Learning to Stay: How to Move Through Emotions Instead of Avoiding Them

Emotions – albeit painful at times – are easier to deal with than emotional avoidance, a leading cause of many psychological problems. When a person avoids feeling the magnitude of negative emotions, they come up with a temporary solution that makes them feel better. What they don’t realize, however, is that short-term comfort often leads to long-term pain.

Noam Shpancer, Ph.D. explains how avoidance behavior is detrimental to many people’s lives. For example, when a person puts off feeling negative emotions, they also distance themselves from events, locations, and other people who may trigger the same feelings they’re trying to avoid. They then become captives in their own homes because they’re trying to control situations that they perceive to be uncomfortable by avoiding them, too.

The fear of a negative experience manifests into its own negative experience, Shpancer notes. It’s another reason why people must learn to deal with their emotions. Avoiding them makes it harder to cope when any stressor is introduced.

Avoidance also lengthens the period of anticipation. Anxiety is greater now because a person worries that things will be worse than they are. The mind conjures up catastrophic events that pose no real threat to the individual who is avoiding feeling an emotion.

If you happen to display avoidance behavior, there are ways to move through emotions instead of avoiding them.

  1. The first is to acknowledge that feelings are fleeting. Emotions are simply one way of telling you what is going on around you.
  2. Rather than rely on feelings alone, remember you have rational thoughts, stored knowledge, and experience to count on, too.
  3. Take the time to feel your emotions and then you can evaluate them to help you know how to behave in a situation.
  4. Once you’re able to accept that emotions are one type of information the brain receives, you’ll be able to stay put and deal with whatever feelings come up rationally.
  5. Counseling or therapy can help you come to that conclusion if you’re struggling to get there on your own.