I was recently searching the web for information about counseling and ran across a Tweet by Dr. Sue Johnson that really made an impression on me. She simply stated that "avoidance is the kryptonite of mental health" So what exactly does she mean?
So often in my practice, I deal with many people who experience anxiety, depression, fears, and unhealthy relationships in their daily lives. They typically encounter unpleasant physical symptoms, emotions, or experiences in one way shape or form that they would rather not deal with. Over time, they have adopted avoidance strategies as their "go to" coping mechanism. The problem is that as we avoid more and more, our lives get smaller and smaller, and we begin to miss out on events and opportunities that create a richer and more fulfilling life.
We all have our different ways of avoiding being present in and for our lives. This usually shows up as substance abuse, isolation, shut down emotionally, over use of electronics, using labels to define ourselves, workaholic, self-harm, procrastination, manipulating others to get our needs met, bingeing on TV or food, self identifying with our problems, excessive shopping, being stuck in the victim role, etc. The list goes on and on. These ways of coping keep us in our comfort zone, and distract us from moving toward those situations that make us feel uncomfortable or uncertain.
The real problem with doing this is that when we avoid an experience, we are left with nothing but our thoughts about that experience. We get stuck in our heads, churning our thoughts, and this creates negative story lines and narratives about what we think will happen. This tends to create stronger fear and more avoidance. Hence, the never ending growing cycle of avoidance that Dr. Sue Johnson refers to as "Kryptonite"
So understand that avoidance creates more avoidance and never really resolves the issue. In fact, it makes it worse. The only thing that will break the cycle is to have an active experience of the feared situation. It only takes a single experience to gain the information needed to refute all of those thoughts that have been building in your mind.
So the next time that you feel that urge to avoid, try moving towards the situation, and engage in that dreaded experience. It just might change how you deal with life on a daily basis.