When we avoid dealing or responding to a situation or person, we
are really saying no to the hard things that are coming up within ourselves
when dealing with that situation. *Whether we are conscious of these hard feelings or not.*
This is really unfortunate, because those hard feelings can be a great
opportunity for us to understand those parts of ourselves — what’s
really going on? Why does this suck so much? How do I make peace and
embrace this part of myself? Or how do I grieve this pain I’m feeling?
While there may not be any obvious, tangible consequences when we just
let time gloss over the things we avoid, the true consequence lies in rejecting and burying pieces of who we are. When we reject & bury hard feelings that come up by avoiding hard situations, it’s hard for us to live from a place of truly being ourselves and letting others know who we are as well (i.e. not really giving people we care about the chance to love us as a whole – just the fragmented parts we choose to engage with).
So…where does the avoidance strategy come from?
Often people who choose avoidance as a strategy when the hard stuff comes up are acting from a pattern they developed waaaaay back when they were an infant. Adult avoiders were typically parented by people who were dismissing of emotional attachment in relationships. These parents would often normalize all experiences as being “excellent, or normal” without supporting those statements with concrete experiences/evidence and in some cases, stating contradictory support of these “normalizing” statements. When talking about emotions or attachment, their parents would tend to be brief and only highlight the “normal or good”, while not attending to the bad. When caregivers do this over time, the child learns to have a non-emotional attachment to their parent, not distressing when their parents come or leave and not attaching to them to meet their emotional needs. These children will often turn to toys or the environment to preoccupy their time and seek enjoyment. Additionally, avoidant children are likely to become dismissing adults, whose children will also likely be avoidant.
When the avoidant child becomes an adult, this translates into struggling to develop deeper emotional (and at times physical) intimacy with a partner or letting yourself be really seen by others for both the good and bad parts. Adult avoiders often unintentionally become dismissive of their own and others negative emotional experiences. These adult avoiders can even seem like the “happy-go-lucky” people who are always happy, but somehow hardly ever show their angry or sad parts when hard things happen. In the end, adult avoiders often don’t give others the gift of authenticity and full acceptance, annnnnd they also don’t give themselves that gift either. They essentially reject all unpleasant parts and build their lives on only the positive or neutral pieces.
Now, many of us struggle with avoidance from time-to-time, and temporary avoidance can be a healthy thing– like when we are overwhelmed and need time and space to process through complex emotions. However, if that avoidance becomes a long-term strategy and our go-to for any of the hard stuff, we may want to start questioning why it is so difficult for us to face the hard stuff and even consider working with a professional to do so.
Because at the end of the day, living a full, authentic and healthy life that also fosters intimacy and connection with those we love means facing ourselves, facing others, and embracing the good and bad of us all. ❤