There is certain information about situations in our lives that we shy away from. The evidence is there, rationally speaking it is pretty obvious there is a problem, yet our minds plays tricks on us and try to convince us that it isn’t so.
We are in denial. This psychological defense mechanism attempts to protect us from feeling vulnerable and allows us to avoid confronting a problem, or accepting a reality that threatens our sense of control.
When you’re in denial, you:
• Won’t acknowledge a difficult situation
• Try not to face the facts of a problem
• Downplay possible consequences of the issue
A person can be in denial about anything that makes them feel anxious such as an illness, addiction, eating disorder, financial problem, or relationship conflicts. You can be in denial about something happening to you or to someone else.
Psychologists believe that in certain situations, denial is a coping mechanism used to protect themselves by refusing to accept the truth about something that’s happening in their lives. This allows one the time to emotionally process a situation, develop strategies, and address a stressful situation with a plan. A short period of denial can be helpful. Being in denial gives your mind the opportunity to unconsciously absorb shocking or distressing information at a pace that won’t send you into a psychological tailspin.
If denial persists and prevents you from taking appropriate action, such as consulting your doctor, it’s a harmful response. Denial might prevent you or your loved one from getting help, such as medical treatment or counseling, or dealing with problems that can spiral out of control – all with potentially devastating long-term consequences.
One of the reasons we fail to take action is because we are not quite sure what is within the range of “normal.” Is that funny looking mole on your arm just a birthmark or is it something that requires medical attention? How do we know the difference between “a little forgetful” and the beginnings of dementia? What is the difference between self-conscious dieting and a
full-blown eating disorder? And how do we know when our family member’s drinking has become an unhealthy life style? The part of us that is in denial wants to minimize and explain away what we see – and there are many ways we can hide behind truths we don’t want to face. Our peaceful denial puts our fears about diagnoses and lifestyle changes to rest and allows us to still feel we have some control. “Let’s leave well enough alone” and “What I don’t know can’t hurt me” we tell ourselves.
Sometimes denial is the perfect escape from looming financial issues. We can tell ourselves lots of reassuring things about the next big commission we are going to receive imminently (even before the sale has even been made) and convince ourselves we really don’t spend that much. But when “we are fine” keeps us from reassessing our spending patterns and the house goes into foreclosure, denial has done us a disservice. It is time to take action.
Knowledge is power. If we know about the situation we are dealing with, we can get information and treatment that can protect us and our loved ones. Seeking help may also confirm that indeed there is no problem. That mole really is just a funny looking birthmark. The self-conscious dieter is just in need of some nutritional counseling to help reach a healthy weight. Speaking to a financial consultant can prepare us for living the lean years until we are back on our feet. And,of course, seeking medical treatment quickly allows us more options for treatment.
You are not blowing the situation out of proportion by seeking information and by staying informed. Just the fact that you are taking the time to read about options will help you to feel more in control and give you a game plan for handling whatever comes your way.
How to Move from Denial
into Action Mode
It helps to seek the support of a family member or therapist. Discussing your concerns will enable you to:
Honestly examine what you fear.
Think about the potential negative consequences
of not taking action.
Allow yourself to express your fears and emotions.
Try to identify irrational beliefs about your situation.
Identify resources for getting the informationyou need.
Mozelle Forman has been in private practice for 20 years.
Visit her at mozelleforman.com