Avoidance Is Not Our Friend

Avoidance Is Not Our Friend

© MORO - Fotolia.com -- woman in avoidance

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Avoidance Is Not Our Friend

I got an email from someone recently that included a simple phrase about something personal … and that phrase took me down twisted paths where I got lost in assumptions, conjecture and all sorts of other mind-numbing nonsense.

Instead of just answering, I let that phrase simmer in my head.  There I proceeded to analyze it to death, looking at every possible interpretation.  And then I thought about all the implications that it raised in my life … past and future.

And throughout all that time, I didn’t answer the email.

With time, my silence felt heavier and heavier, until I started to feel embarrassed.

I was in full avoidance.  (And I can do avoidance well.)

Sharing the issue with a close friend, I recognized I had totally relinquished my power to a simple phrase … most likely one that was said innocently … and that it was time to take the power back and get over it.  And when I wrote back, I started my email like this:

“Well, you’ve just witnessed some of my less attractive behavior … what I do when I don’t want to deal with something.  It’s called avoidance.

And, of course, life has given me plenty of opportunity to perfect that skill.

Your phrase, whether in jest or not, took me down a rabbit hole where I got lost for a bit.  And as more time passed, it felt more and more awkward.  Hey, just because I made it into my 60s in one piece doesn’t mean I’ve grown up!  I apologize.”

This moment of honesty, especially shared with another person, was amazingly liberating.  It didn’t change the situation triggered by the comment, but it heralded the fact that I had taken back the power around the topic and was taking responsibility for it.

Avoidance Around Money

This is no different from what we do when we know deep down that our behaviors around money are unhealthy.  And, more often than not, we know perfectly well what has to be done to correct the situation.  But we put off doing it.

It’s not the same as denial.  From a psychological viewpoint, denial is an outright disbelief that something can happen or that it even exists.  On the other hand, avoidance is when we’re aware of something but choose to focus on something else.

I know people who avoid knowing what their debt situation looks alike by not opening up their credit-card statements.  And, even if they do open them, it’s just to look at the minimum amount due.  To look at anything else would mean they’d have to register in their minds the full amount owed … as well as face all the line-by-line transactions they had triggered by spending during the month.

It’s human to do this occasionally:  putting things off for a bit or closing our eyes when we don’t want to see something.  As long as it’s a temporary reaction, it’s normal, especially if its purpose is to give us a chance to prepare ourselves for some unwanted or difficult news.

But when it goes beyond temporary, it starts to trigger anxiety.  And that anxiety magnifies the emotion around the behavior or information, which makes it worse and worse.

That anxiety is so disempowering.  Eventually, we’re Jell-O® around the topic … and we risk slipping into total denial, where the behavior and its implications are no longer even on our radar.

That’s where financial disaster comes in.

Overcoming Avoidance

So what can we do to break through the avoidance and face the unwelcome facts?  Remember that the mind, driven by anxiety, always resists.  And we naturally shrink from any psychological pain brought on by impending danger … which our debt level can start to represent.

How can we counter the mind’s resourcefulness?  How can we take back the power we have handed over to our bills, our credit card statements and our other financial obligations that are starting to create anxiety?

Going on a voyage into magical thinking is not the solution, including “I’m not going to worry, I always seem to get out of fixes before they get too bad.”  In fact, that’s another form of avoidance.

(Remember, we all do the avoidance dance well …)

Ultimately we each have to find strategies that work best for us, and this could call for some trial and error until you find yours.

But, if I might, I’d like to suggest that you pick one specific issue that you’re resisting too successfully.  And pick one that you’re avoiding despite the fact that your anxiety meter is saying, “This avoidance is taking you towards even more financial unpleasantness.”

Find a friend you can tell about it.  That one step alone will lessen the charge around the behavior, because now the secrecy aspect has been erased.  Then commit to that friend that you will change that one behavior … and be sure to allow for accountability by letting her ask you periodically how you’re doing.

I know this worked for me; I hope it works for you.

In the Comments section below, let us know if you have any other strategies that have worked for you when you were avoiding doing something that — difficult as it might be — you knew would actually be good for you!


Bio: Sharon O’Day lost everything at age 53: her home, her business, everything. But how could that be? She’s an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret “weapon,” if you will, behind many individuals in high places. Yet she did! Since then, with her finances completely turned around, Sharon has gone on to interview countless women. She’s done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.

The surprising answers are shared in her posts, articles and an upcoming book. Today her mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term, through her coaching programs. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve … if they’re willing to do what it takes!

  • Oh my gosh, Sharon, I could so relate to the way you described avoidance,

    “Instead of just answering, I let that phrase simmer in my head.
    There I proceeded to analyze it to death, looking at every possible
    interpretation. And then I thought about all the implications that it
    raised in my life … past and future. And throughout all that time, I didn’t answer the email.” And for me, while it’s simmering, it gets in the way of enjoying what’s going on for me at the time or else I find myself pushing through more work or some activity just to try drown out the simmering voices! It’s nice to hear it happens to you, and I agree with your suggestion for how to stop. Thanks for a wonderful post!

