Secretly Living Trauma, Dealing with Covert Avoidance

In looking into the anxious side of ambivalent attachment, I was really struck by the idea of covert avoidance strategies. Right now with my therapist I’m working through what strategies I use to deal with the world in a way that is so automatic, I don’t even know I’m doing it. The show WandaVision is literally an entire plot based on semi-conscious trauma manifesting in the world. We let false narratives take over to the point where our actions seem like really good ideas.

The obvious example is you’re at a party and it’s awkward and you do little things to make it look like you’re not worried. Look at your phone, constantly change conversations, move to different people. But that example is socially acceptable, in the effect that we’re all in it together. We’ve even developed strategies around it, for example drinking games and ice breaker activities.

What shakes me are the covert avoidance strategies that happen when you’re all by yourself. Being chronically late, not taking care of yourself or your space, not scheduling time in for care, all these things are normal manifestations of laziness. However if we’re doing them without any immediate stressor, for example a global pandemic, then it signals something unconscious, something we’ve hidden from ourselves.

Even before COVID, being around crowds was extremely stressful for me. Even the thought of going to a place with them was scary. Yet, there is objectively nothing immediately threatening about a crowd (at least one that is randomly organized). It’s just humans close to each other in a space.

The irony was I really did desire connection and bonding in groups but only on my terms! Sounds like Westview under Wanda’s spell. I can easily enjoy places like church, band, school functions, and being on a busy college campus. But in unknown territory, things get tricky.

I’ve gotten good at getting in the door but I realize the way I assess the safety of a group was out of whack. I essentially zero in on facial expressions and immediately form conclusions about the entire group even before I have talked to anyone. And it doesn’t take too many people to apply that assumption to the entire event.

Another aspect to the problem was that I would hold onto that assumption or story for the entire time. And then all my interactions would play off that initial foundation. Going to clubs is always a tumultuous situation for me because my story is often that I’m being judged for my body or looks. That is true of course, but also, why is that a problem, that is actually the purpose of being there. It’s because I color it all as being negatively judged, and therefore needing to prove myself. So then let’s say my friends come, and the rest of the night I’m pouting and moping about how I need to get into the gym more.

Where did proving myself come from? Far as I can tell, needing to prove myself as an American growing up in a predominantly white suburb, and segueing a lot of that trauma into theatre. I have a distinct memory of being attacked at the childhood playground for being Chinese but that’s another story.

So then where to go with this information. The funny part is knowing this is here but realizing it slowly crept up to become reality. Wanda only breaks because she’s hurting people in the process and then finally recognizes who she is and the lies she can’t keep up. At the end of the day we’re social creatures, so start with looking at whether our software is rejecting or embracing people and why that helps us feel better.