Thursday, May 11, 2017

Avoidance Behavior

It’s 10 p.m., and your presentation for work is still not complete. This is your last chance to make a positive impression on your employers since your last two projects were abject failures and lost the company money. But rather than doing a final edit of your work or even double-checking the facts you plan to discuss, you are cleaning the break room. Or, you spend time and even money you don’t have to prepare and bringing meals to a friend who has recently lost his job while one of your siblings is also out of work and would also appreciate your help. And my favorite, albeit most extreme, example on this theme: Anthony Hopkins’ character in the 1993 film The Remains of the Day continued to work, serving a fancy meal at a manor while his father is dying nearby. Each of these scenarios is an example of the lengths to which people are willing to go to avoid or even completely remove ourselves from a distressing situation or emotions. 

According to John Kappas, Ph.D.’s Theory of Mind, each person is subconsciously motivated to maintain and/or restore a known physical and emotional status of comfort and security. From the moment we are born, we start to accumulate and associate experiences in the context of two types of subconscious knowns: positive (pleasure) or negative (pain). The SCM is motivated or even programmed to seek the pleasure stimuli; not only do these experiences and stimuli not hurt (pain), this absence of pain also comes to represent comfort and security (pleasure). Even when a person’s “usual” behavior or belief system does not produce a “pleasurable: feeling or association, his or her SCM will seek stimuli (environmental, physical body) that reinforce the positive known or association. Even when this known causes physical and/or emotional discomfort, this is the status to which a person will return because this is where the SCM is most comfortable.

Each of the behaviors described in the above scenarios are examples of the ways in which the subconscious mind does whatever it can to help a person remain comfortable. It will even employ avoidance behaviors such as procrastination, projection identification and emotional withdrawal to avoid experiencing emotional, physical and/or spiritual discomfort (pain) associated with the circumstances. Maybe you are cleaning the break room because this is a task you are confident you can do well, while there are no guarantees that the new project will even get off the ground. Also, it is possible that since your previous projects have failed, your SCM has created known associations with this status (failure) and it is trying to maintain this known for you. In the second example, you feel more comfortable supporting your friend because you worry that you could easily be in your sibling’s position (out of a job), and you want to distance yourself from that situation (projection identification). This association could be even more uncomfortable for you if you are highly motivated to succeed. Finally, Anthony Hopkins’ character literally withdrew from the emotional pain of his father’s death by focusing on his job to the extent that he could physically be “removed” from his father when the other man died. If the men did not share an emotionally close relationship, we can see how Hopkins’ SCM was simply following an already-established subconscious mental script; any behavior changes at this stage of his life would be painful.

These types of avoidance behaviors all share the following characteristics. They are unconscious, self-deceptive, contain elements of denial, and distort reality/thoughts/actions. Hypnotherapy can help people work through these behaviors and associated belief systems.

Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy®, please visit

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