Some people attempt to avoid discomfort or other uncomfortable feelings. They may avoid any negative experience, conversation, or encounter that could elicit pain. They might not even realize their avoidance comes from not wanting to feel uncomfortable. People may mask their feelings by saying things like, “Good vibes only!” or “There is always a silver lining!”
However, these statements are quite problematic and invalidating. Imagine having a bad day and someone shouts, “You just need to be more positive!” Hearing statements like this might make you feel as if your pain is unacceptable or that there is no room for your sadness or anger. There’s plenty of space, and the “good vibes only” mentality does not leave room for the duality of the human experience. It also promotes emotional avoidance.
Harris (2006) suggests that pain is unavoidable and does not prevent a person from living a whole and meaningful life. The author writes that the more time and energy spent trying to avoid or eliminate unwanted feelings, the more likely someone will suffer. An alternative to avoidance is acceptance. After all, feelings ebb and flow, and they are often temporary states.
However, sometimes avoidance can be a coping method or a means of emotional regulation. Still, often this behavior comes from fear. Do you think that you avoid your negative feelings? Look at the below list for how you might be engaging in avoidance. Note: These behaviors are not inherently negative as they are. As always, it is when they become excessive.
- Hyper-focusing on the past or future to distract from present pain.
- Procrastinating to avoid the feelings a task might trigger.
- Constantly fixing yourself to prevent feelings of anxiety and inferiority.
- Directing all our energy on other people instead of looking inward.
- Staying busy to avoid being alone with your thoughts and feelings.
- Ghosting friends or romantic partners when you become unhappy.
- Avoiding conflict at work to keep the peace around you.
Disclaimer: It is not a personal weakness if you tend to avoid your feelings. We live in a society that is fixated on “just being happy.” Furthermore, it is not always safe to feel all the feelings (like popular culture media suggests). For example, trauma survivors may not be ready to access their internal experiences reflective of past events. Similarly, a person who repeatedly faces oppression might need to be agreeable and present as happy as a means of survival. If this blog does not resonate with you, it is okay. Feel what you want to feel and feel when you are ready. Just remember that all vibes are welcome- not just good ones.
If you need support and would like to speak to a professional counselor about topics, such as the one featured in this blog, and are in the Chicago area, please contact Olive Branch Counseling Associates, Inc. at 708-633-8000. We are located at 6819 West 167th Street in Tinley Park, Illinois 60477.
Written by Liz, Mental Health Counseling Master’s Level Intern
Harris, R. (2006). Embracing your demons: An overview of acceptance and commitment therapy. Psychotherapy in Australia, 12(4), 2–8.