Experiential Avoidance Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Suffering, as unpleasant and painful as it is, is part of human existence. It is something which, like life and death or love and hate, is more or less present in each of us.

If you are in too much pain, it makes sense and highly recommended for everyone to look for methods to reduce this sensation, but sometimes it happens that the more you try to avoid the pain, the more you think about it and, as a side effect, the more he suffers.

It can be a sign that you are in pain experiential avoidance disorder, A psychological state in which all attempts to avoid what produces a feeling of aversion involve, ironically, thinking more about it. Let’s take a closer look at its characteristics and the therapies used to treat it.

    What is Experiential Avoidance Disorder?

    Experiential avoidance disorder is a disorder in which the person avoids or escapes an aversive experience. Negative sensations, emotions or thoughts are not accepted, focusing all forces on their flight, but not allowing them to continue enjoying life because aversive experiences have not yet been eliminated.

    Among people who suffer from it, it is very common to hear phrases like “ I need to be good to be able to do things ”, “ I can’t work well if I’m not happy or ‘I may not like exercising’ thinking wrong ‘. This is an example of how the person feels great discomfort due to his rumination and is also not able to have pleasurable sensations as it does not allow them to occur or go looking for them.

    The disorder is verbal in nature, i.e. it is determined by the verbal disposition of the person to rank what is considered good or bad, based on private events, with both physical and verbal characteristics, as well as negative evaluations, responses to events and their life experiences.

    Problems related to experiential avoidance can arise when one begins to act rigidly to eliminate or avoid the internal experience, being a very present factor in the way the person behaves. This will be done consciously at first, but when a certain amount of time has passed, the person will incorporate this avoidance into their repertoire of behaviors, which will become something automatic.

    Efforts to avoid the unpleasant feeling interfere with emotional responses, In addition to endangering aspects considered important and enjoyable for the person, such as hobbies, personal relationships, work and others.

    Is avoidance always bad? Characteristics of the disorder

    In short, experiential avoidance involves trying to avoid unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and emotions, with the intention of not feeling them. However, this should not be understood as avoiding something unpleasant is necessarily a psychological disorder. The human being constantly avoids phenomena which are not pleasing to him, and this is generally a positive thing.

    Avoiding something that might be harmful is, in truth, an adaptive resource, Since he is running away from something that can harm the physical or mental integrity of the person. For example, being in the field, if you see a bee flitting around near us, it’s okay to move away a bit because, even though it hasn’t shown any intention to attack us, we don’t want it to attack us. she ends up doing that either.

    however, avoidance becomes a problem if doing so is at a high cost to the person, Both in terms of their mood and their physical well-being. It is possible that, in order to avoid the unpleasant feeling, behaviors which are satisfactory in the short term are adopted, but which in the long term are detrimental. It can be boiled down to a simple formula: avoidance is a bad thing when the damage to be avoided is greater than the damage avoided.


    The diagnostic criteria proposed for this disorder are:

    • Constant feelings revolved around feeling bad.
    • The mind is obsessed with discomfort.
    • Great efforts to control negative feelings, emotions and thoughts.
    • A rigid belief that one cannot enjoy without first eliminating all discomfort.
    • Expect to be well to develop yourself fully as a person.

    Take the case of a person who has just suffered the loss of a loved one. The normal thing is to go through the grieving phase, which is sad and unwanted, but completely normal after the death of someone you loved. In this case, the person would exhibit behaviors related to experiential avoidance if instead of accepting the situation or seeking psychological help to overcome the process, they would consume alcohol to escape reality. He is at risk of becoming an alcoholic.

      Possible causes

      The main cause that has been put forward to explain this little-known disorder is related to the personality of the person who suffers from it. It has been suggested that the origin of experiential avoidance is psychological rigidity in dealing with one’s own perceived discomfort, both in trying to escape it and in avoiding it.

      By not being able to adapt to the fact that the suffering is going to be here, and having the rigid idea that to enjoy it, you must first eliminate any unpleasant feelingThe person’s life revolves around avoidance.

      The individual locks himself away from the experience of painful emotions, sensations and thoughts and is unable to continue with his daily tasks or hobbies. Continuing to think about the bad and not looking for good experiences puts you in an increasingly bad loop. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety it is even worse.

