One of the symptoms of PTSD is avoidance. But what is avoidance? And why is it important to know?
Here’s our 2-minute guide!
Merriam-Webster defines avoidance as:
an act or practice of avoiding or withdrawing from something
We are probably all familiar with avoiding unpleasant tasks, for example. But when we consider a person who has been traumatised, avoidance can become a damaging life problem. What they might avoid are situations that raise intense memories and feelings related to their trauma.
Rather than avoiding something merely unpleasant, they are avoiding something traumatic.
And a traumatised person might have many, many situations that raise these intensely painful feelings.
When it comes to mental health, the American Psychological Association defines avoidance as:
the practice or an instance of keeping away from particular situations, environments, individuals, or things because of either:
(a) the anticipated negative consequence of such an encounter or
(b) anxious or painful feelings associated with them.
Is the traumatic thing going to happen again? Or is it going to feel like it is?
If we wish to have empathy for those who have suffered trauma, it’s important to understand this type of debilitating, painful issue is very different from our common use of the word “avoidance”.
Avoidance and PTSD
The Mayo Clinic describes PTSD this way:
PTSD is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event.
Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
Let’s notice the strength of that word, “terrifying”.
They go on to explain,
Symptoms of avoidance may include:
- Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event
This is about a person who is trying not to re-live traumatic – terrifying – events.
How can we help?
One sufferer told us,
What helps me most is to feel safe, and that I’m free to make my own choices without pressure
When we think about trauma we might be referring to some terrifying, painful event, or even many years of such events, that leave lasting memories. Enough to cause great anxiety, nightmares, and intrusive, debilitating thoughts.
Why would anyone want to re-live that kind of experience?
Imagine then, that someone is pushing you to experience that trauma all over again. That might be terrifying. It might take far more courage for them to just get out of bed than it does for us to face any of our own life challenges.
We suggest checking in with the sufferer. How can we help?
- Would they like us to be with them?
- Can we offer practical assistance?
Hopefully, they aren’t travelling this journey without the help of a great therapist, and that therapist might be able to help them work out when they need a hand from others, and in what way. (For example is it better to do the task themselves, or is it ok for someone else to do it for them?)
Showing compassion and mercy
Knowing a little about avoidance and the serious impact of trauma can help us better love those around us. Unwittingly, we can add to a person’s trauma, and we don’t want to do that! Far better to be a source of safety, support, and healing.