The trauma avoidance cycle can stall or stop your trauma recovery. If you’re struggling with the effects of PTSD/C-PTSD, then you most likely have relied on avoidance to get you through.
It’s a common emergency coping response for those who have been through trauma. If a person has felt helpless and vulnerable, why wouldn’t they seek out the sense of control that avoidance provides? As a short term reaction, it makes sense. After all, why would you want to expose yourself to anything that reminds you of the terrible things you experienced?
The reason you would want to curtail avoidance is because that is largely how trauma resolves. Avoidance short circuits your brain’s ability to heal from trauma. And to make matters worse, there are many trauma survivors who find that avoidance will often grow and take over too much of their life.
As avoidance grows, you do your best to avoid anything that triggers a traumatic memory. Or, you take actions that help take your mind off of those things. Yet in the end, a different path is necessary to resolve the troubling explicit memories and body based emotional memories that spring from such painful ordeals.
Here’s how avoidance occurs when it comes to trauma:
You Steer Clear of Obvious Reminders of Trauma
To start, you may avoid any obvious reminders of the trauma that you experienced. One place you might avoid is the street where you had a car accident. Whenever you get even remotely close to that street, you might start to get anxious. You remember what you were doing that day in the moments leading up to that event. It might even be difficult to look at the street on a map. So, you avoid going down that street as much as possible to ensure the feelings don’t arise.
Sadly, much of human trauma takes place within relationships. One tragic result is that this fact is often exactly why people avoid seeking trauma treatment. Another result can be the intimacy avoidance and emotional numbing. Turning towards some for help requires a basic amount of trust and vulnerability, and that can be too intense of a trigger for many.
Avoiding Less Obvious Trauma Reminders
There are also less obvious, yet relevant, reminders of your trauma that you may struggle with. For instance, your parents may have had a special song that they liked singing to. However, when that song is played it is not a happy reminder for you. You don’t get the same good feelings. Instead, the song is a reminder that your parents also hurt you. When you hear that song, you might change the station immediately.
Keeping Your Memories at Arm’s Reach
Another way that you may avoid trauma is via the manner in which you handle your memories. You may practice “numbing” your thoughts and feelings through drugs or alcohol. When you are intoxicated, your mind is no longer consumed by what happened to you. Instead, you enter a state of euphoria. Yet, that state, of course, is only temporary. Eventually, those memories come back until the next time you use substances.
Distress and Avoidance
You might avoid any reminders or triggers of your PTSD/C-PTSD because the distress is just too much to handle. In those moments, you feel anxious, overwhelmed, and powerless. You might also feel afraid. And maybe you learned a long time ago that it was better to keep all those things as far away from you as possible. Yet, at the same time, avoidance has can make it difficult to enjoy life. In a way, you’re stuck in a pattern where you restrict yourself from life. If you do get triggered, you self-medicate with withdrawal so you don’t’ have to feel this way anymore.
Therapy, Avoidance, and Trauma
Avoidance plays a key role in preventing trauma survivors from recovering. By way of analogy, it’s easy to see how someone who suffers an injury, such as back pain, can find themselves stuck in a viscous cycle of avoidance. If that person decides that they are going to avoid all discomfort, then they will steer clear of even the most mild workouts. Over time they will grow weaker and lose conditioning in other parts of their body. They may limit their life activities because they “are afraid to set their back off”. And over time their life shrinks along with their muscle strength. This is the trauma avoidance cycle.
In the end, the best way to, not only cope but resolve your trauma is through therapy. In this day and age, there is an established body of research that guides the work of a good trauma specialist. He or she will work with you and help you face what you’ve been through in a manageable way.
Techniques such as neurofeedback and EMDR have proven to be very helpful in helping people with trauma find relief. This is more than simply facing fears. It’s really more about participating in a tested process in which you are actually in control.
The goal, in the end, is to ensure that your traumatic memories no longer cause distress at all. You don’t have to do this alone either. With the support of a therapist, you can close those doors so that you no longer have to be afraid.
Trauma can affect you in all kinds of ways, including avoidance. Although avoidance may work in the short term, it isn’t a long-term solution for coping with trauma. Instead, the way forward is through therapy with the support of a trained and experienced counselor. Don’t let the trauma avoidance cycle trap you. Find out today how trauma therapy can help.