Denial – the tactic of overlooking the obvious to reduce anxiety.
When things don’t go well and we are unsure of the outcome and we imagine becoming hurt or disappointed, we reject the thing and act as if it never happened instead of dealing with overwhelming, painful circumstances and uncomfortable feelings head on. We sometimes think that if we come face-to-face with these hidden monsters, we’ll crumble into a pile of ashes. Just knowing the thing is out there (health concern, bad relationship, exercise :-), etc.) is sometimes plain terrifying. We worry that we will not be able to cope with the thing and the feelings the thing engenders.
Denial does us a disservice by ignoring and dismissing, but denial sometimes protects and defends us. Think about a loving couple married for 30 years, and one partner dies suddenly. The only way that the other partner gets through making all the decisions after an event like that is through denial. Denial was the partner’s comrade that helped “get the necessary things done.” Eventually, denial will fade to allow feelings that will allow the partner to process the loss in a healthy manner. Think about driving to work every day and all the things that could go wrong – a bad driver, a flat tire, a person running in front of you, a speeding ticket. If we thought of all these things each time we got behind a wheel, we’d be a mess. Denial allows us to drive to work daily. Denial helps us to get through the uncomfortable aspects of our life when necessary.
Unhealthy denial, though, is a flight into complete refusal to see our behavior and its consequences. It is living in self-delusion. How do we know if we are living in self-delusion?
Listen to those around us. Whenever those who love us or work with us tell us more than twice about our attitude, our behavior, or our way of living, listen to them. This is called a candor contact.
Openly listening allows us to view our behavior, our attitude, our way of behavior transparently to determine if there is a change required. Our bodies are also great communicators of what is going on inside of us. Try this FINE exercise when you are looking for more self-awareness.
FINE – Feel, Inquire, Notice and Experience
Feel – Our bodies are holding tanks for stress, tension, joy, and fear. Answer yes or no to the following statements:
- I frequently get tension headaches.
- I grind my teeth and clench my jaw even in my sleep.
- I get a stiff neck and sore shoulders.
- My throat is often tight and raspy.
- I have clammy hands and sweat a lot.
- My breathing is often shallow and rapid.
- I’ve lost my libido.
Inquire –Gather information about our behaviors by listening to others and answering the following questions:
- When did this all begin?
- How often are we acting out this self-destructing behavior?
- How has this behavior changed over time?
- What have we gained from this behavior?
- What have we lost from it?
Notice – Notice thoughts, situations, and bodily clues that become stirred up at certain times, in particular places, or during specific events. Consider keeping a small notebook to write these triggers down. Once we recognize the patterns, we can work toward breaking the self-destructive ones and supporting the self-growth ones.
Experience – We must remember it is not our feelings that have been destroying us, it is our discounting of them. Take our feelings, experience them, and bear them in a healthy way. Act to revitalize our feelings. One way of doing this is to ignite our passions by remembering what excited and engaged us before. Pursuing passion takes courage, since it often means letting go of fears and letting go of situations that we find comfortable.
In summary, we must give ourselves permission to feel and to feel genuinely and intensely. Experiencing the full scope of our emotions helps us to know ourselves better and to achieve better intimacy with others, which allows for relationships with richer communication, empathy, and potential.
One of my goals for this year is to feel my feelings when they come up instead of stuffing them down. What about you?
Cite: Kagan, M. and Einbund, N. Defenders of the Heart. (2008). Carlsbad, Ca. Hay House, Inc.