“Experiential avoidance (EA) is the attempt to avoid painful private events, such as negative emotional states,” said researchers from Minneapolis VA Medical Center and Duke University Medical Center. “Though EA is a common coping strategy, there is evidence that attempts to avoid uncomfortable emotions are often unsuccessful, with paradoxical effects.” Some research suggests that intimate partner violence (IPV) actually increases as a result of conflict avoidance. The researchers said, “Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are at particularly high risk for problems and physical aggression in their intimate relationships.” These couples must redefine their relationship roles and manage the effects of the psychological trauma experienced by both partners during the deployment.
To determine how EA influences physical and psychological aggression, the team enrolled 49 male veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and their female partners. They relied on the Acceptance and Action Questionnaire, The Dyadic Adjustment Scale and Actor and Partner Effects model to calculate their results. They discovered that relationship adjustment was slightly impaired as a result of EA. However, the effect on aggression was more significant. “Tests of actor effects were significant for men, suggesting that men with greater EA were significantly more physically aggressive toward their partners,” said the researchers.
“According to the anger avoidance model, when chronic avoidance is used as a coping strategy to deal with stressful life events, such as reintegrating after combat deployment, and levels of arousal are intolerable, avoidance can take the form of overtly aggressive behavior,” They added, “These findings are particularly relevant given the large number of military members returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” They concluded, “It is possible that EA is associated with poor emotional expression and communication skills, leading to aggressive outbursts by both men and women when frustrated by soldiers’ inability to identify and communicate their internal experiences. Thus, therapeutic strategies aimed at decreasing EA and increasing effective communication and emotional regulation skills may be beneficial.”
Reddy, Madhavi K., Laura A. Meis, Christopher R. Erbes, Melissa A. Polusny, and Jill S. Compton. “Associations Among Experiential Avoidance, Couple Adjustment, and Interpersonal Aggression in Returning Iraqi War Veterans and Their Partners.”Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 79.4 (2011): 515-20. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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