Ken, a serious and long-time drinker, hadn’t been feeling good for a while and his wife insisted that he go to the doctor. With reluctance, he finally did. Upon examination, the doctor said, “Ken, if you don’t stop drinking, you’re going to die.” Of course, this upset Ken tremendously. When he came home to his wife, he was near tears. “Oh dear, what did the doctor say?” she asked. “He said I’m going to die,” Ken wailed.
Poor Ken. He didn’t really hear what the doctor said. He was practicing one of his chronic avoidant behaviors: selective listening. He heard only what he wanted to hear and shut the rest of the message out.
His wife, Stella, has her own set of behaviors that she uses in her attempts to keep from dealing with certain things in life. She tries to control everyone and everything. She’s the one who made the appointment for Ken in the first place.
Avoidant behaviors such as those exhibited by Ken and Stella are examples of the subtle and not-so-subtle methods people use to side-step issues and situations.
We avoid because something is at risk.
The impulse toward perfectionism, for example, says I don’t want to risk doing something if I can’t do it perfectly. “Forgetting” doctor’s appointments could mean being afraid to find out if something is really wrong.
Other types of avoidant behavior:
- Not returning phone calls
- Always being late
- Smiling or laughing it off when you’re angry
- Projecting (putting our own stuff on other people)
- Getting sick frequently
- Losing or misplacing thing
Such behaviors keep us safe within the confines of our fear even though we may not realize fear motivates our responses.
Unfortunately, these behaviors also push people away from us. While drinking, gambling, and doing drugs are some more obvious and destructive practices that affect our whole world, these more subtle aspects affect the quality of our relationships and ultimately block any true intimacy we might have.
Often, people aren’t aware they are using avoidant behaviors – especially if, like Ken and Stella, those close to them also engage in their own ways of not dealing directly with issues. We may be made aware only when someone has the courage to question certain practices: “Seems like every time I ask you to visit my family, you get a headache.” Or through a direct confrontation: after all those months you neglected to open your mail, the IRS placed a lien against your bank account. Or maybe life becomes so painful that we are drawn to look at our own footprints — failed relationships, jobs, finances, child rearing or even our health.
It takes courage to confront such practices — your own or those of someone you’re in relationship with. But one thing is certain about any avoidant behavior: like the IRS, it won’t go away on its own. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the symptoms noted above, you need support to break free! Please call a counselor at The Center for Family Unity TODAY. Don’t wait. Your peace depends on it!!
The Center For Family Unity firstname.lastname@example.org 619-884-0601