No matter what the situation, a common response to something we find upsetting, scary, annoying, or just generally aversive is to avoid it. Has a growling bear found it’s way into your camp site? It’s natural to run away. Has your girlfriend has been sending you a million text messages all day? It’s a normal instinct to stop looking at your phone. Does your boss seems like he is in a bad mood? It makes sense that you might actively try not to walk by his office.
None of these response are necessarily wrong, weird, or ineffective. From an evolutionary perspective, our bodies and minds are hard wired to avoid things that make us uncomfortable and for good reason. If the cavemen had not run away from the lions and other deadly wildlife, none of us would be alive today. That being said there are also many times when, unfortunately, our knee jerk reaction to avoid aversive stimuli is completely unhelpful. What if your boss is perpetually in a bad mood? If you continually avoid him you will never be able to ask for a raise, request time off, or address performance reviews effectively. What if amongst those text messages from your girlfriend is one threatening to end the relationship? If that isn’t what you really want, you may regret ignoring your phone. Avoiding things we dislike is not always helpful and sometimes can even have dire consequences for our professional, personal, or romantic life. Because of this, we sometimes have to learn to recognize the things that make us uncomfortable and which of those things we try to cope with by avoiding. Then, we have to start avoiding our urge to avoid, replacing it with something more effective.