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Reduce Experiential Avoidance and THE PRINCESS OF LAS VEGAS by Chris Bohjalian

Cover of the Princess of Las Vegas by Chris Bohjalian, used to teach the therapy concept of Experiential Avoidance

Crissy, the Princess of Las Vegas, was born and raised in a quiet town in Vermont. Her family had enough to meet needs but barely scraped by. As an adolescent, Crissy was sexually abused by her stepfather, who later died by suicide. Crissy developed an eating disorder (bulimia), which she experienced long-term despite residential care. When stressed, Crissy popped pills, slept with strangers, or immersed herself in her work as a Princess Diana impersonator in Las Vegas.


When Crissy’s sister and niece moved to Vegas amidst a slew of too-close-to-home murders, political deception, and a brewing hostile business takeover. Combined, this all threw Crissy’s life into disarray. Crissy responded by increasing unhealthy behaviors: bulimia, drinking, taking pills, and increasingly acting as Diana in her personal life, not just on stage.


Crissy engaged in experiential avoidance, a common tool employed by people who have difficulty expressing, processing, and coping with feelings. Experiential avoidance occurs when a person is unwilling or unable to face painful thoughts or feelings and takes action to prevent negative emotions. These actions are problematic because they frequently appear to soothe in the moment but have negative consequences in the long term. Also, avoiding stressors doesn’t make them disappear; it simply delays the inevitable.


Here are tips to reduce experiential avoidance:


Stress Management: Proactively and preventatively use a problem-solving mindset. Make plans, act on them, and feel proud of your accomplishment.  


Start Small: Make an ordered list of things that stress you out. Start with the easiest things on the list, and schedule safe exposures to a wide range of feelings.


Non-Judgmental Awareness: In the exposures, learn to sit with negative emotions. Try meditating to increase your ability to feel comfortable with uncomfortable feelings.


Focus on Your Future Self: Prioritize your long-term happiness. Give your future self the gift of healthy, mindful decisions that set you up for lifelong success.



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