#35 Break your denial


Recognizing and seeing through one´s own denial can be quite entertaining when it's at the "Problem? I see no problem?!!" stage, especially when it comes to breaking bad habits or just a general disposition of self-delusion. But sometimes it's way more than that, sometimes denial is a matter of life and death.

When you've been diagnosed with an incurable disease or have been seriously injured in an accident, denial is an essential survival strategy. Whether it's waking up in a hospital ward with tubes sticking out of your body, or sitting in the Doctors office being told that "The tests were positive" (positive, that means it's good, right??), the ability to filter the shock is a great strength. Your life is changing, you have no control over what's happening, and you just can't handle it all at the same time. That's why we have this built in denial-function that softens the blow and tells us "its not so bad, it will be ok". basically trying to normalize and stabilize in what feels like a life threatening situation.

In the Kübler Ross grief cycle, which is recognized by psychologists all over the world, denial is identified as the first in the five stages of grief.

I remember the nurses telling me about this as I was trying to learn to walk after breaking my back, they said: "You will most likely go through different stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance." Ambitious patient as I was, I smiled gracefully and thought to myself; "Yeah right, screw that. I'm not in denial, I've already accepted this" .. which was.. in hindsight... of course just my denial speaking.

For the next 7 years or so I refused to accept that my life had changed, and insisted on trying to live the same way I'd done before breaking my back, which of course just made it more difficult to get well. How could I get well, when I deep down wouldn't even admit that I was seriously injured in the first place?

Sometimes the ability we have to deny what's happening and construct our own reality is amazing, but in my experience denial is also a slow death. Because to stay in denial, with a cramplike "Everything is ok!" attitude, you need to suppress, filter or simply hide different aspects of your life. Basically you need to lie to yourself, and in order to lie to yourself, you also need to lie to the world.

With chronic disease the shock does not necessarily go away, many times you keep getting new blows (bad test results, the meds don't work, the operation failed) which means that you may have to keep your denial really strong for a long time. Gradually the filter spreads, from blocking out just the fear and grief, after a while it starts blocking positive emotions too. You may find yourself feeling distant from everything, not being able to feel strong emotions of any kind, just swaddled in a growing gray cloud of discontent.

I think all change starts with wanting change. So if you want to move forward and get better health, what can you do to break your denial? What can you do to start seeing things as they really are, so that you can focus your strength on getting better, instead of spending it all on maintaining your own illusion?

Red pill or blue pill? Choose wisely!

PS. It's completely normal and OK to get angry at people who mess with your self-deception. That's all part of the deal.

1 comment:

  1. Ive done some study on grief and denial, and many doctors claim that staying in denial is more common in "cold" cultures, where it's not acceptable to show emotions. I think they mentioned north england as a typical example. Have you heard of this?