Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a complex mental health condition that can arise after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Among its various symptoms, avoidance plays a significant role in shaping the lives of those affected by PTSD. Avoidance behaviors, which include avoiding reminders, thoughts, and emotions associated with the traumatic event, serve as protective mechanisms in the short term. However, in the long run, they can perpetuate the cycle of fear and hinder the healing process. In this blog post, we delve into the role of avoidance in PTSD and discuss strategies for breaking free from its grasp.
Avoidance is a natural response to distressing situations, allowing individuals to protect themselves from potential harm. In the context of PTSD, it often manifests as a way to avoid triggers that might bring back traumatic memories or evoke intense emotional distress. This could involve avoiding specific locations, conversations, people, or activities that remind them of the traumatic event.
Avoidance behaviors can take various forms, including physical avoidance (avoiding places associated with the trauma), cognitive avoidance (suppressing thoughts or memories related to the event), emotional avoidance (numbing or suppressing emotions), and social avoidance (withdrawing from social interactions). While these behaviors might provide temporary relief, they ultimately hinder the recovery process and perpetuate the cycle of fear and anxiety.
The vicious cycle
Avoidance can inadvertently reinforce and intensify the symptoms of PTSD. By avoiding triggers, individuals deny themselves the opportunity to process the traumatic experience and develop effective coping mechanisms. Instead, the avoidance creates a vicious cycle where fear and distress become increasingly prominent, leading to isolation, emotional numbing, and a reduced quality of life.
Furthermore, avoidance can prevent individuals from seeking necessary support and treatment, as confronting the trauma can be an overwhelming prospect. This delay in seeking help can prolong the duration and intensity of symptoms, making it more challenging to break free from the grip of PTSD.
Breaking free from avoidance
Overcoming avoidance is a crucial step towards healing and reclaiming one's life from the clutches of PTSD. Here are some strategies that can aid in this process:
1. Educate Yourself: Understanding the nature of PTSD, its symptoms, and the role of avoidance is essential. By learning about the condition, you can gain insight into your experiences and recognize avoidance behaviors as a hindrance to recovery.
2. Seek Professional Help: Reach out to a mental health professional experienced in trauma therapy. They can guide you through evidence-based treatments such as Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which specifically target avoidance behaviors and assist in processing the trauma.
3. Gradual Exposure: With the guidance of a therapist, gradually confronting triggers and reminders can help desensitize your responses over time. Exposure therapy provides a safe environment to face fears and build resilience.
4. Take Stock of Your Beliefs: Many trauma survivors have thoughts and beliefs that cause anxiety and contribute to behaviors that create challenges of their own. Figuring out what you've been telling yourself about your safety, responsibility and worth in this world is vital. Which beliefs are balanced, and which beliefs are extreme and trauma-related? Which beliefs support you moving on in a way that is consistent with your identity and values?
5. Develop Coping Strategies: Learn healthy coping mechanisms to manage distressing emotions and triggers. Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, and grounding techniques can help you regain control during moments of anxiety.
6. Build a Support Network: Surround yourself with understanding and supportive individuals who can provide emotional support and encouragement along your healing journey. Joining support groups or engaging in peer support can be particularly beneficial.
7. Self-Care: Prioritize self-care activities that promote relaxation, well-being, and self-compassion. Engage in activities that bring you joy, such as hobbies, exercise, spending time in nature, or practicing mindfulness.
Avoidance works... until it doesn't
Avoidance is a common and understandable response to trauma for individuals with PTSD. It can "work" to help mitigate some of the distress that follows a trauma in situations where the right resources or opportunities for healing aren't available. However, breaking free from avoidance is vital for healing and reclaiming a fulfilling life. By seeking professional help, gradually confronting triggers, and developing healthy coping strategies, it is possible to overcome avoidance and navigate the path towards recovery. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and with the right support and strategies, you can break free from the chains of trauma and find hope and healing.
Children who’ve been through traumatic or scary events can often seem listless and down. You may have noticed them spending more time alone or complaining about being different from their friends at school. Isolation, a feeling of solitude, of being set apart for the wrong reasons, can set in big-time for kids, leaving them uncertain about themselves or driven to act out for attention in all the wrong ways. Why is this, and what can we do to support our kids in kicking isolation to the curb and realizing that they are perfect, just the way they are?
Learning to Sail My Ship is my little corner where I meditate on the ups and downs of learning to sail with my partner and exploring how I can put what I’ve learned into my daily life.
Beginner’s Mind is a concept from Zen Buddhism and also the name of my 1990 West Wight Potter sailboat... here she is above, on our first time out [click to watch the naming happen]. Beginner’s Mind speaks to the value of maintaining the open-minded, unassuming and excited type of curiosity that you have when you first learn something. It is used in meditation when you’ve grown bored watching the rise and fall of your 893rd breath—Beginner’s Mind reminds you that each breath, each sound, each texture under your fingertips is new and full of life. Being in a beginner’s mindset increases the joy of a moment and helps you feel an experience fully from the inside out.
Beginner’s Mind doesn’t just apply to meditation, though: it’s useful in every situation a person can get stuck in, as it helps with mindful problem-solving. Often, the moments when we struggle the most are
There’s nothing wrong with reflecting on a situation and considering where you got off-track, but for some of us, these types of thoughts can quickly start us on a spiral towards shame and a habit of self-blame. Shame is icky and uncomfortable... you might recognize it in the pit of your stomach, in the downcast of your eyes, or the whole-body collapse sensation you feel when you’re confronted with some piece of information that seemingly confirms what you’ve sometimes suspected: that you’re not really a good person. Guilt is the feeling you get when you did something wrong, but shame is the feeling you get when you sense you are something wrong.
Here’s the thing, though: self-blame and shame often prevent you from feeling the real feelings you need to feel, or taking responsibility for the real things you need to change. In other words, self-blame and shame are actually counterproductive to you doing better next time! When too much self-blame triggers shame, it’s easy to get defensive and run away from real responsibility. Conversely, it can also be easy to fall into a shame spiral and get stuck in believing that you really are a hot mess that needs total life reconstruction. Oh, the drama of our brains!
Here are 5 things to do to bust through your self-blame and avoid the spiral down to shame:
*All stories in this post have had details changed to protect confidentiality
Dear Parents of Children with Trauma,
I see you, with your reddened eyes, shaking with effort to keep the tears from spilling out, your shoulders hunched under the weight of the responsibility for the child you promised to keep safe for always. I hear your questions around “finding solutions and moving forward” and watch as you try to push away those other, deeper, scarier questions around “why did this happen?” that threaten you with guilt and confusion so big you can barely breathe.
I’m so sorry to you that on top of having to face the fact that your child has been through something stressful or traumatic, you now have to wrestle with self-blame and an affront to your sense of safety in the
Trauma is just like a wound you would get on your skin: if you don’t clean it and get all the dirt and germs out, it won’t heal properly.
When I was in third grade, while on a hike in the desert, I fell headfirst (and eyeball-first) into a cholla cactus. Yes, it was painful, but as a kid, the real torture was being forced to leave a fun situation. Luckily a wise adult was there to cart me off to endure the wrath of tweezers plucking out each of those cactus spines, not to mention that horrible antibacterial spray. But, it was totally necessary, right? If I hadn’t have gone and taken care of the injury, I would have ended up with a much nastier situation that would
Hi friends! I'm Jordan Motta, a licensed therapist in CO and FL-- lover of both snowfall and ocean waves. A work-in-progress, constantly in search of a life of peace, a girl sailor with a pocket yacht, I love helping people find more options about how they want to live their lives. Follow me on Instagram @jordanmottaLMFT.