Withdrawal is when a person does not want to interact with or participate in activities with other people, even the ones they initially liked interacting with. It is a total cut off from human contact and is different from occasional withdrawal from socializing.
Some people withdraw because they feel overwhelmed around other people or when they fail to control their intimidating negative emotions like anger, jealousy, envy, guilt, shame, frustrations etc which places them in a humiliating situation. Others might also withdraw from situations and people because they do not want to feel the negative emotions evoked by the stimuli.
Of Course, this is a maladaptive way to deal with conflicting and undesirable emotions because one cannot withdraw permanently for life just to avoid feeling negative emotions. Withdrawing also results in the person slipping into loneliness.
Avoidance is basically the first step to ultimately withdrawing. A person avoids as long as possible but withdraws when all other means to ward off the feelings goes in vain.
If you are at a party and someone is trying to flirt with you and you are not liking it. Maybe your first thought will be to avoid him/her. When we are faced with an unwanted situation, our primal instincts is to either face or avoid it, something we know as “fight or flight”. This makes avoidance a defense mechanism to protect ourselves from undesirable situations.
Often when we experience negative emotions we try to forcibly push it aside by dictating to ourselves that the triggering stimuli are not potent enough. When someone says something bad about us, if we feel hurt and still tell ourselves to “Just forget about it”, “Leave it”, “It’s not a huge matter”, we are actually not validating our true feelings. We rather are avoiding it.
It is always easy to laugh away your pains than to explain oneself and others how you feel. It’s surprising to note that people who have experienced emotional neglect, lack of love and understanding in childhood uses more jokes and humor as a defense to light up others and themselves.
Making jokes and laughing at them is easier than facing our discomfort. But over time, if you always laugh away your disturbing feelings you gradually deprive yourself of empathy, understanding and support that you deserve.
People start believing that your jokes are a cause of your genuine happiness and contentment in life and not as a shield to protect your unacceptable emotions.
5. Emotional eating:
Imagine a person literally eating as much as possible to stuff down whatever he/she is feeling, to push the feelings back to where it came from. Our main reason to eat is to satisfy our physiological need of hunger but many people end up eating to relieve stress and cope with feelings like loneliness, boredom, self-hatred, and sadness.
Every time you feel sad you end up ordering yourself a pizza to “make yourself feel good” or just sit with a pint of ice-cream ‘cause you are feeling lonely or don’t feel productive.
When eating becomes your basic coping strategy from daily problems, you never really get a chance to address the feelings underlying it. This type of ‘emotional eating’ gets you stuck in an unhealthy cycle. Eating might be temporarily rewarding but the feelings that triggered it is left unresolved, which will recurrently come back.
Every single day we consciously force ourselves to distract ourselves from unacceptable things to regain our focus on things we feel are comparatively easier to handle.
Avoiding our feelings by distracting ourselves is something which we do on a daily basis to keep freeing ourselves from the emotional trauma we will have to otherwise go through.
Suppose you are upset over how your boss criticized you at work and now you are completely engrossed in ruminating over the conversation and the feelings of worthlessness shame, guilt, self-loathing that the incident triggered in you. It is very likely that you would keep yourself busy by watching tv, reading books or playing games over the phone just to distract yourself from all the unhealthy thoughts plaguing your mind.
Instead of trying to find out ‘whys’ and ‘what’ of the incident, you end up trying to distract yourself from the emotion which again is a useless way of coping.
Distraction can be temporarily beneficial but over time it will come out in sneaky ways like through displacement – in which you will ultimately end up unconsciously displacing these suppressed emotions on people and things other than the actual trigger.
Why is avoiding our true feelings maladaptive for our mental health?
Feelings, thoughts, and emotions we experience over our lifetime are never completely forgotten. Unwanted feelings, desires, and emotions which are unacceptable to society make it difficult for us to freely express them.
Some desires and impulses like hatred, jealousy and sexual impulses are destructive in nature if acted on and can get us in trouble if fully expressed, so we find it legitimate to push them within ourselves rather than express them. When we hinder our natural flow of emotions, we are not being genuine to ourselves.