    • It’s incredibly disruptive, isn’t it, Lisa? We may not get caught up in the process that often but, boy, when we do, we’re real pros at staying there. That’s why I found the “tell someone” option so powerful, especially someone who will not judge, just lovingly push and prod. 😉

  • This was so reassuring on so many levels. One that someone else lets a simple little statement send them off down a rabbit hole and allows it to simmer into stew when in reality it was like you said, innocent. Second point was that as strong as you are it happened to you. I’m no different. Now I know I am normal. As for my strategy for eliminating debt. We got a big surprise when doing our taxes. Did you know that if you enter into a debt reduction program, the debt that is negotiated and forgiven now becomes 1099 income and taxable? Yes, so we thought we were helping our situation…maybe, but it sure stung to find out that now we must pay taxes on money we couldn’t afford to pay back. Consumer beware.

    • Oh, it’s normal alright, Carla …! After my personal financial tsunami in 2001, I no longer go there around money. But I sure still go into those tailspins every so often when it comes to other issues. And the downside of being “strong” (as you said) is that I’m really strong at keeping myself there, too … hence my decision to reach out for help! I didn’t realize you had used debt reduction because, yes, the forgiven portion becomes 1099-C Cancellation of Debt income, unless it qualifies as a Form 982 exception (including bankruptcy). However, if you were renegotiating debt, it’s likely your income was in a low tax bracket so it’s still a net reduction. But you’d have to know about it to be prepared to pay that portion …

  • I love how this teaching is cross-disciplinary… but money is certainly one of the biggest stressors for most of us! I’m sitting here, knowing that I woke up in a stressed state this morning… and that it’s about money. So I’m going to stop and meditate for a moment and root out the source, name what I’m avoiding…. you really do have to face things head on, and come out of denial. I appreciate your honesty, Sharon, in sharing stories from your own life of so much experience and wisdom!

    • Susan, Carla was surprised I still get tripped up by things like this. I pointed out that I’m just as human as she is … 😉 … and avoidance is a place we all go at some time. The question is how fast we get beyond it, and I sure dallied in the instance I mentioned in the article! The yummy part is knowing that we’re always learning …

  • Can I just say I love this post?! Avoidance happens in so many areas of our lives and we are experts (at least I am) at letting other things distract us so we can be “doing” something, when what we are actually doing is avoiding. I’ve definitely been guilty of the money avoidance simply because I could. My husband handled finances and if I didn’t ask, I didn’t know! LOL Luckily for both of us, I finally got the picture and got on the right train. Money issues are interesting. They are so integrated with our belief system. Great post, as usual!

    • Thanks, Martha, glad you enjoy them! Until someone points it out to us, most of us felt we were wired certain ways when it came to money, and never thought much about it. But it’s SO wrapped up in beliefs we brought forward, as you say. The good thing is that so many beliefs can be reversed and adjusted to a healthy place! (Which is where it sounds as if you have gone .. 😉

  • olgahermans

    I remember the days that my husband and I avoided to talk about certain things and especially the money issue; it brings more harm to the marriage than you ever could think of. We did it because we thought we were loving each other too much to confront each other…..how terrible naive we were…later we had to pick up the pieces. It all could have been so different if we just hadn’t avoid the issue. Thanks Sharon!

    • Olga, so many of the areas we “avoided” were defined by what we were told were taboo topics … money being one of them. “Nice girls don’t talk about money.” Oh, how much pain and discomfort has resulted from that myth! And how much could have been prevented! Fortunately, it’s reparable … most of the time.

  • Dorien Morin

    Sounds like we all have been or are in the same boat! I’ve been there, done that. yet it’s my kids that remind me to stop avoiding. I want to teach them right. Teach them responsibility and not avoidance. I always offer to come along (to the bank, a school counselor, job interview, dr appointment) but as they grow older (4 teenagers) they have to take charge. having me there helps them and thus it helps me too.

    Wonderful post! 🙂

    • Thanks, Dorien! I think you’re right that our upbringing has something to do with how readily we break through avoidance. And your sons are fortunate that you’re aware of it and are modeling quick action!

  • Sharon, avoidance is a big problem for some of my clients in areas other than finance. So, the steps in this wonderful post can be applied to so many other situations, as well! I agree…anxiety is disempowering and once a person actually looks at that aspect of their life, they are in a position of power. Love this post and am sharing!

    • What fascinated me, Sherie, was recognizing the process: initial avoidance … prolonged avoidance … anxiety …greater and greater disempowerment! Yet, how quickly it all evaporated once we just DID whatever it was …

  • What I love about your posts Sharon is that your advice applies to so many more things than just finances. Avoidance in any area of life isn’t good. And the longer you avoid something the larger the issue becomes. It’s prompted me to do something about a financial issue I’ve been successfully avoiding – it could wait a little longer, but I would be so much at peace if I dealt with it sooner rather than later!

