Learn About PTSD Emotional Avoidance and Why it Doesn’t Work

emotional avoidance and PTSDVeterans who suffer severe emotional trauma during service may return home and develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This medical condition occurs when a person has difficulty recovering after they witness or experience a life-threatening, traumatic event.

Because military service personnel face extreme combat situations and dangerous environments, they are often at a greater risk of developing PTSD
than other people. One reaction that veterans with
PTSD may exhibit when trying to deal with a traumatic
event is emotional avoidance.   

Understanding Emotional Avoidance

Emotional avoidance is a way for people with PTSD to escape the memory of a painful event and push away the challenging emotions that accompany that memory. Some of those emotions may include sadness, shame, fear, and anxiety. Avoidance refers to any behavior or action that interferes with or prevents those difficult emotions from surfacing. Because the emotions associated with the trauma are sometimes too overwhelming, avoidance is a way to help cope with reminders that may occur in daily life. 

Why Emotional Avoidance Doesn’t Work

It’s understandable that veterans want to avoid horrific memories of a traumatic event, but research shows that those who try to avoid these memories and their associated emotions often make PTSD symptoms worse. Avoidance can actually contribute to the development of PTSD following a traumatic incident. 

Emotions provide critical information about your environment so that you can respond appropriately. If you feel anxious, you may anticipate that something unexpected or undesirable is about to happen; if you feel a sense of fear, you may be in a dangerous situation. Emotions serve a real purpose. Avoiding them or suppressing them—even if they’re attached to trauma— may cause them to “fight back” until they’re able to serve that purpose.

It takes a lot of energy to avoid emotions, and eventually, the feelings being pushing away may grow stronger and require even more intensity to avoid them. When this happens, you may have little energy left for those things in your life that matter to you. Relationships with your friends and family may diminish as you focus all your energy on avoiding the emotions associated with the trauma. Likewise, you may be less able to deal with frustrating or challenging situations that may occur because your energy is being spent elsewhere. 

Additionally, those who avoid the emotions linked to trauma may use more extreme and harmful ways to push those emotions away, including substance abuse. Emotional avoidance may be a short-term reaction that provides brief assistance during a bad time, but it usually causes more harm than good. 

Avoidance Behaviors

It’s important to know some of the main avoidance behaviors, so you can begin to address them through therapy and other coping mechanisms. Some examples of avoidance behavior include:

  • Using drugs and/or alcohol to self-medicate 
  • Engaging in unhealthy behaviors such as gambling, uncontrollable sex or pornography use, eating disorders, or self-harm
  • Avoiding feelings, thoughts, or discussions linked with the traumatic event
  • Avoiding people, places, environments, or activities that bring back memories of the trauma
  • Diminishing interest in relationships with friends and family 
  • Feeling detached or disconnected from loved ones
  • Diminishing ability to feel love for others
  • Decreasing ability to see a future—reduced expectations for a career, marriage, children, or a regular life

Cuddigan Law Can Help

If you’re a veteran who suffers from PTSD, it’s possible to qualify for financial assistance from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). If you need help service-connecting your mental health condition and want to file for disability benefits or appeal a rating decision, contact Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys have been supporting veterans for years. We’ll carefully examine your case and advise you on the best approach for receiving the maximum in disability benefits. Call us today, and you’ll speak to an intake specialist for free. 

Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska