Do high levels of mindfulness predict lower levels of experiential avoidance?

Do high levels of mindfulness predict lower levels of experiential avoidance?


By: Ghalib G. Abulfaraj



Experiential avoidance is one of the techniques adopted by patients suffering from certain emotional or mental disorders as a way of blocking the unpleasant feelings associated with the occurrences. This is evident among drug addicts or people suffering from anxiety disorders, and depression. One of the main therapeutic approaches used to treat this condition is mindfulness. It has a connection with Buddhism although a large percentage of psychoanalysts utilize this method to treat various mental and emotional conditions.













Do high levels of mindfulness predict lower levels of experiential avoidance?


Hayes and Wilson, 1996 asserted that experiential avoidance is a situation when an individual engages in overt and/or covert behaviors in order to avoid an undesirable private experience (memories, thoughts, and bodily sensations). This psychosomatic defense mechanism may result in harmful long-term effects especially if the suppressed events relate to hurtful emotions. Most of these patients use the negative enforcement approach to execute experiential avoidance. This offers temporary relief from the distressing events or emotions. For example, an individual may avoid an important activity because of the discomfort it induces. Nonetheless, this emotional avoidance increases the possibility of certain behaviors or psychological disorders.

For example, the element of experiential avoidance is evident in the behavioral facet of people with acrophobia. Such people adopt alternative techniques in order to avoid buildings with elevators or other similar situations that may instigate high levels of nervousness. For instance, he or she may reschedule his or her daily undertakings in order to avoid circumstances that may force him or her to use an elevator. In addition, he or she may seek products or services from firms on the ground floor while disregarding other crucial elements such as quality, functionality, or costs. The evasion of this phobia stimulus illustrates the possible effects of experiential avoidance on various aspects of an individual.

Experiential avoidance has been associated with various forms of psychopathology including anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and mood disorders. (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999)) To begin with, a significant percentage of individuals who misuse narcotics perceive it as an effective strategy of avoiding distressing events or emotions. This is because most of these substances have psychoactive effects. This explains why most of the drug addicts commence this habit as a way of forgetting their problems and attaining contentment. In addition, the physical and mental effects of drug abuse have a relation with experiential avoidance. Some of the major emotional disorders associated with alcoholism and misuse of narcotics include dullness, uneasiness, and the sense of withdrawal from the normal societal or personal settings. Furthermore, many theorists link substance abuse disorders to individual or communal anticipations, bodily desires, and conflicting emotions. Accordingly, addicts attempt to manipulate their bodily or psychosomatic experiences (Brown, Ryan & Creswell, 2007). Based on these facts, it is evident that drug addicts may use experiential avoidance approaches at the onset of this behavior or because of the effects associated with the habit in its advanced stages.

People suffering from depression and other anxiety disorders also use similar tactics, either deliberately or subconsciously. This is because such patients are particularly sensitive to modifications in their psychosomatic conditions. They may misapprehend certain situations by perceiving them as delicate, an element that increases their apprehension. As a technique of experiential avoidance, individuals suffering from depression or other forms of anxiety disorders have frequent feelings associated with death or insanity. Accordingly, they avoid certain places, activities, or people as a way of coping with this distress. This strategy results in withdrawal symptoms especially in people suffering from depression or other related psychological conditions.

Similarly, in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), experiential avoidance is one of the major symptoms. This is because the attempts to suppress the trauma-related events result in increased stress. A large percentage of such patients engage in other activities that may enhance their distress in their efforts to contain the existing trauma. This includes substance abuse, eating disorders, or irresponsible sexual affairs. Subsequently, they interfere with other elements of their existence by disregarding positive facets such as hobbies and talents.

