Essential Oils to Shift Avoidance Strategies

by Jodi Cohen

woman, meditation, happy

It turns out that what you are good at may not always be good for you.

Case in point, I am an excellent workaholic. When I am able to hyper-focus on work, I can numb myself from feeling things, like the overwhelming grief from losing my son Max in a car accident.

I kept myself so busy that I didn’t have any time to feel the pain.

And this strategy worked until it didn’t.

Until the pain caught up with me and demanded to be recognized, a process I will share more about in the coming weeks. But for today, I want to focus on the avoidance strategies that so many of us develop to help numb and avoid painful situations and emotions.

When you experience challenging situations or feelings that are too intense or painful, it is common for your defense mechanisms – like denial, repression, or rationalization – to kick in to help safeguard you against feelings and thoughts that are too difficult to cope with.

When we feel overwhelmed, it is not uncommon to default to our strengths, or compensatory strategies, as defense mechanisms  We default to what we’re good at, in my case work.


What are Avoidance Strategies?

Avoidance, or compensatory, strategies are workarounds you may develop to help you avoid emotional pain.

As Christine Hassler explains in her book Expectation Hangover, “Compensatory strategies come with payoffs and costs. The payoffs are the results we are able to create; the undesirable feelings and experiences we are able to avoid; and the comfort we get from behaving in a way that makes us feel accepted, validated, safe, worthy, or loved.”

Hassler details the domino cascade where painful things happen triggering a reaction of defense mechanism (protection) which prompts you to engage in compensatory strategies which can help you avoid processing the underlying emotions like insecurity, lack, or fear.  The cost is that the unprocessed emotions don’t go away and ultimately catch up with you

Uncovering and understanding your own compensatory strategy is a good first step toward being able to access your underlying emotions

Hassler outlines some common compensatory strategies and explains how they develop. You may identify with more than one of them, as some characteristics overlap; however, there will be one that stands out as the motivation that drives your choices and behavior the most.

High achiever:  You are highly motivated, driven and have accomplished a lot in your life. You likely have been acknowledged for your accomplishments and are perceived as successful and you, in turn, feel best about yourself when you achieve aspirational goals, like finishing a marathon, publishing a book, getting a promotion or some other measureable accomplishment.

You may put so much pressure on yourself to achieve that you are unreasonably hard on yourself and the next milestone is always on your radar. You developed this strategy to make up for feeling you were not enough just being who you are (based on criticism, teasing, or feeling left out) or because you were only rewarded for your accomplishments (and the reward felt like love).

People pleaser or chameleon: You prioritize making other people happy. You put others first and do whatever it takes make sure they like you and avoid confrontation at all costs. Pleasing others and having them like you makes you feel safe and loved. You have an uncanny ability to know what people want and morph into whatever it takes to put them at ease, blend in and avoid any negativity. You tend to be outwardly optimistic and can act like everything is fine even if it isn’t. Perhaps you grew up in a house where there was a lot of fighting and upset, or strong personalities, so you became a peacemaker or highly adaptable. You may have developed the people-pleasing/chameleon strategy to avoid getting picked on. Or maybe you were acknowledged early on for being a “good girl” or “good boy” and thought putting your own needs aside was the way to get love.

Type A or control freak: You thrive on control and would rather take something on yourself than delegate it. You think things through, like to plan and feel best when things are going your way. “Going with the flow” feels challenging. This strategy often develops when your trust was violated in some way and you decided the only person you could rely on was yourself or that controlling things was the way to manage and prevent the unexpected.

Validation and approval seeking: You seek external approval and may be overly reliant on feedback from outside sources. You desire to be seen, heard, and liked. This may develop from either an overdeveloped or underdeveloped ego: either your parents always made you feel you were the best, so your sense of worth was constantly dependent on outside validation; or you never truly felt seen or supported by a parental figure, so you were on a constant quest for outside approval to make up for it.

Performer or comedian: You love to make people laugh, to entertain them and may prefer to keep things light. Going deep or being in uncomfortable situations is torture. You might be sarcastic or eccentric, to divert people’s attention from seeing who you truly are.  You may use humor as a way of avoiding vulnerability because you feel insecure or unable to express your deep feelings. Sarcasm can be a sneaky way to bring out hidden anger or aggression.  You may have had big feelings as a child but did not feel safe to express them, so distracting yourself and others became a strategy for channeling that energy. On the other hand, you might have grown up in a chaotic household where you became a performer to distract people from engaging in the chaos or you may have found distraction to be a useful way to keep yourself safe and fit in.

Rescuer or caretaker: You are extremely sensitive to the needs of others, often at the expense of your own needs.  You take care of everyone else and make sure everyone feels they belong. You are the person people call when they need something, because you’ll drop everything to help them. This strategy develops from feeling responsible for making sure someone else was okay (usually a parent) early on. Your sense of worthiness came from being there for someone else, and you avoid your own pain by caring for others.

