Managing avoidance

“I think you go into yourself a bit and just deal with it and get on with it. You kind of treat it in a way – no it’s not really happened.”

Avoidance is when a person keeps away from particular situations, activities, environments, individuals, things, or thoughts because they worry about what will happen, about feeling anxious, or about painful feelings associated with those things. Although avoidance can help you to feel better in the short term, it might not help you to cope in the long run.

“The more times you relive it, even in your own head, without the blame… just reliving it with the blame is rubbish because you’re not helping yourself, but if you can just go through it, it really helps… it needs to be done.”

Avoidance can also make it difficult for you or your child to look at and care for their wound or scar. If you notice this, it is important that you talk to someone who can help.

“Looking at the scars broke my heart. I was glad I talked about it because at least I could massage them and I was able to do something to help him.”

Many parents involved in the development of this resource told us that one of the reasons they did not access support for themselves was because it was too painful to talk about what happened and how they felt. It is a common reaction to want to avoid situations that make you feel guilty, anxious or scared, especially to want to protect yourself from these unpleasant emotions whilst you support your child.

“It’s emotional having to go through it. It was initially so difficult to even get out what had happened without feeling very, very upset. As soon as you’ve got to tell somebody else what’s happened, you can be coping, or appearing to be coping fine, it’s the articulation of it to somebody else that can then set you off, you know, don’t ask me, I’m fine.”

You may have also been encouraged by those around you to “put it behind you” or told to “try not to think about it, the main thing is that your child survived, now you've all got to get on with your life”. You may even say these kinds of things to yourself: “What do I do to keep going here?” “Head up, stay strong, you’ve got to, there’s no choice.” “Hold it together.” This advice seems logical and is certainly well meaning, but trying to suppress thoughts might make them more intrusive in the same way that trying to force a balloon under water causes it to return to the surface with more force.

“When you’ve been the parent you don’t realise how much you need to talk to people about it.”

Avoidance can delay the processing of your experience and can go beyond taking sensible precautions, interfering with your life. Avoidance can include trying to numb memories and feelings using alcohol or drugs. These strategies might be helpful in the short term but if this becomes a habit then further problems can occur as a result.

“It was very painful to talk about. But I think if you avoid talking about it, you’ll actually make things worse in the long run.”

When a sudden, unforeseen event like a burn injury occurs, it can take time to understand what has happened. By telling and re-telling the story, the emotional impact gradually weakens. At the same time, you can begin the processing of what happened and start to make sense of it.

“I found it very reassuring to see that accidents do happen and talking to others, hearing what they went through, made me feel like I wasn’t alone. I felt a problem shared is a problem halved and felt it was good to talk to get things off my chest.”

Evidence suggests that people who are able, when ready, to talk about their experiences with supportive, sympathetic listeners, are more likely to recover from the trauma. You might find it helps to talk to family members or friends, or you might prefer to talk to someone at the burns service where you child was treated.

“I think it was just helpful to talk to somebody that wasn’t a family member that had maybe seen it before. Talking to a psychologist just allowed me to take ME out of it in a way and talk more about the injury and how we were going to deal to deal with it.”

If you want to talk to someone who is not so closely connected, or to a professional, click here to find out more about different sources of support.