No one likes avoidance. No one thinks there is even one good thing to say about it. According to Google, it is such a bad thing it should probably go out and drown itself. So, in the interest of fairness, I’m here today to defend it, and tell you that contrary to popular belief, avoidance can be a good and useful thing.
Think of it as the hard candy of coping mechanisms: sweet and slow, more subtle than fight or flight.
Case in point: You are on a happy jaunt down the candy aisle of your local market when you see your dental hygienist, whom you have just cancelled for an epic sixth time just this morning, saying you had an important meeting with your stockholders. Now she is coming your way. In what universe doesn’t it make sense to cover your face with your hat and pretend to be coughing into it until she passes by? Classic avoidance to the rescue.
Avoidance is flexible: in its infancy it can be called “delay” or “postponement” or “deferral” and its uses are many. For example, you avoid calling a friend to chew him out for avoiding calling you in your hour of need, only to find out that he fell off a stepladder and broke both arms and could not have called you. Your avoidance saved you from the embarrassment of seeming heartless.
Or, you put off breaking a date for drinks with a friend because you’re getting a reputation for breaking dates, and then an hour before you’re due to meet, the friend calls and cancels, putting the onus on him.
You delay making a doctor’s appointment about the pain in your back for one more day and voila! the pain goes away and doesn’t return.
Think about it. We practice “passive” avoidance all the time: when we avert our eyes at the ASPCA commercial because it is too heartbreaking to see those panting, crusty-eyed dogs, or the stop-smoking one because it is too grisly and we don’t smoke, anyway. (I don’t understand exactly why, but I also avert my eyes from the one where the guy uses the wrong paper plate and dumps spaghetti dinner in his girlfriend’s lap.)
And when you keep “forgetting” to pick up a jacket at the cleaners until the forgetting becomes clear avoidance leading to the revelation that you never liked the jacket and when you finally pick it up, you are going to get rid of it? Could we say that subliminal avoidance has led you to enlightenment and maybe wisdom?
For me, avoidance is sometimes really “percolating.” You would not call steeping your tea to make it strong “avoidance” would you? Of course not. And so, avoidance of writing this essay until the very last moment was really giving it a chance to develop, grow, change – and come into its own. In the meantime, avoiding writing it all day – which psychologists will tell you causes anxiety – caused me to sublimate my anxiety, my adrenalin ramped up and I tackled six household cleaning projects that I had been postponing for ages, and by the time I finished them, my self-esteem had gotten an enormous boost, my house smelled sweetly of furniture polish and floor wax, and all that physical work had made its way to my brain, and solved the writing problems that I had been avoiding.
Win, win, win, win. No need to avoid taking a victory lap now.