All About Safety Behaviours and Why They Might Be Causing You More Problems Than They Solve!
What are Safety Behaviours and why are they problematic?
Within the context of psychopathology, safety behaviours are any ‘strategy’ or set of behavioural activities that are believed to keep a person ‘safe’.
Safety behaviours are also known as ‘avoidance strategies’ as they will frequently involve avoiding situations that are believed to lead to fear or anxiety.
The problem with these safety behaviours is that in almost all cases, the outcome of safety or avoidance strategies is an INCREASE in the level of Anxiety and Stress rather than a reduction, which is the main reason that people ‘deploy’ them in the first place.
In this sense, safety behaviours are paradoxical in that you get the opposite of what you planned!
Your solution to the problem IS the problem!
Yes, that’s right. In the vast majority of cases it is the conscious effort that goes into avoiding any particular problem or situation that creates the anxiety rather than the situation you are avoiding.
The more time and effort you spend avoiding the unpalatable situation, the more likely you are to experience raised level of anxiety and stress.
See the solution is the problem page here.
Safety Behaviours – An Example from Emetophobia
Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting and ’causes’ the sufferer to develop very high levels of anxiety in situations where they believe that they increase the risk of feeling nauseous.
These types of situations will frequently involve things like:
- Avoiding alcoholic drinks – drunk people are often sick.
- Avoiding close contact with young children – young kids tend to be more ‘germy’.
- Avoid friends and colleagues who might have felt or been sick in the last few days.
- Avoid pregnancy due the the probability of ‘morning sickness’
- Avoid taking any medication that might have the side-effect of nausea.
and so on.
On first meeting with an Emetophobia sufferer most will agree that they have not actually been sick for a number of years and aside from the obvious question of why a person would become highly anxious about something that has not happened to them for many years, I will usually ask them WHY they think they haven’t been sick for such a prolonged period of time.
Emetophobes will invariably report that the reason they haven’t been sick for so long is due to the success of all of the safety behaviours that they carry out! In this way, it is clear that what they are doing is making a fairly solid logical case for continuing all of their avoidance strategies.
However, when asked if their general level of anxiety has therefore reduced over these last few years they will almost always state that their anxiety has actually INCREASED rather than reduced.
This is the paradox of safety behaviours. They might be successfully avoiding being sick, but their day-to-day level of anxiety has become worse, much worse, in fact, than just being sick for 10 seconds or so could ever produce. Surely, this is not a successful outcome!
However, if it is suggested that the best way to reduce their anxiety is to actually STOP avoiding those ‘risky’ situations, then their reaction is almost one of ‘horror’ at the idea of not carrying out their safety behaviours – after all, those avoidance strategies are keeping them free of anxiety aren’t they?
I hope you can see that the main reason these people are suffering high levels of anxiety has very little to do with actually being sick, but much more to do with all of the time and effort they put into ‘avoiding’ the situations that they believe will definitely make them sick and therefore anxious.
Stopping Safety Behaviours is the Solution
In order to reduce anxiety and stress, safety behaviours really do need to be eliminated. They are the CAUSE of the anxiety and not the solution.
This, of course, is the most difficult problem to confront because the sufferer truly believes that their safety behaviours are EFFECTIVE and worthwhile, but if they can, through a structured programme of awareness and education, learn to gain a greater perspective over the relative risks of their ‘exposure’ then they can start to solve the problem in a systematic and sustainable way.
Transform Your Thinking & Overcome Unhelpful Safety Behaviours
If you’re committed to overcoming your safety behaviour problems then we highly recommend following our Tranceformental CBT programme with Paul. Tranceformental CBT is available as Online Therapy if required.
The Tranceformental programme is a highly successful & pragmatic psychotherapy course, run over 10 sessions, that will teach you everything you need to know to understand your problem, identify how unhelpful thinking and limiting beliefs might be reinforcing the issue, and then show you how to make any changes to your unhelpful thinking styles or maladaptive safety behaviours that you may have developed as part of your coping strategies.
Our Tranceformental CBT programme is an evidence-based, research supported approach used by mental health practitioners around the World.
Free Initial Consultations for Safety Behaviour Problems
We offer all prospective clients a free initial consultation to discuss your mental health problems prior to commencing any counselling.
The consultation is free and lasts around 50 minutes.
During this consultation we will discuss the various types of psychological therapy that are available to you and make a considered recommendation based on your individual personal circumstances.
Initial consultations are also available as part of our online counselling service.
At Tranceform Psychology we emphasise the importance of the therapy relationship in helping people to bring about effective change, so its important to be able to ‘meet’ to discuss our change programmes BEFORE proceeding.
Our policy is to help people make a fully balanced & considered decision about undertaking mental health work with us, including both the financial and personal implications.
Overcome Your Problems with our CBT Course
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is clinically proven to be effective across a range of different mental health problems.
Using our online learning platform, it is available with 2, 5 or 10 sessions of clinical support either face-to-face in the Wombourne offices, or using Zoom video facilities.
It can also be taken as a self help CBT course that will teach you the fundamental tools and techniques used throughout the mental health profession.