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Senior Correspondent

I got an email from someone recently that included a simple phrase about something personal … and that phrase took me down twisted paths where I got lost in assumptions, conjecture and all sorts of other mind-numbing nonsense.

Instead of just answering, I let that phrase simmer in my head. There I proceeded to analyze it to death, looking at every possible interpretation. And then I thought about all the implications that it raised in my life … past and future.

And throughout all that time, I didn’t answer the email.

With time, my silence felt heavier and heavier, until I started to feel embarrassed.

I was in full avoidance.  (And I can do avoidance well.)

Sharing the issue with a close friend, I recognized I had totally relinquished my power to a simple phrase … most likely one that was said innocently … and that it was time to take the power back and get over it.  And when I wrote back, I started my email like this:

    “Well, you’ve just witnessed some of my less attractive behavior … what I do when I don’t want to deal with something. It’s called avoidance.

    And, of course, life has given me plenty of opportunity to perfect that skill.

    Your phrase, whether in jest or not, took me down a rabbit hole where I got lost for a bit. And as more time passed, it felt more and more awkward. Hey, just because I made it into my 60s in one piece doesn’t mean I’ve grown up!  I apologize.”

This moment of honesty, especially shared with another person, was amazingly liberating. It didn’t change the situation triggered by the comment, but it heralded the fact that I had taken back the power around the topic and was taking responsibility for it.

Avoidance Around Money

This is no different from what we do when we know deep down that our behaviors around money are unhealthy. And, more often than not, we know perfectly well what has to be done to correct the situation. But we put off doing it.

It’s not the same as denial. From a psychological viewpoint, denial is an outright disbelief that something can happen or that it even exists. On the other hand, avoidance is when we’re aware of something but choose to focus on something else.

I know people who avoid knowing what their debt situation looks alike by not opening up their credit card statements. And, even if they do open them, it’s just to look at the minimum amount due. To look at anything else would mean they’d have to register in their minds the full amount owed … as well as face all the line-by-line transactions they had triggered by spending during the month.

It’s human to do this occasionally: putting things off for a bit or closing our eyes when we don’t want to see something. As long as it’s a temporary reaction, it’s normal, especially if its purpose is to give us a chance to prepare ourselves for some unwanted or difficult news.

But when it goes beyond temporary, it starts to trigger anxiety. And that anxiety magnifies the emotion around the behavior or information, which makes it worse and worse.

That anxiety is so disempowering. Eventually, we’re Jell-O® around the topic … and we risk slipping into total denial, where the behavior and its implications are no longer even on our radar.

That’s where financial disaster comes in.

Overcoming Avoidance

So what can we do to break through the avoidance and face the unwelcome facts? Remember that the mind, driven by anxiety, always resists. And we naturally shrink from any psychological pain brought on by impending danger … which our debt level can start to represent.

How can we counter the mind’s resourcefulness? How can we take back the power we have handed over to our bills, our credit card statements and our other financial obligations that are starting to create anxiety?

Going on a voyage into magical thinking is not the solution, including “I’m not going to worry, I always seem to get out of fixes before they get too bad.” In fact, that’s another form of avoidance.

(Remember, we all do the avoidance dance well …)

Ultimately we each have to find strategies that work best for us, and this could call for some trial and error until you find yours.

But, if I might, I’d like to suggest that you pick one specific issue that you’re resisting too successfully, that you’re avoiding despite the fact that your anxiety meter says is taking you to even more financial unpleasantness.

Find a friend you can tell about it. Just that step will lessen the charge around the behavior, because now the secrecy aspect has been erased. Then commit to that friend that you will change that one behavior … and be sure to allow for accountability by letting her ask you periodically how you’re doing.

I know this worked for me; I hope it works for you.

In the comments section below, let us know if you have any other strategies that have worked for you when you were avoiding doing something you knew would actually be good for you!

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