It may help you temporarily, when your mind is processing information that your heart isn’t ready to accept. But being an escapist in the long run does harm.
Everyone is in denial about something – be it a politician, a business tycoon, a star or you and me. Every day, we deny many unpleasant realities of life – like a rift with a friend, being in a bad job or relationship. In his book, The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker writes, “The man of knowledge in our time is bowed down under a burden he never imagined he would ever have: the over-production of truth that cannot be consumed.” So, human beings almost live in a permanent state of denial.
YOUR COPING MECHANISM Columnist Benedict Carey writes how self-denial is at work the most when it comes to relationships. For instance, we use it to overlook the flaws in our partner. At work, we use it to deny problems with the boss and colleagues for a conflict might rock our financial stability. Denial is our coping mechanism that gives us time to adjust to distressing situations. Explains Dr Gitanjali Sharma, family counsellor, “This denial is not all that bad. It is a relationship maintainer. You don’t need to have everyday confrontations. When something shocking or life-threatening happens, like an illness or the death of someone close, denial for a short-period can help you get your bearings together to absorb the pain. This denial is part of the healing process, where you slowly and gently face the reality.”
Says psychiatrist Kamal Khurana, “Casual denial of bad behaviour may be acceptable. Denial doesn’t mean self-deception all the time; it means that there’s scope for forgiveness. You don’t need to be too reactive; a subtle gesture in the beginning should be a good warning.”
Dr Sharma believes denial may be good even in stressful situations because it helps us approach the problem with less emotion. “For example, denial of a rift with a friend could save you from an open confrontation. Denial about a life-threatening illness can be a protective defence, till you get your nerves back,” she says.
But when the time we spend denying what’s obvious and staring at our faces, lasts for too long, it can damage our ability to tackle challenges. Like in the case of marketing executive Kunal Khanna. The 39-year-old lost his job a year ago, but was in denial about his debt. “I continued shopping and my mind kept on telling me I could pay my bills, despite knowing deep down, I can’t.” There are marriages where a partner refuses to deal with a straying spouse simply because it will shatter the perfect picture that he or she has built in the head. No one likes to give up that cozy feeling of “all is well”; especially when they know it’s not true. In fact, experts believe, some people live in denial for so long that they create an alternate reality in their head, where their illusions are the only truth. Khurana explains what happens when a person reaches this stage. “A lot of people can suddenly experience an ‘over-the-edge’ feeling if the bubble of happiness bursts. They withdraw, become uncommunicative, even suicidal. Confront the issue before you explode and reach a point of ‘no return’.”
MAKE A ‘DENIAL’ LIST Wellness writer Cheryl Richardson says the first step to make ourselves strong is to challenge ourselves to step out of the comfort zone once in a while. “Make a denial list. See what happens if you accept and change some of them. Will life be better or worse?”
Too much denial on a daily basis shows a person has weak coping mechanisms. It also means the person is giving up his personal power too easily. Richardson writes, “Undo denial to live a fulfilling life. It requires hardwork, toughness and strength to rock the boat, but it’s worth it because your mind becomes light and you feel happy.”
SIGNS TO KNOW YOU ARE IN DENIAL… When you create illusions on a daily basis, and distort facts. When your answer to tough questions is either silence or an unexpected outburst. When you are mostly confused over issues, and are incapable of taking any action. When compartmentalising your life seems quite natural. When you repress issues/memories to the extent that you think it happened to someone else. When you rationalise a wrong with ease.
HOW TO DEAL WITH DENIAL Awareness: Don’t be scared of denial. It’s your mind’s way of accepting there’s a problem. It’s a good sign.
Acceptance: The more you deny, the more you stop your mind from finding solutions. Accept, then think and the rest would be easier.
Sharing: Find a trustworthy person who can give you nonjudgmental advice.
Discover the root cause: Knowing where this habit comes from helps in transformation.
Develop skills: Believe that you have the personal ability to change. There’s no such thing as ‘I was born this way” or “I’ll never change”.