Why Avoidance Doesn’t Work


Sitting With Negative Emotions


Most of us don’t like feeling negative emotions, so much so that when feelings like sadness, hopelessness, guilt, and shame come up for us, we try hard to avoid them.

Do you use distraction to cope?

We distract ourselves in the hopes of drowning out the feeling. We try to focus on tasks that require all of our attention – like particularly challenging work tasks or immersive fiction – or activities that result in physical pain – like strenuous exercise or full-contact sports. We might even try to numb or otherwise alter our feelings with alcohol, recreational or prescription drugs, or intense interactions with other people (by picking fights with the people around us or maybe even through sex).

In the short-term, distractions work because they help us to avoid negative emotions for a while, and for relatively supervision triggers, this might be enough. But over the long-term, and when triggers are ongoing, avoiding negative emotions isn’t always helpful.

It might be the harder option, but sitting with negative emotions, without pushing them away, can be an extremely helpful tool for coping with distress. When we sit with negative emotions it can help us to identify what’s not working for us in our present lives, and which issues require further thought, planning, or problem-solving. Over the longer-term, learning to sit with negative emotions can also help us to feel less overwhelmed, so that we experience less of a struggle, and are distressed for a shorter period of time.

Sitting with negative emotions can be helpful, but it can also be difficult because it goes against many of our natural instincts. If it’s something you struggle with, a clinical psychologist can help you to explore strategies for coping with negative emotions, and to identify which strategies are helpful and which will be obstacles to you making the progress you want to make in your life.

Ly is a genuine and compassionate psychologist who is dedicated to providing adults and adolescents with a supportive, safe, and structured environment in which to make sense of their difficulties and take charge of their lives. She is committed to tailoring evidence-based treatments to each individual, and enjoys working collaboratively to help clients develop skills and self-knowledge to bring about meaningful and lasting change.


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