Going "no contact" versus problematic avoidance

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Applecore

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As we know, people with traits of avoidant personality type are said to have an avoidant attachment style formed in childhood. When faced with obstacles, sometimes they are not addressed - the problems are ignored instead and this can cause trouble later.

The popular wisdom on traumatically abusive relationships, for example with people who appear to show many signs of narcissistic personality disorder, is to cut them off and go 'no contact'. But this seems to be a perfect pretext for people who are unable to negotiate and communicate and assert their needs to simply avoid the problem.

It's a very seductive solution for people with trauma to walk away from the world and bury themselves in escapist addictions from alcohol to 'spiritual bypass' to too much hard work.

How do we know when avoidance is right or wrong? There seems to be almost zero discussion about this issue amidst all the criticism of avoidance and the recommendation of avoidance these days.

I would like to open discussion about this paradox.
 
In my opinion it's totally valid to cease contact with people for any reason. Because you don't feel like it. Because it's Wednesday. Because blah. Because they're abusive. That's one of the privileges of adulthood. By-and-large, we get to choose who we associate with. (Barring work, legal, lalala.)

When people make me uncomfortable I usually elect not to continue interacting with them. I've spent enough time on this rock to know the kinds of things I like and the kinds of things I don't like. And I'm far enough into my recovery to prioritize surrounding myself in Things Weemie Likes. Maybe that makes me a hedonist? Ha.

In any case, I don't typically think too deeply beyond it because it isn't generally warranted. Human socialization is a vast and complex structure with lots of little interlocking rings, but the precipitation and foundation its based on is voluntary conduct. I wouldn't stretch it out so far as to be disordered to choose not to talk to people you don't like.

But I do see where conflict avoidance can creep in there, too. I'm not particularly conflict-averse but I also don't enjoy wasting my time on meaningless endeavors and I don't enjoy pointless suffering. So when it becomes apparent that one of those things is happening, I'll typically bow out of the situation as well.

Very interesting topic for certain.
 
How do we know when avoidance is right or wrong?
I guess the first thing I ask myself is "What do I think would help if I tried something other than avoidance?" Although it probably depends a little on who we're talking about too.

If I meet some random person on a bus and they're unpleasant and difficult, there's really no reason to pursue a relationship at ALL. If I'm working with someone who comes off as a narcissist in some way, shape or form.... Well I've dealt with enough actual narcissists to know that no good will come of it so I'm going to deal with a work colleague professionally and from as much of a distance as possible. I know I'm not going to change someone like that and I know the relationship is always going to be a one way street, which isn't real interesting. How did I decide it was ok to avoid family members? Their behavior was quite consistent over years. What I know (now) about narcissistic personality disorder is that the people who have it think that THEY have a problem so they have no motivation to change. So they pretty much won't change. No point in messing with them.

I DO think it's good to ask yourself the question and honestly consider the answer. It's something I discussed with my T a LOT. Which helped sort things out a bit. One of the things narcissism tends to do is lead people to believe everything is someone else's fault and they'll not hesitate to tell you. So they'll also make you feel like the bad guy for avoiding them, if you try it. And, if you were raised around all that, you might have grown up learning that everything IS your fault and your always 100% responsible for fixing things. Neither of which are true.
 
The popular wisdom on traumatically abusive relationships, for example with people who appear to show many signs of narcissistic personality disorder, is to cut them off and go 'no contact'. But this seems to be a perfect pretext for people who are unable to negotiate and communicate and assert their needs to simply avoid the problem.

i'm with you on wanting an open discussion on this phenom, starting with the casual process of amateur psychoanalysis. is there an ex on the planet who has not been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder by their exes? which ex? then we get to the toxic people fad. . . i feel far safer in the toxic people landfill than i feel among the ?non-toxic? people who threw me away.

i hold that working through the problems and abuses --even the traumatic ones-- is part of the healing process. i cannot learn how to set and maintain healthy boundaries if i am in continual flight and/or setting defensive walls with everyone i meet. nor will i ever know love if i wait for the world's first perfect human.

How do we know when avoidance is right or wrong?

in my own, strictly personal measure, i go by the serenity i feel while i am avoiding. i felt absolute relief when i avoided the last board (bored?) meeting i was invited to. not so much when i skipped dinner to avoid THAT harshly judged person.
 
How do we know when avoidance is right or wrong?
For me, it gets me further if I think about it in terms of helpful/unhelpful. Relationships, mostly, tend not to be good/bad, or right/wrong. They're a complex, fluid, emotional thing that adds and takes away simultaneously. A good relationship today may be bad tomorrow because (life, where change is the only constant). A relationship that offers me little today may have had periods of ebb and flow in the past.

What am I getting out of this relationship? Are my boundaries consistent with that, or do they need shifting in/out? Am I communicating my needs assertively, and am I respecting their needs?

