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Focusing on Avoidance and Protection can be Dangerous to Personal Growth

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Avoidance and Protection Quote

In our quest to protect ourselves from past hurts, we often find ourselves caught in a paradoxical cycle. Avoidance or exessive protection, a common coping mechanism, can unintentionally perpetuate the very patterns of hurt we desperately try to avoid. Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) provides a transformative approach to unravel this paradox, allowing individuals to break free from repetitive cycles of pain. In this blog post, we will explore how IFS sheds light on the dynamics of avoidance and emphasizes self-compassion, reminding us that we are not to blame for our protective strategies.

Understanding the Paradox of Avoidance:

Avoidance is a natural response rooted in our instinct for self-preservation. When we experience emotional pain or trauma, our minds develop defense mechanisms to shield us from further harm. These protective strategies can manifest as avoidance of triggering situations, emotional numbing, or maintaining distance in relationships. However, paradoxically, these avoidance patterns can unknowingly contribute to the repetition of the very hurts we seek to avoid and be dangerous to our personal growth.

For instance, if we grew up in an environment where vulnerability led to rejection or criticism, we may internalize a belief that being open and authentic puts us at risk. Consequently, we adopt an avoidant approach in our relationships, guarding our emotions and avoiding deep connections. Yet, this avoidance can inadvertently lead to feelings of isolation and a cycle of repeated rejection.

Unveiling the Internal Family System:

IFS, developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, offers a comprehensive framework to explore the paradox of avoidance and facilitate healing. IFS views the psyche as consisting of various parts, each with its own distinct needs, motivations, and protective functions. These parts include exiles, managers, and firefighters.

Exiles represent the wounded aspects of ourselves, carrying the emotional pain from past hurts. Managers, on the other hand, strive to maintain control and prevent further pain by setting strict rules or imposing perfectionist tendencies. Firefighters are parts that react impulsively to overwhelming pain, seeking immediate relief through distractions or addictive behaviors.

Breaking the Paradox with IFS:

IFS guides individuals in a compassionate and non-blaming exploration of their internal family system. It encourages an understanding that avoidance patterns developed as protective strategies and are not a personal flaw or failing. By cultivating empathy and appreciation for our protective parts, we can begin the process of healing and transformation.

Through therapeutic engagement, individuals develop a safe and nurturing relationship with their parts. This enables the identification and understanding of the underlying emotions and unmet needs driving the patterns of avoidance. By tending to the wounded exiles with compassion and addressing their pain, individuals can gradually reduce reliance on avoidance and develop new, healthier ways of engaging with the world.

Steps towards Transformation:

  1. Self-Compassion: Recognize that avoidance patterns were developed as a protective mechanism, driven by past hurts. Practice self-compassion by acknowledging that you are not to blame for your protective strategies.

  2. Curious Exploration: Engage in a compassionate dialogue with your internal parts involved in avoidance. Seek to understand their intentions, fears, and the pain they are trying to protect you from.

  3. Healing the Wounds: With the support of a skilled therapist, explore the underlying emotions and unmet needs carried by your wounded exiles. Through self-compassion and healing work, release the pain associated with past hurts and transform the repetitive patterns.

  4. Integration and Growth: Incorporate the insights and newfound healing into your daily life. Embrace vulnerability, establish healthy boundaries, and cultivate authentic connections based on your true self.


The paradox of avoidance can perpetuate patterns of hurt, but Internal Family Systems Therapy provides a path towards healing and liberation. By understanding the protective intentions behind our avoidance


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