Safety Behaviours & Why They’re Useless!
What are Safety Behaviours and Why are They Problematic?
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.
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.
Learn How to Thrive & Change Safety Behaviours
If you want to learn the tools, techniques and coping skills to change your safety behaviours then you should consider following the Thrive Programme with Paul here at Tranceform Psychology.
Thrive is an evidence-based training programme that uses applied psychology and CBT principles to help you understand and then change any unhelpful thinking styles and limiting beliefs that have an adverse impact on your symptoms.
Over the course of ten one-hourly sessions you will learn about and develop personal insight into how your core beliefs have either helped or hindered you over your life course and then how to use a range of proven scientific methods to bring about changes which directly impact on your experience and the way that you feel.
Watch the Thrive Video
FREE Initial Consultations for Safety Behaviours
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.
Thinking Errors Associated with Safety Behaviours
Safety behaviours may be ‘supported’ by any number of common thinking errors that people tend to ‘suffer’.
You can find out more about each of these ‘thinking errors’ by clicking on the links below:-
- Catastrophising – Making mountains out of molehills
- All or Nothing Thinking – Ignoring the middle-ground
- Fortune Telling – Trying to predict the future
- Mind Reading – I know what you’re thinking!
- Emotional Reasoning – Feelings aren’t facts
- Overgeneralising – Always, Never and Everybody
- Labelling – Successful / Failure
- Imperative Thinking – I need to, I have to and I must
- Confirmation Bias – He didn’t mean I was nice because I know I’m not
- Processing Positive Experiences – I didn’t really deserve that Prize
- Low Frustration Tolerance – It’s too hard I can’t stand it
- Personalisation – it’s always my fault when things go wrong
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Don't hesitate to get in touch with us to find out how Tranceform could help you to achieve your goals and aspirations or overcome problems. We offer ALL prospective clients a FREE initial consultation to discuss all the options available to you.