Recovery Messages & News

Avoidance as Control

By Paige Abbott, Registered Psychologist
Director of Clinical Services at HUM 

When a person, including myself, thinks about control we usually think about using action to bring about a specificoutcome. For example, telling someone what steps they need to take to get better or booking appointments for someone that we think they should attend or telling someone to leave a relationship that seems unhealthy to you. In these cases it is more obvious (though still not always obvious when we are doing it) that we are doing something to perpetuate a desired goal.

However, it is also important to acknowledge that avoiding a situation, feelings, a person, etc. is also a form of control. In this instance we are using our lack of discussion and action to try and generate an outcome. For example, not talking about an event that you know will be upsetting to discuss or not drawing attention to an issue, like Addiction or mental health problems, that you know may be uncomfortable. Often in using avoidance to control we are trying to step around feelings that we do not want to encounter, like shame, fear, resistance, anger, disapproval, or upset. In moving forward to ever increasing health, it is important to deal with the feelings and situations connected to them that you are trying to avoid to focus on process, rather than controlling a specific outcome. To help identify if you are using avoidance as control, consider the following questions:

  • Am I fearing rejection or disapproval?
  • Is there a specific outcome I am afraid of in bringing up this topic or feeling?
  • Do I feel shame connected with whatever it is I am not talking about?
  • Do I feel physical discomfort (e.g., nausea, headaches, tight muscles) that could be telling me I am hanging onto something rather than processing it?
  • What is my motivation for not bringing this up?

With continued practice, internal reflection, and checking things out with supports you can move from hanging onto fear and shame which are generating avoidance as control into open processing and feeling the feelings, which ultimately provides the greatest relief and healing.