    • Glad it moved you to action, Carolyn! Part of getting to a peaceful place is handling those things as fast as we can. Which is why I got so frustrated at how long it took me to react! 😉

  • Avoidance doesn’t solve anything… and I think it APPLIES to all areas of our lives… I am of the motto Let’s do it, versus run and hide

    • You’re right, Carly, it DOES apply to all areas of our lives. Where it tends to get complicated is when it’s caused by being raised to believe that some topic is taboo … as many women were when it came to money. But that’s an area that is so easy to redirect, because adult logic breaks right through it … as soon as we’re made aware of it.

  • barbara peters

    oh I’m so good at avoiding things. You are right. It’s where huge mistakes are made in relationships with people and money. Thank you, Sharon.

    • And, Barbara, if you have any perfectionism tendencies … well, we just get “perfectly good” at avoiding! 😉 Yet, like anything else, awareness of our behavior is the first and best step towards changing it …

  • Avoidance might occur to everyone on various issues. However, you know you can’t avoif things forever, so better deal with them immediately. Great post!

    • You’re right, Tereza. Intellectually we know we need to address them, and eventually we do. The question is how long we wait between “immediately” and “forever” … 😉

  • Meryl Hershey Beck

    Great post, Sharon! I am learning to question the story that I tell myself (from Byron Katie’s Inquiry method, also known as “The Work.”) It has helped me when I find myself in avoidance.

    • Thanks for sharing that support tool, Meryl. I know she’s helped many people get grounded on what’s important to them and what’s not.

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Insight post, Sharon. Avoidance can just make the problem grow and take on a life of it’s own. Always better to deal with it as soon as you can. Thanks for sharing a great post. Have a good rest of your week!

    • Isn’t that curious, Cathy? I always thought that if you ignored something, say a plant, it died from the neglect. But when it comes to avoidance, that same act of ignoring actually causes the issue to grow!

  • Oh! Do I know all about avoidance… I have 1 sister that avoids dealing with things but creates conflicts all the time. It’s been years and she still does not learn to deal with things and the pile keeps getting bigger and bigger under the rug. I’ve had to put boundaries recently. Not an easy thing when it’s family. Thanks for a great post! x0x

    • Norma, it has to be so frustrating trying to get someone ELSE to deal with avoidance issues and I’m sorry it has affected your family dynamic. I can understand the general expectation that we’ll be our sister’s keeper, but only up to where it bumps up against our own self-preservation.

  • Mandy Edwards

    Great post as usual Sharon! Avoidance is something I think we all do at some point!

    • We do, Mandy, in some form. But as I said, sometimes it’s just to give us the time to deal appropriately with something difficult. But beyond that, it starts its insidious role …

  • Great insight Sharon I work hard to not avoid things in my life but I like everyone else, am a work in progress. I tend to avoid things that cause me pain but I deal with others pronto! Especially my children 🙂

    • The perceived potential for pain is probably the greatest cause of avoidance, Anita. And how silly we feel when we actually break through the avoidance and find there was no real pain involved at all … just our fear of it!

  • Maria Stefanopoulos

    Oh I could relate to this Sharon, we may be able to avoid things for a day or two but whatever it is that you are trying to avoid, it is still there it won’t disappear, unless you decide to finally face it and deal with it. Avoiding things will get worse, Take action as soon as you can….

    • As you say, Maria, there may be a reason to delay action for a bit as you prepare your best and most appropriate response. But beyond that, once you’re into avoidance, the stakes just go higher and higher. And then embarrassment kicks in … ;-(

  • Thanks, for an Amazing post Sharon! I think that it is human nature to occasionally avoid things. I am sure one of the Biggies is money challenges as sometimes people think if they don’t think about it, that it will go away. As we know that is not the case.

    • Of all things to avoid, Susan, money is one area where the penalties for avoiding are real! Whether it’s in late fees, extra interest or loss of credit, it’s one area where, as you say, it really won’t go away!

  • I can do avoidance with the best of ’em. And your post is the second time this week that it’s been pointed out to me. I like what you say about taking your power back by dealing with the situation. I’ve come to realize that’s the only way to deal with things, because the situation is never really as bad as I build it up to be while I’m in avoidance mode. Great post!

    • … and the issue just seems to get bigger and bigger the longer we avoid dealing with it, Lena! Then when we finally confront it, we bring it back to its original size … which at times is actually embarrassingly insignificant. 😉

  • Denise Sonnenberg

    I agree with what everyone says here, we tend to avoid things, be it money or other things that causes us pain. We may avoid certain thing for a reason, but before embarrassment kicks in, lets take the power back and deal with it pronto. Your amazing Sharon, This is a great post!

  • Susan Critelli

    “Truer words were never spoken,” says one who has perfected the art of Avoidance. Happily, I have stopped avoiding my particular problem, and this article reinforced the value of having done that.

  • At first glance, it does seem easier to just avoid the situation. At least you can forget about it temporarily. But it’s never a good idea in the long run. I like your idea of just handling one at a time. It’s makes it seem less of a burden, and more manageable.

  • Sharon,
    Totally was shaking my head in agreement. I’ve been there and sometimes still retreat there. Thank you for your honesty about avoidance at any age. It gives me hope and reminds me I don’t have to have it all perfect and together. Such a much needed message on taking ownership of our lives and our finances!