Perfectionist: You have extremely high standards and rarely feel you are measuring up to them. You worry a lot about doing things “right,” don’t tolerate mistakes, and you are hard on yourself. You delay doing things, even things you really want to do, because you think everything has to be perfect before you can begin. The perfectionist strategy develops from growing up in a very judgmental environment. Perfectionists often grow up with parents who are critical. This criticism is often internalized and fuels the belief that love means pushing yourself hard, which drives the perfectionist behavior.

Constant Activity: You are constantly on the go and rarely sit still. You take on much more than most people could handle and pride yourself on being busy. Most of the time, you feel stressed, anxious and overwhelmed, but you crave the constant activity. Keeping busy keeps you distracted from having to feel or think about the pain. You might develop this strategy from rarely feeling safe or experiencing a highly traumatic situation and not having the support system or tools to process it, so you choose to distract yourself instead.

Judgement: Your expectations are extremely high and you have an opinion about everything and everyone. You judge yourself and others harshly, protecting yourself by being much harder on yourself than anyone else could be. This strategy comes from growing up in a very fear-based, expectation-heavy environment amongst negative people with very strong opinions surrounding you.


Essential Oils to Shift Avoidance Strategies

Once you gain a clear understanding of what drives your avoidance behaviors, it is easier to unravel the underlying emotions you are trying to avoid, so that you might better address and process through them.

Essential oils can be used to calm your emotional response.  As you may recall, the inhalation of essential oils stimulates the olfactory system in our brain, which signals the limbic system of the brain, where emotions and memories  are stored, retrieved, processed and released.

The following three step process can help you restore your sense of safety, release old patterns and replace them with healthy new emotions and energetic patterns:

1. Restore Safety with Parasympathetic

Whenever you feel unsafe, either physically or emotionally (read feelings of anxiety, fear, or even feelings of being unlovable or emotions of unworthiness), your nervous system kicks into high gear, activating the survival brain either sending you into “fight or flight” or avoidance “freeze” shut down avoidance strategies – which then influences your choices and your actions.

Your survival brain prioritizes self-preservation and down-regulates executive function skills. In its attempt to keep you alive, the survival brain can make other cognitive functions feel much more difficult.

Restoring your sense of safety by activating your parasympathetic nervous system can help you to feel calm and grounded so you allow yourself to experience your emotions and pause your avoidance strategies.

Topically applying  Parasympathetic™ behind the earlobe on the mastoid bone can stimulate the vagus nerve where it is most accessible to the surface of the skin and turn on your safety response. We recommend applying Parasympathetic™ to vagus nerve three times daily.

READ THIS NEXT: Releasing Trauma

2. Release Old Patterns

The only way out is through, but there is no rush to get there.  Intense feelings are painful to release and sometimes more manageable in small doses  – think eye dropper, not fire hose.

Essential oils can calm the intensity of the flow, allowing you to chunk the release so that it feels more manageable.  In this way, essential oils help you control the duration of the pain – releasing just a small amount of the intensity at a time, much like you would slowly and carefully unscrew the top of a carbonated beverage to gently release excess carbonation and avoid an explosion.

I recommend inhaling essential oils and gently releasing intense emotions with your exhale as a powerful strategy to allow you to micro-dose emotional release.   Essential oils and the sense of smell allow you to activate and release intense emotions and sensations over brief durations – providing a small amount of stimulus to engage your body in releasing the pain without flooding and shutting down your system or keeping you stuck in denial.

Just place the bottle under your nose and breathe deeply, fully inhaling the oil for 3 – 7 breaths. It helps you breathe into and work through the emotion.  Try to extend the exhale and really allow yourself to release the painful emotion and any associated pain and intensity

Some of my favorite essential oils to release intense emotions include:

Rose™  – Applying Rose™ over my heart was the fastest way to calm an emotional tidal wave.  It immediately helped me feel better and more calm. Research by Noble prize-winning noble laureat Linda Buck shows that rose essential oil can counteract your brain’s response to fear. Her research found that smelling rose essential oil in the presence of predator odors (or other fear stimulus) can suppress your brain’s stress responses and hormonal signals.

Lung Support™ – According to Chinese medicine, feelings of grief and loss are stored in your lungs where they can obstruct ability of your lungs to accept and relinquish, impeding their function of “taking in” and “letting go” of oxygen and feelings. Grief that remains unresolved can become chronic and create disharmony in the lungs, weakening the lung’s function of circulating oxygen around the body. Lung Support™ can help release these feelings of loss and support your ability to transport oxygen from the atmosphere into the capillaries so they can oxygenate blood – and eliminate carbon dioxide from the bloodstream into the atmosphere. Apply 2- 3 drops over the lungs, allowing yourself to deeply exhale any grief as you apply the blend.

