9 signs you’re unconsciously running away from your problems, according to psychology

One of the hardest things about being human is that we don’t always understand our own minds.

You may think you know why you’re doing something, or why you behave a certain way. But in reality, your actual motivations may be completely hidden from you.

That’s why psychology is such an important field. Understanding your real motivations can help you change your behavior for the better.

After all, running away from your problems never helps. While we are all sometimes tempted to escape what’s bothering us, many times, it only makes things worse.

Here are some signs that you are running away from your problems, even if you don’t realize that’s what you’re doing.

1) You procrastinate

We all procrastinate sometimes. When there’s something we don’t want to do or something we are afraid of doing, often, the easiest thing seems to be to put it off until tomorrow.

But many times, this can hurt more than it helps.

And sometimes, chronic procrastination can be a sign that you are running away from your problems.

“It is only in cases where procrastination becomes chronic and begins to have a serious impact on a person’s daily life that it becomes a more serious issue,” writes psychologist Kendra Cherry.

“In such instances, it’s not just a matter of having poor time management skills, it’s a major part of their lifestyle.”

Being a procrastinator doesn’t mean being lazy. In fact, many procrastinators work very hard on tasks that will keep them from confronting whatever it is they’re running away from.

Avoiding your problems is not an effective way to deal with them, but it’s tempting. So if you often find yourself putting things off until the future, it might be because you are running from something.

2) You keep yourself busy

Another way people procrastinate is by staying constantly busy.

Of course, we don’t always have a choice in this. Sometimes, life really does get busy. However, some people make sure that they fill their time with lots of different tasks and activities, all as a method of avoiding what’s really bothering them.

As with procrastination, the difference lies in the frequency it happens.

Everyone gets busy from time to time, but it’s usually a temporary thing. If you are always busy, always have too many things to do, and it’s been going on for years, consider the possibility that you are deliberately keeping yourself busy to avoid something you don’t want to deal with.

“Psychoanalytically speaking, what is at the heart of this chronic busyness? Defenses like suppression, denial, and omnipotence,” writes psychoanalyst Kristen Beesley.

“Chronic busyness is a way many people distract themselves from uncomfortable, unpleasant, and painful emotions. The busyness, the action, the constant movement, and the over-commitment actually protect the person from being aware of their emotions,” she explains. 

3) You use avoidance behavior

But keeping busy isn’t the only way to run from your problems.

In psychology, the concept of avoidance shows how people distract themselves from what’s really bothering them.

“Chronic busyness is a way many people distract themselves from uncomfortable, unpleasant, and painful emotions. The busyness, the action, the constant movement, and the over-commitment actually protect the person from being aware of their emotions,” writes psychiatrist and author Luana Marques.

Procrastination is a kind of avoidance behavior, but there are other kinds too.

Sometimes, it can mean emotionally distancing yourself from people who cause you distress. Other times, it might even mean physically distancing yourself from the things that trigger you, by running away from difficult situations and avoiding people and places that cause you distress.

Whatever form this avoidance takes, it’s usually a good sign you’re running from something. Possibly even literally.

4) You distract yourself

It’s never been easier to distract ourselves from the world around us. And when that world contains things that upset or scare you, it’s tempting to rely on escapism to help you forget your problems.

“Escapism is a coping strategy that involves the tendency to evade the real world in search of the long-awaited security and tranquility in a fantasy universe,” writes psychologist Jennifer Delgado.

“In practice, it consists of closing your eyes to the problem, applying the old saying: eyes that do not see, heart that does not feel.”

It could mean spending hours absorbed in the fictional world of videogame. It could mean losing yourself in a book. It could mean binge-watching one TV show after another, or losing hours to the blackhole of social media. Today, we have so many options for distracting ourselves that it’s harder than ever to stay focused.

There’s nothing wrong with doing things you enjoy. But when it comes at the expense of facing your real issues, these distractions can be extremely harmful.

5) You abuse substances

Another and even more harmful way people use to distract themselves and their problems is by abusing substances.

Addiction is an extremely complex psychological phenomenon, and there can be many reasons why a person abuses substances. However, one common reason is that they have problems that they are not ready or not able to face, and their substance of choice provides a way to escape the unpleasant reality.

It could be alcohol. It could be illegal drugs. It could also be prescription drugs that they are taking for a genuine medical problem but have come to rely on for psychological needs.

Ultimately, substance abuse is damaging not just psychologically but physically, making this one of the worst ways to try and escape your problems.

6) You keep changing things

lessons from viktor frankl that can help you thrive in later life 9 signs you’re unconsciously running away from your problems, according to psychology

Another way people sometimes used to avoid what’s really bothering them is to keep changing things.

Are you always switching from one job to another? Do you find yourself moving more often than most people? Do you have a hard time staying in relationships, always looking for something better?

You may just think that you haven’t found the right situation yet. But often, this need for constant change can be an avoidance coping strategy.

What makes these kinds of coping strategies so hard to address is that you often don’t know that you’re using them.

“The first step is simply understanding what avoidance coping is and why it has become part of your life,” writes psychologist and educator Elizabeth Scott.

“Understanding why avoidance coping tends to be self-defeating will also help encourage you to take a more proactive and effective approach to stress management.” 

7) You live in denial

The problem with denial is that by its nature, you don’t know you’re doing it.

The concept of denial has its origins in the work of groundbreaking psychologist Sigmund Freud, and his ideas have been developed by numerous other experts through the years.

The APA Dictionary of psychology calls denial, “a defense mechanism in which unpleasant thoughts, feelings, wishes, or events are ignored or excluded from conscious awareness. It may take such forms as refusal to acknowledge the reality of a terminal illness, financial problem, substance use or other addiction, or partner’s infidelity.”

In other words, you deny that the problem is really happening. And your mind is so powerful that to a large extent, you can convince yourself that what’s bothering you isn’t really bothering you at all.

But you can only lie to yourself for so long. Living in denial prevents you from addressing your problems head-on, meaning they never get better and, with time, may even get worse.

8) You make impulsive decisions

This is a less obvious sign that you are running away from your problems.

Do you often make decisions without thinking through the consequences? Do you sometimes feel like your rash decisions make you your own worst enemy?

Impulsivity often comes from not facing up to your problems.

You know there’s something wrong, but you are either not ready to face it or unable to. So instead, you try to change things, reacting emotionally to what’s bothering you instead of taking the time to think things through.

Unfortunately, like most of the behaviors on this list, impulsive decisions often just make things worse.

9) You overcompensate

Finally, overcompensating can be another sign that you aren’t effectively dealing with what’s really bothering you.

Overcompensating means that you behave in a way that is designed to make up for what you see as your flaws.

So if you have low self-esteem, you may compensate for it by acting extremely confident. If you feel inadequate, you may become competitive, always trying to outdo others. If you are insecure about your intelligence, you might go out of your way to appear smart to others.

Running away from something

We all have a tendency to avoid unpleasant things. And this tendency is made even worse by our ability to hide the truth from ourselves.

It’s not always easy to know that you are avoiding something. So keep a close eye on these behaviors and ask yourself, what are you afraid of?

Picture of Clifton Kopp

Clifton Kopp

Welcome to my writings on Ideapod! I'm a bit of a "polymath" in that I like writing about many different things. Often I'm learning from the process of writing. I hope you enjoy, and please leave a comment on one of my articles.

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