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Safety Behaviours & Why They’re Useless!

What are Safety Behaviours and Why are They Problematic?

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Within the context of psychopathpology, 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’ behaviours 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.

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.

safety behaviours are self imposed limitations - limitations road sign

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 Beliefs & ChangeYour Safety Behaviours

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If you’re committed to stopping using safety behaviours then we highly recommend following either the Thrive Programme with Paul, or the Changing Limiting Beliefs (CLB) Programme with Joan.

Both the Thrive Programme and Changing Limiting Beliefs approach are highly successful & pragmatic psychological training programmes, 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.

FREE Initial Consultations for Safety Behaviours

FREE Initial Consultations for Safety Behaviours Wolverhampton

We offer all prospective clients a FREE initial assessment to chat about your safety behaviours and how they might be negatively impacting on your life.

During this 50 minute consultation we will discuss the various options that are available to you and make a considered recommendation based on your individual personal circumstances.

At TranceForm we believe that therapy & coaching should be a collaboration between therapist and client so it’s very important to be able to meet PRIOR to agreeing any kind of help. Our policy is to help people make a fully balanced & considered decision about undertaking therapy with us, including both the financial and personal implications.

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Contact Paul

I specialise in the following Therapies:

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e-mail: paul@tranceformpsychology.com

Contact Joan

I specialise in the following therapies:

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Call Joan on: 07434 776504

e-mail: joan@tranceformpsychology.com

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Mobile Paul: 07434 776125
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