Emotional Avoidance and Anger

It is true, emotional avoidance and anger are not healthy for you. It becomes a vicious cycle.

At the beginning of my nightmare, I was told by many to “let it go”, “give it time” and my favourite “Aren’t you over that yet? You need a hobby to occupy your time”. Even as recent as last year someone I thought was a friend told me I needed to “ignore it all and move on”.

Each and every time I felt ignored, diminished, discounted, and abandoned. Why would I open up to someone who reacts that way? Why would I bother to try again when I was shown my feelings and needs don’t count? So I avoided them.

I received some very hurtful comments from other people that caused me to avoid them and keep my feelings to myself. As a result, I buried them and became very disconnected from myself. All I felt was fear and that made me angry.

As I mentioned before, my PTSD is fear-based. Fighting the Hyperarousal of PTSD

I even had to relearn about varying emotions all over again and learn how to express them more healthily since I started healing. When you avoid your feelings, you also end up losing the ability to express them. Common Emotions & What They Mean

When I expressed my anger in the past during this mess, I was expressing my hurt and pain in the only way I knew how, as anger was the only emotion I understood back then. Telling others of my hurt, pain, and emotional suffering didn’t do anything but cause people to tell me to “be quiet” and they had to come out somehow!

Don’t ignore your feelings. Don’t avoid them and bottle them up inside of you out of fear of being rejected for it. It will only hurt you in the end and it isn’t worth it. Express them, even if it is to a stranger in therapy, as you need to get them out if you want to heal from them.

If someone treats you as if you are not important, no matter how hard it is to do, you need to walk away from such people. Their actions showed you that they don’t care about you, they only care about themselves and having their own needs met.

Don’t make their needs a priority over your own! I did that for way too long and it didn’t help me in the end as when I needed them the most, I was ignored and that pain will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Now, I express myself around others, I even surprise a few who are not used to me doing that, and if someone expresses they don’t want to hear what I am saying, then I accept that and tell them I have no interest in hearing them either. It goes both ways…

I had to walk away and avoid such people, and it was very hard for me with some of them, but my own mental well-being is now more important to me than theirs.

It has become simple for me these days and my boundaries are firmly in place… I earned that and won’t let it go again.

I don’t look at it as losing people anymore, I see it the other way around, they are losing me.


ANGER

How Emotional Avoidance Contributes to Anger

The source of our anger is often the negative emotions we try to silence.

Posted June 12, 2023 |  Reviewed by Michelle Quirk

KEY POINTS

  • Our emotions inform us of our true needs, desires, and values.
  • Emotional avoidance negatively impacts our relationships and decision-making.
  • Shame is the driving force of emotional avoidance.

Imagine that, in the midst of a conversation, your best friend, says, “I’m sad”; “I’m anxious”; “I’m depressed”; “I’m filled with guilt”; “I feel so much shame”; or “I just feel so inadequate.” And then, envision that each time your friend makes these heartfelt statements, you say nothing, turn away, or tell him he shouldn’t feel what he is feeling.

Now, imagine how that friend might feel in response to your reaction. Perhaps he’ll feel ignored, diminished, discounted, or abandoned. Most importantly, he’ll feel disconnected from you. And, if you consistently reacted this way, your friend might just avoid you or, ultimately, end the friendship.

While you may not do this with others, I encourage you to reflect on how often you actually respond this way toward your own feelings. This is what we do when we deny, minimize, or suppress our feelings. By doing so, we become disconnected with ourselves—detached from recognizing our needs, wants, and desires. At such moments, we are engaging in emotional avoidance—the conscious or unconscious attempt to suppress or avoid certain emotions, most often those that cause us distress. In the process, such emotional avoidance undermines our capacity to recognize our core values. And, as stated by Dr. Gabor Maté, “The source of all dysfunction is disconnection from ourselves” (Mate, 2017).

However, such feelings do not just go away. Like oppressed citizens of a country, they desire to be heard. They act in the underground of our awareness to impact our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, often contributing to destructive anger.

It is then no surprise that we may be more vulnerable to tension and conflict within ourselves and have related irritability with others and ourselves. It is this irritability that can foster a propensity for anger arousal, anger that serves as a reaction to and distraction from such tension. It directs our attention outward, attributes responsibility to others, or may lead us to displace our anger toward others. In each instance, it moves us further away from true connection with and understanding of ourselves.

