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Denial Ain’t Just a River in Egypt

Creative Commons LicensePhoto credit: sarahemcc

You will find peace not by trying to escape your problems, but by confronting them courageously. You will find peace not in denial, but in victory.

— J Donald Walters

Times are tough.  We’re living in the time of the barbell economy – lots of rich people, lots of poor people and some middle class in between.  As time passes, some of the middle class are becoming poor.

Denial exists for a reason.  It protects us from what we aren’t ready to see.  It tells us that this isn’t where we were supposed to be.  It’s not fair!!!  We had been marching towards an affluent retirement and instead we’re looking at working longer.  Are you having fun yet?

It’s not just the economy that is causing us to scream in frustration.  Our politicians can’t/won’t get along and in our heart of hearts we think everybody is lying to us.  For many, life has become more of a struggle.  We don’t see a way forward.

We are in pain.  Denial is one cause of our emotional pain. Acceptance, on the other hand, is a path towards peace.  Unfortunately, we can’t accept what we continue to deny.

All of this may seem self-evident, and it is – EXCEPT that while we intellectually get these ideas, in our guts, where it really counts, we don’t.  We curse our fate.  We rant.  We rave.  We cry.  We make excuses.  We call it “unfair.”  We scream… and swear… and bargain… and (add your favorite behavior).

THESE are the faces of denial.

I Like My Denial!

What makes denial so destructive is that until we get past our resistance to reality, we continue to be in pain.  The longer we keep insisting that “This isn’t fair,” the longer it will be until we actually start to integrate the reality into our lives.  Because “What we resist, persists,” we are feeding the very thing that is making us miserable.

There are many things in life that aren’t “fair.”  One of my friends couldn’t have children.  She and her husband adopted two boys.  The children’s backgrounds were falsified.  It turns out that one of them was born in a mental institution of a mother with schizophrenia.  Over time, he has developed OCD, ADHD, paranoia and bipolar disorder.  His behavior has scarred his brother and changed my friend’s life forever.  And, by the way, her husband left her before their second son was a year old.  All of this feels very unfair to her.

Denial leads to “if only” thinking.  If only he had better genes.  If only it hadn’t taken five years to get him diagnosed.  If only his father didn’t expect that Jesus would deliver a miracle if his son just believed enough.  If only he hadn’t stopped taking his meds (which seemed to be working at the time) so Jesus would heal him.

I do “if only” also.  If only I’d bought/sold at the right time.  If only I’d known then what I know now.  We probably all have a bit of that one.

Turn Around, Your Future is in Front of You

We all do a bit of “if only.”  Actually, I think it’s one of the sub-stages of grief.  Everyone has probably heard of the five stages; anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  As we make our way through the process, we wonder if things would have been different “if only” we had…  It’s perfectly normal to wonder.  It also keeps us stuck because if only looks backward.  We invest our energy in trying to change the past.  If we can accept what is, then we can move forward into our future.

Healing takes time and the bigger the loss, the longer it may take to heal.  Healing also isn’t a straight forward journey.  Recently, the five year anniversary of my mother’s death passed.  It was almost worse than the day of her funeral.  With all that we now know about my father’s mental illness and how much she protected us, I grieve her death, but I grieve her life even more.  I have so many “if only’s” for her.  None of them help her or me.

Moving Forward Into the Future

This is where we all stand.  We all have things we haven’t quite accepted about our lives.  Here are a couple things that we can do to help ourselves move forward:

  • Catch the “if only” thought processes and gently distract ourselves away from them OR schedule time for “if only” thinking.  Indulge yourself during that time and only during that time.
  • Ask ourselves, “what if.”  What if this is the “new normal” for the economy?  What if my plan for this stage of my life isn’t possible anymore?  What if there is something I can do about… As we start to examine potential ways forward, we can begin to let go of our fear/pain over what has happened.

Denial exists for a reason.  It protects us from what we aren’t ready to see.  It also stops us in our tracks and increases our pain if we allow it to continue for too long.  Like many things in life, it has its purpose.  We need to be able to recognize when we’re stuck.  Then we can choose to get unstuck.  It’s the only way to go.

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