different reminders of a trauma left behind that can trigger thoughts, feelings, and memories associated with the event. Because these memories and feelings are painful, many people find it easier to simply avoid their personal triggers altogether. 

If you have endured critical incidents or other types of trauma, you may understand what it is like to experience these triggers on a regular basis. Chances are, you also may have a tendency toward avoidance.

So, what exactly is avoidance behavior? And why is it such a harmful coping strategy?

Avoidance Behavior and PTSD

A diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is common after a major traumatic event. If you have been diagnosed with PTSD, it is important to understand how avoidance hinders your recovery. 

What is avoidance behavior?

Avoidance behavior is a general term for the actions or behaviors a person uses to escape from difficult, painful, or uncomfortable situations and feelings. 

Avoidance can take many different forms. As it relates to individuals with PTSD, avoidance behavior generally can be recognized by the following common symptoms:

  • Avoiding people and even loved ones who remind one of the trauma
  • Feeling disconnected or distant from reality
  • Refusing to participate in activities that relate to the trauma (i.e. driving a car, visiting a hospital, etc.)
  • Not feeling pain or physical sensations within one’s body
  • Avoiding memories from the trauma 
  • Shutting down emotionally and having a difficult time expressing love 
  • Distancing oneself from activities that used to be enjoyable

How does avoidance behavior relate to PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder typically develops in the wake of a terrifying event or chain of events. Trauma is just that—traumatic.

Understandably, people with PTSD want to avoid reliving their scarring trauma over and over again. They engage in avoidance behavior in order to spare themselves feelings of physical and mental distress. Many trauma victims will go to great lengths to avoid interacting with anything or anyone that reminds them of their trauma. 

Why is avoidance behavior harmful?

While avoiding reminders or memories of the trauma may seem like the best way to cope in the moment, prolonged avoidance will only lead to further pain and suffering. 

First, when trauma victims use avoidance behavior as a coping strategy, they are very likely to also refuse the professional treatment they need in order to recover. Why? Because trauma therapy sometimes requires discussing specific trauma-related events or triggers. 

Second, avoidance behavior only reinforces anxiety and fear. As humans, we learn through repetition. And the longer avoidance behaviors go on, the longer the PTSD symptoms will persist.

In other words, if you are struggling with PTSD and choose to actively avoid your stressors, this will actually worsen your pathology.

Avoidance can easily create impairment and very real problems in your daily living. And you may find it difficult to even complete routine tasks such as running errands and commuting to work. 

How can avoidance behavior be treated? 

There is no easy, overnight fix to change avoidance behavior. PTSD is a complicated disorder, and recovering from severe trauma takes time.

While you cannot completely eliminate the temptation to avoid, you can treat and improve upon it. Avoidance behavior is a dangerous and unhealthy coping strategy that inhibits recovery from trauma, so it is important to work with the right resources if you want to treat the problem.

If you are resorting to negative avoidance behaviors to cope with the feelings of your trauma, you do not need to carry on alone. Instead, you can meet with a licensed professional who truly understands how to treat trauma. A trauma-specialized psychologist who is well-versed in trauma therapy can help you learn to more effectively manage your PTSD symptoms.

If you live in Beverly Hills, CA, and are struggling with trauma-related avoidance behavior, I would like to help you. Contact me today to learn more or read about my approach to trauma therapy by clicking on the link.