Influence of Emotional Avoidance on Our Relationships

Being emotionally avoidant often leads to conflicts in our relationships, whether with friends or intimate partners. Not knowing our true needs or values leaves us confused when others similarly do not know what we need. Being uncomfortable with our emotions may lead us to unwittingly gravitate toward others who are emotionally avoidant. Whether in friendships or intimate relationships, this pattern leads to a lack of closeness, a lack of genuine connection. It may lead to tension and a lack of compassion when that person actually expresses their negative emotions. It might also lead to anger when that person does not share their feelings. And, in such situations, we may subsequently direct our anger inward, as we conclude it is our fault.

I’ve often worked with individuals who were in relationships in which they had unrealistic expectations of a partner because they failed to be more fully aware of their own values. Over time they often realize they chose a partner whose values were significantly different than their own. While such relationships can work, such differences often lead to tension, conflict, and anger. Such relationships often foster an intense sense of loneliness.

Being compliant is another resolution to being emotionally avoidant. An effort to please is a noble attitude. However, when it becomes a rigid stance, it is a betrayal of ourselves that moves us further from recognizing our authentic selves. This may be a reaction to strong dependency needs, a longstanding longing to be taken care of. It entails what I’ve described as “parentizing” the other, with or without awareness of looking like a parent.

Emotional Avoidance and Decision-Making

Being unaware of our needs, values, and desires may lead us to be vulnerable to difficulty in decision-making, whether with regard to choosing a paint color for the living room, how to dress, what career to pursue, or with whom we wish to have a relationship.

When experiencing such internal conflict, we may seek a suggestion from others. However, if we have no sense of what we want, we may soon reject every suggestion—in an effort to feel independent. Additionally, we may react with anger, especially when we experience their doing so as an attempt to control us—even when this is not their true intent. If we don’t know what we want, we may protectively put up a wall and have difficulty with someone even when they are just trying to help us.

This same difficulty with decision-making can be especially paralyzing for some in making both small decisions and larger ones. And, again, this may culminate in anger toward others or with oneself.

The Role of Shame in Emotional Avoidance

Shame often plays a pivotal role in emotional avoidance. It often arises from early traumas and fears of vulnerability. As children facing a lack of connection, we may feel abandoned, angry, anxious, fearful, isolated, and other feelings. We may reactively blame ourselves, for certainly there is no way to call out our caretakers who are the ones causing this disconnection. Blaming ourselves is a core aspect of shame. And it is this pattern, originating in our early lives, that may then fuel emotional avoidance and become the default resolution to our pain as an adult. Consequently, such shame may then deprive us of what it means to be human—as it moves us away from our emotions and, consequently, our authentic selves.

Because shame itself is so hard to admit to ourselves, emotional avoidance may become the default resolution to dealing with this powerfully distressing emotion. Consequently, we may project our shame onto others—view them as weak, inadequate, and even worthy of ridicule and devaluation.

Whether induced by shame or other factors, emotional avoidance is a natural protective reaction to the intense threat of experiencing our feelings. Such tendencies may be reinforced by our family, culture, and societal norms. However, in the long term, it has the effect of erasing our true self. And this impacts and contributes to frustration, internal conflict, and anger.

A Healthy Response to Emotional Avoidance

Overcoming the negative impact of emotional avoidance calls for developing greater emotional awareness and regulation. Such awareness can be achieved through mindfulness practices, meditation, and journaling. However, exercises in mindful self-compassion powerfully support our capacity to sit with, recognize, and acknowledge our emotions without judgment or suppression. Together with physical activity, breathing exercises, and calming the vagus nerve, we can build a greater tolerance and compassion for those negative emotions. We can honor them in a way that reduces their potential for destructive anger. Through such practices, we may become equally comfortable in the presence of a friend’s suffering as well as our own. And, certainly, professional support may be indicated to provide guidance in the application of these strategies to help achieve such awareness and regulation.

References

Maté, G., (2017). Compassionate Inquiry, www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQPsC8d5cb0Morereferences

    About the Author

    Bernard Golden, Ph.D., is the founder of Anger Management Education and author of Overcoming Destructive Anger: Strategies That Work.

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/overcoming-destructive-anger/202306/how-emotional-avoidance-contributes-to-anger


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