'No contact' is a great catch phrase, but it's a pretty extreme way to deal with a person, and to me, not necessarily a constructive way to deal with relationships. People don't exist in a vacuum. Can I realistically go 'no contact' with a person who is involved with my work, my family, or my friends?

I don't like dealing in extremes. They're good for creating clear lines with how to deal with situations, which can make things seem simpler. It can make it feel like I have more control - "I'm going no contact". But it all goes to shit the moment life intervenes and I run into that person...

I move people out of inner circle, and back in, depending on how the complexities of relationships are playing out, and how well I am. If I need someone to not be in my life? They go right out to the edges, with people that I don't give any energy to, that I'll simply be civil to if we cross paths, like complete strangers. That way I have a template for how to deal with the situation, if/when it arises that life decides it's going to throw us back on the same path.
 
I don't think cutting contact has to do with avoidance (which is involuntary) but rather with decision. I did cut contact with the people who repeatedly disappointed or harmed me, and now that I finally do know how to do that? Never coming back. I don't give a shit if people think I should die trying. Thank you, I almost literally did.

Those are the ones I actively refuse contact with, not avoid contact with. For some people I just don't like them so much and I believe they might think the same of me, so I'd just keep it civil and not go for useless conflicts because I have better things to do with my time.

Also attachment styles are flexible, they aren't set in stone. And having avoidant attachment style doesn't mean you're avoidant towards other things in life.

I do know it can come across as a bit cold hearted and cunning to be able to get over someone very fast once you've decided to, but it's not necessarily the case. And even if it is, as long as you aren't harmful, so what? Relationships come and go and none is granted for life, it is also perfectly normal that sometimes life estranges you from someone and it's not anyone's fault.

Where I do try to watch myself is when avoidance prevents me of getting into the things and people I do like. That would be the difference for me. Pathological avoidance makes you go round something that is good for you. Avoidance exists for a good reason and plenty of times it's good that it's there too.

It's just hard to gauge the benefits of something not happening. The good results of avoidance are in essence negative. But I'm pretty sure I avoided quite a bit of terrible stuff. Not everything, but still.
 
Sometimes I ask myself: what would a person without PTSD do in my case if I'm about to decide to go no contact?
What would healthy friend XYZ do in such a situation?
If I see that somebody makes me feel bad and I've come to the conclusion that it's not because of my own responsibility or something that I have to take ownership for, I have no guilt or shame cutting off contact with somebody. Especially if I have clearly communicated my needs and boundaries and still I don't see the other person take ownwership or if I don't see the needle moving or if the other person is lacking insight.
 
How do we know when avoidance is right or wrong? There seems to be almost zero discussion about this issue amidst all the criticism of avoidance and the recommendation of avoidance these days.
Wow, how’d you get into my head? I don’t know how you decide when to avoid and when not to. When avoiding is the solution to the problem and when it will cause a problem.

For instance if I hadn’t avoided telling someone about what was going on with me as a child I wouldn’t be going through PTSD now. If I’d dealt with it 20 years ago it might not be hitting me so hard. On the flip side by avoiding the decision to commit suicide I’m still alive which depending on how you look at it could be a good thing.

When I avoid going out with friends it creates and solves a problem. Solves the problem of interacting with people and possibly sticking my foot in my mouth but creates a problem in that pulling away from everyone only feeds the negative stream in my head.

I guess my answer is that avoidance has pros and cons and it isn’t black and white.
 
For me the questions are:

1. What am I avoiding, and does it connect to the past or how I feel (including about myself) because of the past?
2. Is it an automatic response? Do I have any idea where it comes from, and am I specifically avoiding reminders, small or large?
3. Is it predicated on cognitive distortions?
4. Does it harm or deprive me or others? Would I regret it, or would I regret not avoiding?
5. Can I reframe it, for example as @Charbella said above with suicide, is it choosing life vs avoiding death (which no one will do, just avoid dying now)?
6. As per #5 above (and back to #1), what exactly am I avoiding, or what do I need (downtime, help to not avoid, a middle-ground (not all-or-nothing thinking etc-back to #3, what is in play?)

I once heard a good tip: base your choice on the flip of a coin. When it's in the air you will have a split second of hoping for one thing or another. Then realize what you can and cannot change (for example other people's behaviours, especially if the past has shown a history of what is likely). Then choose in peace, either take courage and just do it or recognize your limitations and reality. Graduated exposure. Protect your heart, and consider what is the most loving act you can choose. (Ideally, for yourself as well.)

JMHO though, it's easier for me sometimes to say than to always do.

ETA, consider how you feel, or how it makes you feel. It's not enough to say you know you "shouldn't" feel a particular way. Maybe one day that will be the case, but if you consistently feel decimated now that is true too. And accept sometimes people can't be peaceful, or kind or loving or trustworthy or whatever, for whatever reasons. And think of how you'd feel if they did the same to your sibling, child, or best friend. And know that for all or who that might need to be avoided, there are things or places or people who don't have to be.
 
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