Recently I was asked “Can avoidance ever be healthy?” The question caught me off guard because I have almost always viewed avoidance as unhealthy. But as I often do as a DBT therapist, I paused and sought out a different perspective. Below is the fresh perspective I gained on avoidance.
Avoidance is often characterized as an unhealthy coping strategy, similar to suppression and other defense mechanisms. A sometimes subconscious strategy humans engage in when they are in pain. It can become ineffective when one begins to avoid to an excessive level. Such as avoiding doctors appointments, or checking your credit card balance, or avoiding confrontation. Just to name a few examples.
On the other side of the dialectic, avoidance can be an effective strategy. Here are a couple examples of healthy avoidance:
- Avoiding fear of judgement in social situations
- Avoiding worries of work on Monday while enjoying your Sunday afternoon
- Avoiding urges to engage in addictive behaviors
- Avoiding thoughts about your body while wearing a bathing suit at the beach
In each of the above examples, one must intentionally use mindfulness skills to avoid negative aspects of a situation. Such as avoiding fears of judgement in order to be mindful of positives in social situation.
So yes, avoidance can be healthy. The way to know if avoidance is a healthy choice is to be mindful of the consequences of avoiding in the situation. You can ask yourself “How might avoidance be helpful?” and “How might it be harmful?”