Empaths & Emotional Avoidance

I’ve been on a conscious journey as an empath towards wholeness for around five years now. At first, I dealt with all the big things—the traumas and triggers and healing the wounds of the past. Only recently have I dropped into the more subtle layers of unraveling my inner world and what I’ve found is something different entirely. It’s a layer filled with pathological behavior, ways of thinking and idiosyncrasies that have become so habitual they’re preventing me from becoming whole. One of these things is emotional avoidance and avoidance in general.

What is Avoidance?

Avoidance is a part of all our lives in some capacity—I don’t believe there’s a human on this planet who’s free from it. We all avoid things we don’t want to deal with, it’s part of the human condition. But if you’re an empath, it’s possible you’re even more emotionally avoidant than most.

The Intelligence & The Limitation

In general, there’s absolutely nothing bad or wrong avoiding things. It’s a legitimate coping mechanism, and within all coping mechanisms lie an intelligence and a limitation.

The intelligence is that, when we’re going through hardship, it’s impossible to deal with everything at once. So we triage our emotional issues and this means avoiding some of them. In the case of empaths, this is obvious: we avoided feelings, thoughts, and situations that seemed too scary or painful or heavy for us to endure. We can’t expect to experience all things at all times—we already feel so much, it’s quite easy for us to become overloaded.

Emotional avoidance is an intelligent coping mechanism, especially if you’re an empath. The limitation comes when we don’t actually need to avoid things and it’s a detriment to our growth. This was what became obvious for me, and it’s up to you to figure this out for yourself.

The Impact of Avoidance

Avoiding things takes an unexpected amount of energy. The things you avoid build an energy of their own inside your psyche—just because you avoid them, doesn’t mean they go away. They begin to manifest in other places, like exhaustion, dreams and pain in your body. I spent time noticing both the obvious and subtle ways I avoided things in my life, and in just one week here’s what I found:

On a physical level, I avoid acknowledging and healing the chronic pain in my body. For years I’ve had a repetitive strain injury in my forearms and I’ve still done nothing about it. I prefer just to ignore the pain in the hopes it will go away on its own.

On a behavioral level, I avoid making hard decisions and having hard conversations until things have gotten so bad for me that I have to. Then I still manage to make the decision or have the conversation in an avoidant, half-assed way.

On an emotional level (and this is the big one if you’re an empath) I avoid feeling all kinds of emotions—certain kinds of sadness, shame, and rage. I avoided feeling these so strongly that the only way I knew they were present for me was through constant dream analysis.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the impact all this is having on my life, relationships and growth. My body suffers, my relationships become stagnant and I don’t grow in heart to meet life fully.

3 Ways to Figure Out What You’re Avoiding:

  1. Where there’s avoidance there’s an excuse—A great way to notice where you’re avoiding things is to be really honest with yourself about when you’re making excuses. If you can do this, you’ll realize what you’re making excuses to avoid.
  2. You can also do this in reverse—When you realize you’re avoiding something, notice what your excuse is, and get familiar with it. I found I used the same excuse in multiple places to avoid different things.
  3. Notice your habitual crutches— We all have them, and they go beyond the obvious ones like drugs and alcohol. I went grocery shopping, bought things on Amazon, pinned on Pinterest, became needier in my relationships, scrolled on Facebook, created stories in my head and got angry about them, all to avoid feeling my feelings. If you’re an empath, it’s even possible that I use empathy as an “I’m a good person” excuse for not feeling my own emotions.

Build Awareness, Then What?

Once you realize what you’re avoiding, you can choose to either take action or not. I chose to take action (for these). I booked myself into massage therapy for my arms, I texted all the people I needed to have hard conversations with and began having them and I started to tap into my feelings of rage and shame.  And guess what happened? A huge amount of space opened up in my body, mind, and soul. I felt more in alignment with my truth and the universe. My relationships deepened, they were clearer and more fulfilling. And my relationship with myself grew in trust significantly.

Homework: What Are You Avoiding? 

Spend a few weeks building awareness around what you might be avoiding in your life. Check in on an emotional, physical, mental and spiritual level using the three tips above. And be honest with yourself—you don’t have to do anything about what you find, just focus on building the awareness.

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