Experiential avoidance: Avoiding negative experiences can be very dangerous

Who I am
Louise Hay


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We all have a tendency to avoid emotions, thoughts or situations that cause us some discomfort, that's what psychology is called "Experiential Avoidance". Said in this way, one might think that it is something positive or even some kind of defense mechanism that protects us, but the reality is quite different. Experiential avoidance also has a dark side that we don't usually consider and that makes us "slaves" to these emotions, situations or thoughts we wish to avoid. Of course, if we apply experiential avoidance from time to time to avoid unnecessary suffering we can exploit the advantages of this technique. But if it becomes a habit it can represent a great danger, and it is important to take it into consideration, especially in the present day. In fact, following the enormous spread of the Positive Psychology there are many false gurus and various coaches who promulgate the idea that the secret to living well and being happy depends on experiencing the maximum amount of positive emotions and avoiding negative ones. Indeed, at first glance it seems a more than sensible concept. And it is. But over time this kind of attitude leads us to avoid situations we don't like at all costs, and these become a demon to be exorcised, rather than something we have to face and resolve. So we end up avoiding the problems, but that doesn't mean they will disappear, and we mustn't forget the rebound effect. That is, the more we try to think about something, the more obsessive the idea becomes. This happens because a hypervigilance mechanism is activated in our mind in order to divert the idea as soon as it appears, but with this mechanism the only thing we get is to keep the idea active in our mind. So instead of feeling good we enter an endless cycle of negativity.

Positive distraction and the internal avoidance process

When experiential avoidance becomes a habit, the "positive distraction" is no longer something productive, necessary and fun and turns into a mechanism that leads us to escape from ourselves and from problems. of the growing inability to live internal emotional states and the increasing tendency to project themselves towards the outside world, many people have become “professional dissociators”. What does it mean? That we have learned to "seclude" or "hide" those problems that are more difficult for us to think only of what we consider pleasant or easy. If we imagine that our mind is a physical space, such as a warehouse, we are able to understand that secluding or hiding some contents does not make them disappear, but only forces them to occupy a precious space. Obviously, this is only a metaphor, but we must keep in mind that to maintain this "dissociative state" one must consume energy, an amount of energy that we could use to solve problems and grow with them. This phenomenon is particularly evident when trauma occurs with a capital "T". In these cases our mind needs to seclude it because we do not have the necessary psychological resources to process it and it could cause us very serious damage. Only later are we able to recover those memories and process them. But if we don't and we permanently set it apart, it will continue to negatively determine our life somewhere in our subconscious, causing us fear, anguish and anxiety. Unfortunately, today we exaggerate and tend to experience all negative emotions as "pseudo -traumas ". We are afraid of feeling certain emotions because society classifies them as negative and unwanted. And this fear leads us to experiential avoidance.

Accept negative experiences as part of life

It is not a question of assuming a masochistic attitude. It is obvious that we do not have to live looking for suffering. But not even avoid it like the plague. We must learn to give a "space" to these mental contents or experiences that we do not like, because they are an opportunity to learn something from ourselves. Questions like: why does this bother me? Why do I want to avoid it? What does this emotion say about me? They can help us get to know each other better, and instead of consuming a lot of energy to keep these contents hidden, we can use it in an attempt to solve the problem or to assertively channel the emotions we are experiencing. So we can grow as a person. However, if we just avoid those experiences we don't like, our "I" will shrink more and more.
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