Avoidance - PTSD: National Center for PTSD
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PTSD: National Center for PTSD

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Avoidance

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It is common to want to avoid things that remind you of a traumatic event. But avoiding thoughts and feelings can make it hard to recover. Learn about different types of avoidance and why finding ways to cope is helpful.

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“I think that avoidance was my life, even though I didn't realize it.”

Jeff Goodrich


U.S. Army National Guard
1984-2006

What Are the Different Types of Avoidance?

Emotional avoidance is when a person avoids thoughts or feelings about a traumatic event. This type of avoidance is internal to the person; others around you may not know what you are avoiding and why. For example:

  • Someone who experienced a sexual assault may try to create distance from unpleasant emotions, like fear, when reminded of the trauma. A combat Veteran may try to shut down feelings of sadness about a deployment or war zone.
  • A hurricane survivor may drink alcohol or use substances to try to avoid thoughts or memories of the natural disaster.

Avoiding reminders—like places, people, sounds or smells—of a trauma is called behavioral avoidance. For example:

  • A combat Veteran may stop watching the news or using social media because of stories or posts about war or current military events.
  • Assault survivors might go out of their way to stay away from the scene of their attack or places that remind them of the assault.

What Are the Consequences of Avoidance?

If you go through a trauma, you may have heard advice like, "just try not to think about it" or "time heals all wounds." But if you go out of your way to avoid thoughts, feelings, and reminders related to a traumatic event, your symptoms may get worse. Using avoidance as your main way of coping with traumatic memories can make PTSD symptoms worse and make it harder to move on with your life.

How Can You Learn to Cope with Difficult Thoughts and Feelings?

You may be afraid that if you let yourself feel difficult emotions, they might overwhelm you. You may be afraid that if you start crying, you'll cry forever. Or you may worry that if you experience the anger inside you, you might lose control. There are effective PTSD treatments that can help you learn to cope with your thoughts and feelings about the trauma instead of being afraid of them.

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PTSD Information Voice Mail: (802) 296-6300
Email: ncptsd@va.gov
Also see: VA Mental Health