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Emotional Avoidance

Emotions One way people attempt to control their emotional experiences is through Emotional Avoidance.

Emotional Avoidance is when we engage in behaviors designed to prevent ourselves from experiencing strong and frequently unwanted emotions.

Emotional Avoidance can be behavioral or cognitive. Some behavioral strategies are more obvious, such as when a person with social anxiety declines a party invitation to avoid entering a situation that will cause them emotional distress.

However, people also do inconspicuous things to avoid internal discomfort, such as attending a social gathering but avoiding making eye contact or making an excuse to leave early, taking medication, or asking a friend to accompany them to an anxiety-provoking event.

Cognitive Avoidance Strategies entail things you do to avoid thinking about, remembering, or paying attention to something emotionally distressing. Here are examples: distraction (e.g., watching television, scrolling through social media), rumination (i.e., repetitively going over a thought or a problem without completion or resolution), or trying to force oneself to think of something other than the situation at hand.

Engaging in any form of Emotional Avoidance prevents people from learning that the situation is not dangerous and reinforces the idea that uncomfortable or painful emotional experiences are overwhelming and intolerable. Avoidance strategies tend to help alleviate distress in the short term but make things worse in the long term.

Avoiding emotions (as well as other private events, such as thoughts, urges, memories, and so on) is thought to be one of the most pathological processes one can do. The deliberate attempt to avoid or escape from difficult emotions can paradoxically increase their occurrence and intensity and diminish exposure- based strategies.

Research has revealed that Emotional Avoidance predicts adverse outcomes in depression (DeGenova et al., 1994), substance misuse (Ireland et al., Kouzekanani, 1994), binge eating, and many other areas (Hayes, 2004).

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