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Avoidance coping

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In psychology, avoidance coping, or escape coping, is a the use of avoidance as a maladaptive coping strategy,[1] characterized by the effort to escape from having to deal with a stressor.[2]Coping refers to behavior that protects people from being psychologically harmed by problematic social experience, a behavior that importantly mediates the impact that societies have on their members.[3]There are variations of this condition including:"by eliminating or modifying conditions giving rise to problems; by perceptually controlling the meaning of experience in a manner that neutralizes its problematic character; and by keeping the emotional consequences of problems within manageable bounds.[4]

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms are thought to be the precursor to avoidance coping. PTSD symptoms are high stress which cause the person suffering from them to draw into themselves, avoiding the problem entirely and leading to avoidance coping whether it be cognitive or behavioral.[5]


Individuals suffering from avoidance coping, also called Classic or Type I Avoidant Personality Disorder, display a number of symptoms that may be used to diagnose the individual so that they may be treated. Symptoms may include some or all of the following. The individual tends to draw inward. They don't wish to be involved in relationships or social activities, usually showing a fear of commitment. Individuals may do this due to a fear of rejection from their peers, family, or even strangers that they have just met. This withdrawal can create a sense of timidness and appear throughout the personality with indecision and a lack of confidence in their own beliefs or hopes and achievements.[6]

Avoidance Coping Connection to Caring for ElderlyEdit

Those who care for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease also demonstrate symptoms of depression and stress which lead to signs of avoidance coping. Alzheimer's is a disease that affects the brains memory process and only worsens over time. [7] The closer the person was with the loved one with Alzheimer's, the stronger the avoidance coping. [8] Those who cope using avoidance show signs such as making an effort to avoid thoughts or feelings associated with the traumatic event and a loss of interest in once positive activities. This also means caregiver's problem behaviors are positively associated with escape-avoidance coping and depressive symptoms. [9] In addition to caregivers of Alzheimer's disease, caregivers and loved ones of dementia patients also use avoidance coping. These caregivers may be depressed and use avoidance coping to deal with the stress that the disease has burdened their loved one with or it may be a way to avoid the financial burden put on them and dementia patient. Although the results are fairly similar in both cases caregivers of dementia patients can be caused by outlying factors such as low self-rated health status, more chronic health conditions,and a personal history of psychiatric illness. [10] These caregivers may have to deal with avoidance coping due to guilt of having to take care of the dementia patients and because of their own self-conscious looking at their own health history.


Ways to treat those who use avoidance to cope is to simply reduce the degree in which one ignores emotion. Ways to do this are Cognitive-Behavioral or psychoanalytic therapies. These types of therapies help people express and comprehend their emotions. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (or ACT) can also be used for those who avoid their emotions when coping. It is a particular type of behavioral therapy that focuses on helping a person live a meaningful life by breaking down avoidance coping and reasons as to why it is an unhealthy method of coping with traumatic experiences. [11]

Patients with APD are encouraged to refrain from being in relationships during treatment. This is to protect them from the pain that they believe relationships might cause. Therapists are careful not to push patients too far too fast. If they are pushed too much this may cause more anxiety and lead to depression. Patients should be given plenty of time to get over their avoidance slowly. If they feel like they are being pushed or forced to overcome their avoidance, they may become more depressed and negative. This may also cause them to abandon treatment or if they chose to stay in treatment, they might just resist any further assistance.[12]

Other ways to deal with coping are active-cognitive coping and active-behavioral coping. Active-cognitive coping includes attempts to manage and change ones attitude towards a stressful event and seeing if the event has a positive side or impact on their life. Active-behavioral coping refers to making obvious behavioral attempts to deal with the stressful problem and its effects by taking positive actions after finding out more about the situation.[13]

Related ConceptsEdit


  1. (1995) Moshe Zeidner,Norman S. Endler Handbook of coping: theory, research, applications, 514, Wiley.
  2. Friedman, Howard S.; Roxane Cohen Silver (2006). Foundations of health psychology, 124, Oxford University Press, USA.
  3. Pearlin, Leonard, Carmi Schooler (March 1978). The Structure of Coping. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 19: 2-21.
  4. Pearlin, Leonard, Carmi Schooler (March 1978). The Structure of Coping. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 19: 2-21.
  5. Tiet, Quyen Q., Rosen, Craig, Cavella, Steven, Moos, Rudolf H., Finney, John W., Yesavage, Jerome (NaN undefined NaN). Coping, symptoms, and functioning outcomes of patients with posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Traumatic Stress 19 (6): 799–811.
  6. Kantor, Martin (2010). The Essential Guide to Overcoming Avoidant Personality Disorder, Santa Barbara: Praeger.
  7. About Alzheimer's Disease: Causes. National Institute on Aging. URL accessed on 04-26-2012.
  8. Mausbach, BT Avoidant coping partially mediates the relationship between patient problem behaviors and depressive symptoms in spousal Alzheimer caregivers. Department of Psychiatry, University of California at San Diego, San Diego, California 92093. URL accessed on 27 November 2011.
  9. Mausbach, BT Avoidant coping partially mediates the relationship between patient problem behaviors and depressive symptoms in spousal Alzheimer caregivers. Department of Psychiatry, University of California at San Diego, San Diego, California 92093. URL accessed on 27 November 2011.
  10. Schulz, Richard, Alison T. O'Brien and Jamila Bookwala (1995). Psychiatric and physical morbidity effects of dementia caregiving:Prevalence, correlates, and causes. The Gerontologist 35 (6).
  11. Tull, Dr.Matthew PTSD and Emotional Avoidance. Health's Disease and Condition content is reviewed by the Medical Review Board. URL accessed on 27 November 2011.
  12. Kantor, Martain (1993). Distancing: A Guide to Avoidance and Avoidant Personality Disorder, Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.
  13. Billings, Andrew G., Rudolf H. Moos (June 1981). The role of coping responses and social resources in attenuating the stress of life events. Journal of Behavioral Medicine 4 (2): 139-157.

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