Liver Support™  – Anger that we don’t process and release can get stored in your liver, according to Chinese medicine.  I believe anger can be the most intense and the most damaging of all the repressed emotions, because of its intensity.  The more we try to suppress it, the more it rears its ugly head in ways that can undermine our health, our growth and our personal relationships. Liver Support™ helps support the release of anger, including frequent irritation, impatience, resentment or frustration, being critical of yourself or others, control issues, an inability to express your feelings, feelings of not feeling heard, not feeling loved, not being recognized or appreciated. You can inhale, apply over the liver or around the ankles as this is often an area where we hold resistance to moving forward in life. Start at the back of the ankle and apply under the ankle bone around to the front and back under the other ankle bone, all while allowing yourself to release challenging emotions

Large Intestine Support™ helps you surrender and release past hurts and negative emotions so that you can move through transitions or changes in life course.  Large Intestine Support™ contains grounding oils like Cedarwood, Cypress, Sandalwood, and Myrrh. Cedarwood helps address feelings of disconnection and loneliness and inspires our sense of belonging.  Myrrh provides a connection to the Earth and helps ground both your physical and spiritual energies. Sandalwood also helps us ground and calm agitated emotional states.  To help surrender and ground, apply Large Intestine Support™ on the bottom of the feet or over the large intestine.

3. Replace with Healthy New Emotions and Energetic Patterns

In addition to clearing out painful emotions, it is important to replenish your reserves and refocus some love and compassion back to yourself.

Essential oils can be powerful tools to help you amplify intention and support your ability to receive love and support.  More specifically, essential oils are living energy with electrical properties, which are subject to our thoughts and feelings.

Their vibrations resonate with your organ tissues and regions of the brain in helpful ways, according to your wishes and mental directions. They also work in the limbic systems to help clear negative feelings and blocked emotions, thus eliminating the root causes of many self-limiting beliefs.

In his book “The Power of Prayer on Plants”, Researcher Franklin Loehr discovered that thoughts change the physical properties of the water by altering the bonding angles between oxygen and hydrogen atoms.  Like water and plants, research shows that essential oils also respond to words, thoughts, and prayer and even amplify intent to move molecules of oils to where they can best serve to heal the body.

For example, when you apply an essential oil blend you can mentally direct it to go to wherever it is needed and affirm the outcome you desire.

Just as your thoughts can amplify the effectiveness of the oils, essential oils can be used to amplify your intent on many levels, including the intent to receive more love.

3 Essential Oils for Receiving Love

As you take a deep breath and breathe in the following essential oil blends, try to breathe in the deep sense of worthiness and allow yourself to receive love.  As you slowly exhale, allow your breath to carry out any patterns of low self-worth or self-limiting beliefs.


Your heart integrates and balances your physical, emotional, and mental bodies, providing blood to every cell and every organ.  It also serves as a complex information processing center, influencing brain function, the nervous system, hormonal system and most of the body’s major organs.  When any part of your body isn’t functioning at an optimal level, your heart has to work harder.  For example, when your body is in a state of stress, it needs more oxygen which increases your heart rate.  Your heart is our body’s reset button, but a state of constant stress can fatigue the heart and compromise our ability to reset, leading to inflammation, infections, toxicity and heart disease.

By returning your heart to balance, you support the cardiovascular and circulatory system; regenerate the structure of your heart and help reset the homeostatic mechanism for your entire body. Heart™ is formulated with powerful calming oils, including Jasmine, an oil found to be as calming as the anti-anxiety drug valium, according to a 2010 study.  Jasmine also has a mildly sedative and calming effect allowing it to alleviate anxious thoughts, relieve stress and ease depression.  Jasmine oil actually stimulates the brain, helping to uplift the mood, and promoting feelings of self-confidence and optimism.

Apply Heart™ over your heart (left side of chest) to balance the heart and support, integrate and reset all the systems of the body, including mental clarity, physical health and emotional balance.  Heart™ blend also supports feelings of open-heartedness, expansiveness, receptivity while mitigating loneliness, sadness and grief.


Formulated to supports optimal energetic alignment.  Uplift™ contains several calming and nourishing oils that assist in building self-esteem and returning a sense of joy so you might be in a better state to receive love.  Uplift™ inspires hope in those who have temporarily lost their optimism and helps you to overcome your fear and reclaim your potential.  When you have more courage to take on new things and/or change, you are better able to release old patterns that are no longer serving.  For example, ylang ylang oil helps curb the negative thoughts associated with depression.  A  2006 study found ylang ylang to help relieve depression and stress and promote calmness.

Apply Uplift™ to your vagal nerve (behind earlobe, on mastoid bone) over your heart, wrists, temples and forehead to help alleviate depression and promote feelings of strength, courage, and protection.  Uplift™ can also help align your physical, mental and emotional energies of the body when massaged into the shoulders or the feet.


Rose™ is known to alleviate symptoms of depression, calm the nervous system, promote feelings of happiness and boost your mood.   It is one of the best essential oils to use in your self-love practice.  It has the highest frequency of any essential oil and immediately helps to wash away negative emotions or thought patterns.  Rose™ oil is also considered an aphrodisiac and can help stimulate the libido of both men and women. Rose™ can be added to a bath, massaged into the skin or applied directly over the heart.


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About The Author

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.

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Subscribe to Vibrant Blue Oils and receive weekly information on oils and how to use them. As a bonus, we’ll send out Beginner’s Guide to Essential Oils to your inbox immediately!