        Consequences of experiential avoidance

        As we have said before, if the person with this disorder is also suffering from another negative psychological condition, such as anxiety and depression, the situation can be particularly serious.

        Symptoms of the disorders are these psychological problems must be treated by professionals. If the person who suffers from it implements effective strategies to increase their well-being, this is a positive thing and entirely appropriate. Whenever possible, mood and anxiety disorders can be overcome.

        However, during the recovery process, the person should be aware that they will experience some degree of discomfort and must accept while therapy is in progress. Waiting for all the discomfort to go away before starting to engage in emotionally beneficial behaviors, such as hobbies, is a problem that makes it difficult to continue with therapy because there is no positive reinforcement that makes the person feel good. more and more motivated and overcomes her psychological problems.

        Do not accept the discomfort of these problems, avoiding them or escaping them, Involves the following situations:

        • Trying to control the discomfort, which makes you more aware of it and, in turn, increases it.
        • Daily life becomes a constant struggle against this discomfort, removing the importance of activators or pleasant sensations.

        These two avoidant behaviors, in turn, have various social implications in a person’s life. The person gradually isolates himself from his circle of friends and even from his family. It is expected that it will be good to go to the movies, to the gym, to go back to school, to go to work … It can last a long time, reaching months and years.

        Treatment: acceptance and commitment therapy

        As we have mentioned, suffering is a part of everyone’s life and while it is always better to look for ways to reduce or eliminate the cause of this discomfort, sometimes this option is not possible. There are certain thoughts, sensations and emotions that cannot simply cease to exist. and therefore it is impossible to look for ways to make them stop feeling.

        The best thing in these cases is to accept that you go live these experiences, as unpleasant as they are. Focusing on getting rid of them can be a huge waste of energy and giving them too much attention, making it difficult for a person to feel a path to a vital goal.

        Acceptance and Commitment Therapy seeks to make the person aware that they are indeed suffering from some discomfort, but that you have to accept it, don’t run away. There are aspects of life that will not go away and wait for resolution or run away from them are not good strategies if they are detrimental to the person’s overall life.

        Therapists Use Different Strategies To Treat Symptoms Associated With Experiential Avoidance Disorder, Such as mindfulness, therapeutic metaphors, and cognitive de-fusion. In addition, the therapeutic action also focuses on the restoration of the most important aspects for the person, such as his leisure, his work, his academic, social and family life.

        The goal is to get him to stop struggling with his discomfort and instead focus on actions that involve real well-being, which will make him live a life increasingly rich in pleasurable experiences and accept what ‘he is wrong. This does not mean that you cannot take advantage of it.

        A final reflection

        In developed societies, especially in the western world, the philosophy of always being well, of enjoying all activities, leisure and work, has been promoted. We are not allowed to feel bad, and any negative feeling is seen as a symbol of weakness or a source of great worry. Being sad, crying, having unpleasant times is unquestionably part of life, but it seems like living it is something that is almost forbidden and those who experience it have a hard time making it clear to anyone.

        Feeling good has become a key aspect of the successful person model which has been tempted to impose both by the media and by more personal environments, such as family or school. Those who are always happy are seen as something which is synonymous with being a fully adapted person, even if this belief is totally false.

        Euhymia, that is to say living all kinds of feelings within limits considered healthy, is an evolutionary mechanism, which allows the survival of the person as well as his adaptation on the social level. There are days when we feel good and others not. Days when you’re sad are like this for some reason which, if you think about it, allows you to learn from our mistakes or based on a situation we didn’t like. We live in the moment, and it keeps us alive.

        If we become obsessed with being perfectly happy, focusing on avoiding the negative feeling or thinking and leaving behind some pleasurable experiences that we might be having right now, wouldn’t it be like? what if we really sabotage our own happiness?

        Bibliographical references:

        • Luoma, JB, Hayes, SC and Walser, RD (2007). Learning Learning: A skills training manual for acceptance and engagement therapies. Oakland, California, United States: New Harbinger Publications.
        • Hayes, Steven C .; Spencer Smith (2005). Step out of your mind and step into your life: the new therapy of acceptance and commitment. New publications from Harbinger

        Leave a Comment