Monday, June 20, 2011

Avoidance versus Detachment

Last Monday's stress reduction technique focused on detachment, which is definitely different than avoidance. Men are more likely than women to use detachment, which can drive us crazy because it works so well for them. Women are more likely to use avoidance which doesn't work so well for us.

A study by M. Pilar Matud, a Spanish researcher, says that men use more active and instrumental coping (with stress) behaviors and women use more passive (e.g. avoiding the stress-causing issue) and emotion-focused behaviors. What's the difference? Why does detachment work and avoidance doesn't?

Avoidance is more likely to be gray; detachment more black and white. Avoidance might look like this:
• I leave work at a different time than usual to avoid bumping into someone that I've had conflict with
• You see the person who is the source of stress. You're churning inside. You smile and say, "Good morning, Sam," and walk on.
• You distract yourself from the inner churn with anything possible at the time: your iPad, a brief walk about, a cup of coffee, a conversation with a friend about good stuff.

 Detachment is Yes or No, On or Off.  I am either consciously deciding to disengage from my emotions or I am engaged fully with them. Here's how it might look if detachment is On.
• You look impassive, little expression in your face or body. Your inner self is quiet. You feel distant from the person or situation.
• You might physically remove yourself from the stress source, calmly. "I'd prefer to talk about this tomorrow."

Both  techniques can work — and also can be overdone. Detachment, by producing space and distance from emotionality, can often produce the ability to do problem-solving thinking or to choose to let go. Overdone,  detachment results in isolation from your feelings.

Avoidance is excellent for the moment and buys time to bubble up some other creative ways to handle the stressful situation. Continuing use of avoidance doesn't produce a functional long-term outcome and becomes an obstacle to development of more active coping skills.
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