Anxiety and Avoidant Behavior

The nexus between the hypervigilance we discussed in the previous blog and today’s subject is both close and strong. This week we talk about avoidant behaviors.

It’s most reasonable, isn’t it, if certain settings and encounters puts a person through the agony and exhaustion of hypervigilance – that she would want to avoid those settings.

Yes it’s understanding, but that does not mean it’s not problematic.

[su_pullquote]Avoidant behavior shrinks one’s world and options.[/su_pullquote]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ultimately what is behind both hypervigilance and avoidant behavior is a flawed view of one’s self. This is the result of drawing the same ongoing conclusions from outdated data.

You see, when developmental anxiety started, the fact that the child was all but powerless, could scarcely protect himself, and was not equal to the power of adult threats was absolutely true. These were sound conclusions drawn from an accurate reading of the data (“map”) at that time.

 

However, this does not describe the data of that same person when he is now a man of 25. He is trying to navigate his world off an outdated map.

The actual reality of being inferior and inadequate to the dangers in childhood have become the accepted reality of the same being true in adulthood. Thus, feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, in short – vulnerability – causes not only the hypervigilance covered last week but the avoidant behavior of this.

Just what is it that the avoidant anxious person is trying to avoid? Ultimately, it is a two-fold pain: one is situational, the other existential.

 

Situationally, she is attempting to avoid the pain of experiencing an anxiety episode. Existentially, she is avoiding the perception and experience of being inferior to everyone else.

The first avoidance – the situational – is an attempt to stay away from conditions that exhaust the body. The attending hypervigilance in these situations (remember, a state we were never designed to live in) burns energy fast and leaves her drained. It is not a pleasant experience.

The second avoidance – the existential – exhausts the soul. Yet again feeling nervous because he feels inferior, yet again feeling to be less than the challenge will require (inadequate), yet again feeling somehow exposed (vulnerable) are all being wounds. Soul wounds.

 

[su_box title=”Anxiety and Avoidant Behaviors” style=”noise” box_color=”#706e6e” title_color=”#ffffff” radius=”5″]Situationally, the individual is attempting to avoid the pain of experiencing an anxiety episode. Existentially, they are avoiding the perception and experience of being inferior to everyone else.[/su_box]

 

Who, at the risk of the situational and existential threats that are perceived by the developmentally anxious, would not want to avoid the causal situation!

And therein lies the problem, doesn’t it?

Avoidant behavior, as I have said, shrinks one’s world. And like most compensating behaviors, the practice of it reinforces the problem. This serves only to validate the problem in one’s mind.

It confirms the hypervigilance by saying, in effect, “Yes, you are actually in danger in that context, so you would be wise to stay away.” Thus the problem is reinforced.

In sum, let me remind you. Yes, avoidance will keep you away from the stressors that lead to anxiety episodes in your life. But it comes at too high a cost – a diminished existence. Moreover, it reinforces the fact that the anxious context is indeed something to fear. Having the courage to move into your fear zones is the only way to extinguish this reinforcement… and to begin taking back a larger life.

 

Dr Michael Ruth, Growth Resources, Personal Growth