Emotional Avoidance is a very common symptom in clients with a history trauma. It's important to know that at one time, the avoidance was actually quite helpful. You may have learned to avoid as a way to contain very intense emotional disturbances. This is very true in cases of complex childhood trauma, in which many individuals may have experienced emotional abandonment and neglect.
What is emotional neglect?
Emotional neglect is when an individual's emotions and reactions to an experience are either ignored or invalidated. In my work as a trauma therapist, emotional invalidation has been one of the most significant forms of complex trauma. A client basically learns from childhood that their emotions either: a) do not matter, b) are not something to be tolerated, c) "there's something wrong with me for having emotions."
In EMDR therapy, I often find that clients with an NC (negative cognition) of "I cannot handle it" or "I'm not good enough" typically have histories of emotional invalidation. They learned from a young age that emotions were not meant to be tolerated. Instead, they contained or compartmentalized these emotions as a way to survive.
But the old saying always goes, "feeling buried alive never die". Those emotions have to be released somehow. Avoidance can breed anxiety and depression. The more we avoid something, the more we are telling our brains, "Stay away, that's dangerous!". Avoiding emotions consistently sends the message to our minds that emotions are a threat.
This is a problem because if we constantly avoid, we're going to always feel triggered whenever we inevitably have an emotional reaction to something. Human beings are not robots. While we mentally may be able to shut off our emotions, our body still needs to find a way to acknowledge them.
Signs of Emotional Avoidance
The following are signs of possible emotional avoidance. Often times, you may be fully aware of the tendency to avoid emotions, but may feel stuck in being