Someone recently shared a story about having to ask their employer why their hours kept getting decreased. Only after this brave communication did they learn it was because the employer was not overly pleased with the employee’s job performance. The employer did kindly allow the person to work part time hours until they found another job, but was really surprised by this and made a comment about how you would think the employer would have given feedback about their performance and possibly provide some training or mentoring. The response to me was “We live in an avoidant society.” Well put. I believe this is very true. I see habitual avoidance behavior on a daily basis, not just with my clients, but with myself. Avoidance of conflict. Avoidance of negative emotions. Avoidance of anything that is hard. That might results in disappointment (there is the big D word) or failure (The F word).
Many avoidance behaviors I see come in the form of distraction (electronics, social media, shiny objects, squirrels). It has changed over the years for me. A decade ago it was fantasy novels. Then it was “trash mags” such as Us weekly or People. Then it was scrolling absent mindfully through face book. Other avoidance behaviors come in the form of self-harm, defensiveness, externalizing responsibility, or total withdrawal/isolation. Of course there are benefits to some of these. It is much easier and can be fun at time. But in most cases it does not lead to any big achievements or improvement in quality of life. And it often leads to more negative emotions and struggles.
The book “The Thriving Adolescent” (Hayes & Ciarrochi, 2015) discusses how we begin our lives as “Noticers” and simply experience emotions as they are, but as we grow, we categorize feelings as “good” or “bad,” through learning, which leads to the fight to control (“I shouldn’t feel this way,” “Something is wrong with me”). The belief that emotions cause behaviors also arise from the “Why?” questions.
I notice I had have been avoiding the media lately, particularly during hurricane Michael. I am paying attention to my behaviors and the sensations inside when I hear or read a comment about the storm’s devastation. My chest and muscles tighten and I distract myself with work or change the subject. I recognize this does not take away the fear and the sadness I feel. And it does not enable me to do anything I value, like providing support and reaching out to those impacted. I am working on trying to normalize these feelings. I am an emotional and empathetic person. Of course I am afraid and concerned for others. My emotions provide vital information about the things I care most about. I am aware of my internal sensations and am naming, describing, and allowing them to be there. Only then, can I discover what actions I can take to make a difference.
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