Emotional avoidance is a way for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to escape the memories of traumatic, life-changing, and/or tragic incidents. It helps people who have PTSD to stay away from the feelings that may be too overwhelming to handle.

Avoidance refers to any behavior or action that prevents those challenging emotions to surface and serves as a way to cope with any situation, person, or place that may be a reminder of that incident. Emotional avoidance caused by PTSD

Veterans are at a high risk of developing PTSD because they are more likely to experience severe emotional trauma during service. Facing combat situations, hostile acts, and dangerous environments pose a high-level threat for all military personnel. 

Reasons Why Emotional Avoidance Isn’t Unhealthy

It’s reasonable for others to understand that veterans want to avoid memories of traumatic or tragic events, but avoidance of the emotions that accompany those memories can make PTSD symptoms worse—and perhaps seriously harmful. There are various reasons why this reaction is dangerous.

Avoidance becomes a prison.

Pursuing significant goals in your life may require that you encounter and go through difficult situations and experiences. If you’re not willing to risk the consequences of that journey, you may never achieve those goals. Ultimately, avoidance acts as a type of prison because in time, you avoid so many people, situations, or places that create the negative emotions about the traumatic event, you experience less of life, and your ability to cope with the world around you decreases. Emotional avoidance can feel like a paralysis that keeps you boxed in and unable to explore, encounter, and enjoy your life.

Avoidance is ineffective.

Trying to avoid emotions that make you feel bad is nearly impossible, and certainly exhausting. When you attempt to push away the fear or sadness when you remember the traumatic event, you stay in a “constant state of vigilance” or readiness to fight off negative feelings. Thus, you continue to think about them and stay connected with them on a regular basis. That hyper-vigilance to avoid unpleasant emotions becomes its own negative experience.

Avoidance means denying the truth.

When you avoid real emotions and feelings, you deny the truth about your life. This denial never enables a strong, healthy existence. For example, a person may hear weather reports of a hurricane coming, feel high winds off the ocean, and see their neighbors packing up to move inland. But despite all signs that point to a major storm threat, if the person says, “No hurricane is coming,” they'll likely face the consequences of that storm whether they want to deny its existence or not. Avoiding reality will not help resolve the potential challenges that come with the truth: a storm is coming.

Avoidance increases the duration of anticipation.

When you try to avoid any situation, place, or person linked with the traumatic event, you actually increase the “period of anticipation.” This type of anticipatory anxiety causes you to search for ways to avoid any experience that makes you remember the event, and it can become a more toxic and harmful state.

When you're anticipating a situation you know will cause you to remember a difficult moment in your life, your imagination can run wild, and your mind may conjure up chaotic, destructive, and negative thoughts and ideas that haven’t happened. However, when you actually experience the situation you fear most, your mind sees that it isn’t as big or overwhelming as you anticipated.

Contact Cuddigan Law About VA Benefits for Your PTSD

If you’re a veteran who suffers from PTSD, you may qualify for benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). If you need help service-connecting your mental health condition, or would like legal counsel about a possible benefits claim, contact Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys have supported veterans for years, and 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 with an intake specialist for free.


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