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The Solution IS the Problem!

Why Safety Behaviours Don’t Make You Safe

The solution IS the problem describes how ‘safety-seeking’ or ‘avoidance behaviours’ that people commonly ‘create’ in order to make themselves feel ‘safe’ from their particular problem almost always creates more problems rather than make them feel ‘safer’.

This is a well known paradox – in other words, the ‘way’ that people tend to try and ‘solve’ their problems usually ends-up being more of a problem than the original ‘fear’.

Strategies for Avoiding Sickness Bugs – an Example

People who suffer with Emetophobia (fear of vomiting) tend to develop a very significant fear that catching a sickness bug will inevitably mean that they will be sick and that they will not be able to cope with it, because being sick is ‘the worst thing in the World’.

As a result of this belief they will usually develop a range of ‘safety behaviours‘ and ‘strategies’ designed to minimise the risk of encountering any sickness bugs. It’s difficult to argue with the logic here when you think about it. If a sickness bug will definitely make you sick, and being sick is the worst thing that you can possible imagine, then you SHOULD do everything that you can to avoid catching one.

OK, so let’s consider some of the types of things that we can do to avoid catching one of these bugs….

  1. Stay away from anybody that says they have been ill, or feels ill – although its impossible to know if they actually DO have a sickness bug inside them that you will catch, there’s obviously a chance that they could have, so it makes perfect sense to avoid anybody at all who falls into this criteria.
  2. Stay away from anybody who has been in close contact with anybody else who has been ill – again, its impossible to know if the sickness bug may have ‘migrated’ into the people in question, but you can only be 100% sure by staying well away from anybody who falls into this criteria as well.
  3. Be particularly vigilant about friends who have young children – let’s face it, young children are ‘always’ picking up bugs at school or when playing with other kids – so it’s important to listen out especially carefully to friends who have small kids and who mention that their kids might have felt a bit ‘unwell’ in the last week or so – chances are they they will pass this bug onto your friends who will then give it to you. If in doubt, stay away from people you know who have young children.
  4. Use hand sanitising products frequently – sickness bugs could be all around and people are always touching door handles, taps and so on. It make be impossible to ‘not’ touch some of these ‘contaminated’ things so keeping hand gels (and other decontamination products) with you at all times is a really smart move. And don’t forget to use them EVERY SINGLE time you touch something that another human being could have touched (even if you’re not sure that anybody HAS touched it).

As you can see, these are just a few of the safety behaviours that you could ‘deploy’ in order to reduce your risk of catching a sickness bug. There are obviously MANY more strategies that you could come up with to minimise risk.

Outcomes Versus Costs

Stepping back for a short moment, let’s just think about why we would want to use these safety behaviours in the first place.

Well, the original idea is that if we were ‘sick’ that it would be ‘so bad’ that we could not cope (the worst thing in the World). In other words we would feel ‘so bad’ that the feeling of (presumably) Anxiety would be so intense that it should be avoided at ALL costs.

So in a sense, avoiding sickness bugs will help us to reduce, or avoid, having to experience that horrible feeling of Anxiety (that would be associated with actually being sick).

Therefore, the desired outcome is ‘no anxiety’.

OK, that seems to makes sense.

HOWEVER, and here’s the real problem, spending hours worrying about and avoiding the people who you ‘encounter’ during your normal day who (1) have been ill recently, (2) might know somebody who might have been ill recently, (3) have been anywhere near somebody else who might have been ill recently, (4) has or knows somebody with young children, (5) has touched a contaminated door handle in the last few days, is almost certainly making you feel anxious almost ALL DAY LONG.

The ‘cost‘ of getting the desired outcome (no anxiety) is that you feel anxious 24 hours a day by trying to keep all the safety behaviours up and running.

So, by trying to avoid feeling anxious you use strategies that MAKE you anxious. The solution is the problem, or has become the problem!

Its like trying to reduce a headache by hitting yourself on the head with a bat – it’s NEVER going to solve the problem!

So What’s Going Wrong Here?

On a certain level, each of the safety behaviours makes sense if being sick is the ‘worst thing in the World’ – and here is where the problem lies. The safety behaviours are all logical, its just that the whole reason for ‘performing’ these safety behaviours is based on the fundamental idea that being sick is really bad, which is a ‘distorted’ belief.

Of course, nobody says being sick is ‘pleasant’, but would you really agree that feeling anxious 365 days of the year is worth it to avoid 30 seconds (or less) of unpleasantness?

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