15.49 Escape and Avoidance of Aversive Words and Thoughts

The Dark Side of Language

Just as we work to escape or avoid any aversive or unpleasant event, most of us also work to escape or avoid our painful or aversive thoughts, feelings, emotions, and other private experiences. But many of the strategies we use to avoid painful private thoughts or experiences can actually be quite harmful and just make things worse. 

For example, research shows that trying to suppress a thought typically makes the thought occur more frequently, not less1. Many psychologists believe this constant and active attempt to avoid unpleasant thoughts and private experiences is at the root of many psychological disorders.

A diagram showing the bidirectional relationship between a writer and an object.

The dominance of verbal relations

Bidirectional transformation of stimulus functions

Rampant rule following

  1. Wegner, D.M., Schneider, D.J., Carter, S., & White, T. (1987). Paradoxical effects of thought suppression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 5–13.
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