Toxic Habits: Avoidance

In Part 2 of the series on surprisingly toxic habits the Savvy Psychologist discusses the 3 reasons why you should avoid avoidance. (Hint: Like ostensibly loose slot machines or helping a Nigerian prince via email, avoidance promises a big payoff, but actually leaves you worse off than before).

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #66

Of course, avoidance isn’t always this extreme.  But subtle avoidance can suck the enjoyment out of life, too.  So think about where you’re dissatisfied with your life.  If you’re lonely, you may be avoiding social situations.  If you’re resentful, it’s possible that you’re avoiding communicating your needs.  If you binge eat, consider the possibility that you’re avoiding other, harder-to-face emotions.  Of course, not all woes can be explained by avoidance, but too often, avoiding our fears becomes a habit.  We live our lives trying to dodge the elephant in the room.

Avoidance Maintains Mental Health Problems

One of the best psychologists I know says, “The defining feature of mental illness is avoidance.”  

She’s right - avoidance is the core of PTSD, panic, social anxiety, and every phobia in existence.  It’s also an important driver of depression and OCD.  It even has it’s own personality disorder, appropriately called Avoidant Personality Disorder.

OK, if avoidance is so bad, what should we be doing instead?  What’s the opposite of avoidance?  The answer is approach, which is the technical term for facing your fears. How to do that?  Stay tuned - we’ll cover the two best ways to open your eyes and unplug your ears next week on the Savvy Psychologist.;


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.