Tuesday, February 24, 2004

avoidant behavior

I noticed lately that I practice a lot of avoidant behavior. Now, I am no psychologist or anything. Although I did get a minor in family studies in college. I did a retreat this past weekend where I talked about "rest." One of my points is how laziness in the form of procrastination is really an avoidant behavior. I am a big procrastinator and thus a big "practicer" of this kind of avoidance.

Procrastination is putting off the inevitable in hopes that by doing it "tomorrow" it will somehow be less stressful. Its a coping mechanism in dealing with things in life that one does not want to face immediately. So we put things off until "later." As a procrastinator, I have begun to realize that I put things off because doing them right now fills me with such stress, anxiety, and frustration, that it seems more healthy to avoid all of that. Then I sprint to do the task as fast as I can at the last minute. This is so that I have to endure that stress, anxiety and frustration for as short a time as possible. If I were to do that task piece by piece, all of those negative feelings would be stretched out over the long haul. This is not something I want. This is what I want to "avoid."

But I also noticed that I practice avoidant behavior in other areas of my life. I tend to stay up late. This began to happen my senior year of high school, continued through college, and tends to happen periodically in seminary. Why? As I self-analyze, I have begun to discover that this is a form of avoidance. I am avoiding tomorrow. I stay up late because I can't let go of today. Not that tomorrow is bad. I like how my future is looking these days. Its more that I don't want today to end.

"Today ending" just reminded me, as a senior in high school, that I was that much closer to saying goodbye to friends and heading off to college. "Today ending" in college forced me to end my late night fun and go to bed. "Today ending" in seminary means that I no longer will be in the part of the day (the end) where I get to relax and not think about school work. "Today ending" in seminary means that I have to face a new day full of work and stress. All of this I want to avoid. So I stay up late, desperately hanging on to today.

Its not that I always practice avoidance. In fact, I don't avoid some things that most people would like to avoid. Conflict is such a thing. Now most people who know me know that I don't avoid conflict at all. I actually kind of enjoy conflict. I see it as a good thing which can galvanize relationships. Conflict challenges me and allows me to challenge others. Most people want to avoid conflict, but not me.

Public speaking is another. I don't mind getting up in front of people and talking. I don't mind talking in class. In fact, I enjoy doing both. Public speaking is America's number one fear. Number two is death. So most people would rather die than speak in front of people. But not me. I don't avoid it. In some ways, especially since I will be a pastor, I am pursuing it.

I am sure that there are other areas in which I practice avoidant behavior. Off the top of my head, I think of how I try to avoid compliments and avoid situations where it is normal to say "I love you". I avoid doing the dishes until there is enough to fill up the entire dishwasher. I avoid doing laundry until I run out of boxers.

I don't know if there is a deeper psychological reason for avoiding these last few. As far as laundry and dishes, it just seems less stressful or annoying to do them all at once. I avoid saying "I love you" and receiving compliments just because these are awkward situations for me. They make me uncomfortable. I have done my best over the years to get better at dealing with these situations, but I still basically suck at it.

So in the end, why is it easy for me to face some of the seemingly "harder" things in life and difficult for me to face the seemingly easy stuff? How many licks does it take to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop? The world may never know.


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