Treatments that directly address experiential avoidance usually involve a means of attending to the present moment, and often have mindfulness elements (McCluskey, 2013). These treatments include but are not limited to: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson 1999), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT; Linehan, 1993), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT; Teasdale et al., 2000). These therapeutic approaches help people to accept stressful occurrences and adopt suitable means of dealing with such events. For example, ACT uses emotional flexibility in the identification, acceptance, and appropriate handling on unpleasant situations. Exposing these feelings aids the patient to define his or her values and dedicate their lives to the accomplishment of the related goals. Similarly, DBT uses a cognitive-behavioral approach to treat disorders associated with substance abuse, anxiety, and depression. It helps patients to recognize the existing disorders and accept them as the basis of the treatment process. Since modern psychotherapy utilizes mindfulness in the treatment of experiential avoidance, MBCT is effective for individuals with physical and psychological trauma. Its main principles involve positive thinking and perceiving oneself as detached from their moods. This enables them to respond to distressful events appropriately. Accordingly, there is a significant connection between experiential avoidance and mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a practice that originated in the Buddhist tradition. (Brown, Ryan, and Creswell, 2007) have formally defined mindfulness, “as a receptive attention to and awareness of present events and experience”. This psychological element directs the mind of an individual to present affairs. This enables the acceptance of unpleasant experiences and the generation of suitable means to deal with such situations. Furthermore, Bishop and colleagues (2004) have defined mindfulness as part of a two-component model. The first component involves awareness on the present moment. The self-regulation of one’s concentration capacity enhances the skills of coping in different surroundings. Moreover, the second component involves focusing on the present moment by having a curious, open-minded approach (Bishop et. all, 2004). This stage focuses on recognition and sincerity of one’s feelings as major tactics of the psychological therapy. Mindfulness may help individuals reach a state of clarity, which allows them to increase their self-knowledge and reach an unprejudiced frame of mind (Brown, et. al, 2007). In addition, mindfulness is conceptually similar to Greek philosophy, naturalism, transcendentalism, and humanism. The Buddhist literature draws a very detailed and specific picture of mindfulness that is not easily found in the psychological literature.

Mindfulness-based treatments are effective in dealing with such conditions as drug abuse, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and anger. This is because this religious and psychological approach aims at shifting the attention of a patient from the distressed state to the acceptance stage without personal condemnation (Brown, Ryan & Creswell, 2007). The attained stillness enables these patients to acknowledge the existing tactics of coping with the disorder and the most applicable choice depending on their condition. For instance, drug addicts learn to be in control of their awareness capacity and use their inner intelligence to suppress such cravings. Similarly, people with anxiety disorders acquire the relevant skills that enable them to use good judgment when in situations that can instigate fear. In addition, the interventions incorporate practical goals depending on the condition under consideration. Attainment of these objectives is useful in suppressing the emotional trauma associated with such psychological disorders.

Since mindfulness has become a vital part of the modern psychotherapy approaches, there are various scales adopted by the professionals within this field of expertise with the main aim of determining and measuring the outcome of the psychotherapy. These quantitative elements utilize particular variables to compute the results in treating various disorders such as substance use, anxiety, and anger. some of the most common scales include the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS), Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills, and the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale (Brown, Ryan & Creswell, 2007). Owing to the scientific advancements used in the creation of these quantitative approaches, it is easy for a psychotherapist to comprehend the mental, emotional, and physical changes exemplified by an individual treated through the mindfulness approach. These identifiable results are in two categories; positive-state enhancement and stress suppression.

The advancements in psychotherapy have led to the increased utilization and research on mindfulness and its effectiveness in dealing with various mental and emotional disorders. The numerous meditation mechanisms utilized in this broad medical subsection has aided people in different settings to realize their value in life and the effective techniques of handling stressful issues in their daily existence. Researchers have also highlighted the essence of mindfulness in other related aspects such as organizational management, relationships, and individual productivity (Brown, Ryan & Creswell, 2007). The integration of these aspects in a field that was initially limited to religious affairs indicates the increasing interest among medical practitioners and other related professionals. Over the past twenty years, the meditation techniques incorporated in mindfulness have augmented with some psychotherapists focusing on this approach as their chief treatment technique. Accordingly, it is rational to consider mindfulness as a vital therapeutic technique whose impacts are unlimited to specific disorders.



Researchers collected information from 484 participants from a southern university in the United States of America. 27.1% of participants were male, while the majority was female 72.9%. The mean age of the participants was 20.04 years, which is characteristic of undergraduate students, (SD = 8.63). The participants were predominately Caucasian (76.1%).


The researchers used the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS; Brown & Ryan, 2003) to assess mindfulness levels. However, the researchers also used The Acceptance and Action Questionnaire-II (Hayes et al., 2004) and Multidimensional Experiential Avoidance Questionnaire (Gamez et al., 2011) to assess experiential avoidance.


Participants completed the previously mentioned questionnaires on via the internet. Researchers randomized the questionnaires in this study, and participants received no incentive for participating in this study.










Brown, K. W., Ryan, R., & Creswell, J. D. (January 01, 2007). Mindfulness: Theoretical Foundations and Evidence for its Salutary Effects. Psychological Inquiry, 18, 4, 211-237

Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (1999). Acceptance and commitment

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York: Guilford.

McCluskey , D. L. (2013). Investigating The Threat-avoidant Model of Pathological Anxiety. (Unpublished master’s thesis). Mississippi State University. Starkville, MS.

Teasdale, J.D., Segal, Z.V., Williams, J.M.G., Ridgeway, V., Soulsby, J., & Lau, M. (2000). Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based cognitive therapyJournal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 615-623.

            therapy: An experiential approach to behavior change. New York: Guilford.





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