You know how you distance yourself in relationships from fear of being rejected? Yes, that’s one form of Avoidance behavior.
There are healthy relationships and then there are dysfunctional ones as well. Then there is something in between these two, which creates a tense atmosphere of uncertainty. Something called avoidance behavior can make otherwise perfectly healthy relationships suddenly take a sharp turn. This leaves partners and friends in confusion, left to try and figure out why the relationship suddenly became an awkward establishment.
Avoidance behavior: A pervasive pattern of avoiding or withdrawing from social interaction.
The many colors of this poisonous behavior
Avoidance behavior comes in several different forms. You can be frightened of a school presentation and the fear of making a mistake during your speech, you can be reluctant to attend social events in fear of being critiqued, or you can be petrified of getting closer in romantic relationships as well. Here are a few quick examples of avoidance situations.
- Wife avoids the in laws in fear of disagreements
- children avoid parents in an attempt to bypass punishments, lectures or serious discussions
- husband avoids wife’s friends for various reasons
- mentally ill avoid all sorts of social situations in fear of triggers or attacks
- parents avoid confrontations with children in fear of damaging the relationship
As you can see, a common thread is a fear or worry. Avoidance has a root that revolves around how you are perceived by others, be it partners, family members, friends, or even employers.
The relationship killer
Romantic relationships, for instance, are beautiful and when we can find compatibility, we find a possible lifetime partner. I could go on and on about how wonderful and fulfilling healthy relationships are, but I won’t. Under the love and passion, some relationships are dying from an avoidance condition. One or the other partner is trying to pull away…..and there’s a reason.
At the root of the avoidance personality lies a more pressing condition – anxiety. Anxiety causes otherwise healthy individuals to overthink situations. During romantic relationships, all can be going well until it’s time to avoid something, someone, or some place.
A typical scenario:
A couple is invited to a concert. For someone who suffers from anxiety, the words create a strange sensation in the pit of the stomach and thoughts suddenly begin to race. Every possible thing that could go wrong is already bombarding the mind of the avoidant personality. They will start to find excuses why they cannot attend the concert, as well as simultaneously withdrawing to convey the message that they are uncomfortable.
“Why are they asking us to go? They know I am an introvert and they know that I hate crowds.”
Sometimes the nonavoidant partner will recognize this uncomfortable reaction and decline the invitation for their mate, making things temporarily easier. Sometimes they will not recognize this behavior and the whole innocent situation will eventually lead to an argument or the anxious partner completely avoiding their partner altogether.
Healthy couples may see the invitation as a great opportunity to get out and do something different for a change. For those who suffer from anxiety, this invitation means dread. This is when the avoidance behavior begins.
Now, the connection between anxiety and avoidance behavior is fairly easy to explain. Those who suffer from anxiety will over think many simple situations that others never think twice about. It’s not just about concerts and parties either.
It can also be simple decisions within the relationship such as whether to spend time together or whether to spend time apart. Most times, the one who displays avoidance traits will stay away in fear of being too “clingy”.
Avoidance personalities also fear being rejected altogether and find being absent works better. They have learned to use this tactic to portray mystery instead of predictability. This can, however, become unhealthy when their withdrawal starts to look as though they do not care. They find themselves teetering between being clingy and aloof, and this makes the relationship uncomfortable.
The damage eventually takes its toll
Over time, this balance of control which the avoid-ant personality has created will cause strain. While, more than likely, the nonavoid-ant partner has no intention of playing such a game, they have become sucked into the whole ordeal. This is how the avoidance behavior can kill relationships.
Most healthy partners will grow tired of the game and request to be free from it. This is understandable as well.
Do we want a solution? Why, yes we do!
There are a few things you can do if you are in a relationship with an avoidant personality. First of all, recognize that this is not the person, this is just something that they deal with.
It’s not you, it’s the illness
When faced with your partner’s avoidance issues, you must realize that this is not your fault. Unless you have done something obviously wrong, these issues stem from a deep root of insecurity within your partner. Be patient and try to recognize any trigger words that can make them withdraw even further. All the while, continue to stress how their presence is wanted.
Conversations should have both tact and grace
When you have to confront the issue with your partner, you have to keep two things in mind. You have to be tactful so that they understand the seriousness of the situation, but yet you have to retain grace to show you care. Being able to balance these two will help you and your partner so that when the conversation is over, both parties feel like progress has been made.
Warn them about damages done
You never want to give rough ultimatums to someone who is suffering. This can only make insecurities much worse, thus causing more avoidance in the future. Warning your partner about the damage that can be done to your relationship is a better option. If the avoid-ant partner sees the pain that is being caused by their sudden absences and constant disagreements, then maybe they will see things from a new perspective.
And what about tips for the avoidant personality?
It’s just as important to implement some tips for those who suffer from avoidance behavior first hand. In order to heal properly and save the relationship, both sides should have a few guidelines.
No one said it would be easy, but you just have to try. Those who suffer from this issue should release themselves from any responsibilities to hide their emotions. They should also practice self-control which means, not every issue is worthy of a fight or disagreement.
Recognize the pain and consider other perspectives
Try to recognize the pain and torment that your partner goes through while trying to help you and save the relationship. Also, pay attention the reaction of others to situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Even though stepping out of a comfort zone or realizing your worth is difficult sometimes, try again. Try to see things through the eyes of others.
Try Meditation, mindfulness or other spiritually enlightening tools
I personally have found that meditation works wonders for my mental instability. When I feel like reacting negatively to any given situation, I pause and quiet my spirit. If you haven’t yet learned to do this, I suggest trying. You will be amazed by the results. And yes, nutrition and activity also help in this area as well!
My wounded heart goes out to yours
Avoidance behavior is one of the hardest things to understand for those who aren’t familiar. As with other related issues and personality disorders, all that’s needed is a little understanding and stable form of therapy. With these tools, maybe we can start to rebuild self-esteem, driving confidence levels up and helping couples face problems in a healthy way.
Yes, avoidance behavior can be a relationship killer, but it doesn’t have to be. After all, love is the balm for all sorts of mental wounds. With it, we can change the world!
By Sherrie H.