As I mentioned in Maladaptive Coping Strategies, “we have an amazing ability to develop coping mechanisms that allow us to survive unspeakable traumas” (Startz, 2021). However, most defense mechanisms have a limited shelf-life. In other words, when we allow them to outlive their usefulness, they damage us instead of helping us.
For example, avoidance is a healthy response – until it isn’t. Avoiding the source of a trauma (person, place, or thing) can help you gain the space and time needed to process the trauma.
However, if you do not process it, you are apt to begin avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma. Your world becomes smaller and smaller as more and more things trigger your pain.
Processing must occur so healing can begin. Otherwise, avoidance can lead to increased anxiety, hyperawareness/sensitivity (which increases the likelihood of being retraumatized, especially in interpersonal relationships), addiction(s), and a lack of intimacy and transparency in relationships.
I am not suggesting that you “get over it” or embrace unsupervised exposure therapy. Nor am I saying that facing your fears will “fix” everything, and it will be as if it never happened.
I am saying that processing the trauma you are desperately trying to avoid will position you for healing. Will the relationship be restored? Who knows? But either way, it will be your conscious choice, not your defense mechanism choosing for you. Will you ever be able to go to that place again without fear? Maybe, maybe not. But you can get to the point that thinking about it or driving by it doesn’t cause a panic attack.
As you set aside your defense mechanism(s) and begin your healing journey, extend grace to yourself. Don’t self-sabotage by demanding perfection. Rejoice with progress!
Contact me for help transitioning from surviving your trauma to thriving.
Angela W Startz, MA-HSC