Friday, March 13, 2015

D is for Denial

I have been thinking and reading a lot about emotions. I have been taking off a bit of my "nice" mantle, and seeing how nice serves as a smoke-screen. It blocks me from the real work of handling my own emotions. Distracted by outside demands, I can  avoid the hard work of taking responsibility for my own self.

Nice also creates a filter between me and reality. It helps lull me into a shaky "everything is nice, all people are good" world that sedates some of my anxiety. If you are someone who denies things - thoughts, feelings, behaviors - you might also be suffering from the side effect of denial -- a free-floating anxiety that is created out of the refusal to look at reality.

It is probably not your fault -- the exact place where your denial stems from. Your denial is probably a relic, an adaptation from an older time, a time when it fulfilled a protective role. Maybe, you can trace it back to a traumatic time in your life, sometimes as far back as childhood. In that time, your psyche protected you from overwhelming information that might have threatened your very survival.

If that's the case, you need to accept that this is where your denial comes from and try to extend yourself the love that you might be giving to others. That might be a very difficult first step, and it's okay to go slow.

Once we have reached that place, then there is the next hard step. I have been reading about it, and I am not sure how it all works out in the end. But what this step is, is essentially taking responsibility that there are many ways in which we keep this denial alive in our lives, and poking small holes in this system we have kept thriving, however unconsciously. 

If your denial is a result of trauma, then you will probably need help here. You might need some sort of a mid-wife to help give birth to a new self - a counselor, a psychologist, an energy healer, a bodyworker.

It's okie to not know all the answers. Only true warriors can ask for help.

They know that what worked at one point is now choking the life out of them. For our true selves to flourish, we need to take all those weeds out. We need new behaviors, and we need to see that the denial that might have helped us survive at one point is now something that we, out of some not clearly articulated need, keep alive.

It's hurting us now. We need to do something about it.  

Something Gavin De Becker says in his wonderful book on survival signals The Gift of Fear stood out to me. It expresses so articulately why being in denial no longer helps us. While denial might have bought us time in the past, today, it works against us. 

He says "Denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level, and it causes a constant low-grade anxiety. Millions of people suffer that anxiety, and denial keeps them from taking action that could reduce the risks (and the worry)."

If you are a "nice" person like me, you might be scared of getting in touch with all the feelings that you want to deny. Like you, I don't want to look at my anger, my fear and all my other uncomfortable feelings either. They are painful. They ask me to get so real that all illusions fall away, and sometimes, I have survived on my illusions.

But like De Becker tells us, when we deny our buried feelings, they don't just go away. They are constantly bobbing up. Our anger, for example, might be telling us that we are not doing a good job of preserving our sense of self. We are letting too many dangerous things in.
But if we shove it down, anger can't do its job. We are vaguely aware that something is wrong. But we haven't let ourselves feel our feelings and think our thoughts. And so, we are stuck in in a confused state.

If you were to start slowly scratching the surface of your denial, what would your feelings tell you? What information can they give you that might cause some short-term pain, but help you in the long run?

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