Like a deer in the headlights we can't look away from disaster, but often only when it's happening to others. When instead something affects us, one of the most common defense mechanisms which we fall into is denial. Sometimes, denial is short-lived, other times prolonged, although, in itself, denial isn't always a bad thing. Initial short-term denial can be a good thing, and it has its place in our minds, but it is a fire that can outgrow its benefits and turn into a detrimental mechanism if left unchecked.
Refusing to acknowledge something bad is a way for us to be able to cope with strong emotional responses, stress, mental pain, anxiety, and information which threatens our view of the world or ourselves. It is like a wall that you can't see over, which is built up by your mind when you find something which makes you feel vulnerable or at a loss of control.
You are in denial when you refuse to acknowledge difficult information/events, try not to face the problem, and downplay the consequences.
It's completely normal for us to find ourselves in denial during the initial period of something impactful, it is not unhealthy, but rather, helpful. An initial denial period allows our minds the opportunity to absorb distressing information and prepare it for our conscious mind to process.
We all have a rate at which we absorb information, and therefore I omitted specifics in terms of time, but if we didn't have this mechanism that allows a personalized rate of absorption, would we be able to do anything?
What if, however, you decided to continue to ignore this information? Imagine if you had a stomach ache, for example, you wouldn't go to the doctor for a stomach ache, chances are that you wouldn't even take medicine, just a warm cup of herbal tea. Until the day after, then you go to your medicine cabinet, a couple of days after that you go to the doctor. Perhaps you'll find out you have a tumor, imagine if you hadn't gone to a doctor to deal with your symptoms.
Not long ago I saw a post where a lady was asking for help on how to further shut out people who she felt she wanted to be like or better than, and was causing her stress. She mentioned removing them from her social media, blocking them, muting them, yet the thought of them - and thus the "competition" she felt - persisted.
It's very easy for a normal, and helpful response such as this to grow out of proportion and become the opposite of what it was meant to be. As with anything, too much of it is always bad. Naturally, we want to avoid stress in our lives, and since denial provides that relief, we decide to pursue it, either consciously or subconsciously.
Consequences of Detrimental Denial
Although denial provides a stress-free environment in our lives for a period of time, pursuing this tactic for a longer period backfires on us. Denying the facts of challenging information actually creates more stress, and paves the way for greater anxiety, emotional conflict, and mental pain.
Going back to the example of the lady who tried as best as she could to remove people she felt she was "competing" with, and thus caused her stress, anxiety, and such, still after having blocked them, she felt her feelings persist. This is because no matter how much we try to deny something, the situation will not go away.
Instead, through prolonged denial, you are ensuring these responses dwell in you, and grow within you. Feeling like you're competing with your peers, whether career-wise, looks-wise, or whatever else, stems from a root
cause and is a problem innate in you, not brought about by outside sources.
Similarly, denying any situation or information stems from an inability you have to deal with, and process it, and regardless of what the reasoning is, it stems from you. Once you overcome these obstacles and deal with the factor that prevents you from processing whatever you're denying, then the actual processing process can begin. Only from there can acceptance, learning, and growth happen.
Luckily, the habit of denial is one that is relatively easy to change. Denial isn't one of those traits that can be considered chronic, such as anxiety. Rather, it can be considered a symptom at worst, at best a side-product. Regardless, there are ways to break yourself out of denial.
Be open to experiences: in other words, don't fear new situations and outcomes, be open to what the world has to offer, and accept the fact that you will come into contact with unknowns and unforeseens.
Grounding: A common technique used, especially to calm anxiety, is called grounding. There are many techniques to grounding but all involve taking in your surroundings, using your senses, and bringing your focus and attention to particular items in the real world. Find that technique that works for you to calm your responses to the thing you're looking away from to more easily process it.
Ask for help: Sometimes the reasons why we look away and ignore heavy information are just too deep for you to undertake by yourself, and that's completely okay. Don't be afraid to ask for help from someone and talk about it, or try and find solutions.
Talk to a therapist: If talking to a close one doesn't help then perhaps the care of a professional might. A therapist knows the way the mind works and can better direct your thoughts to where they need to be
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Denial is a common practice we all have done and will do over and over in our lives. It is not always toxic and sabotaging, it is, in fact, a natural response that allows us to absorb information at our own pace. It is when the denial period is prolonged that it becomes detrimental and backfires on us. Luckily, it is something that is relatively easy to change.
Hi, I'm Matthew, my mission is to spread knowledge about motivation, productivity, and enabling people to achieve the best that they can be! I have a vast background in psychology and a passion for self-improvement. I literally can't remember a time when I didn't have a psychology book in my hands. On top of that, I've traveled around the world from a very young age, and seen many different courses of life, forming friendships with highly successful people, as well as people who are willing to do anything to make ends meet. My own life took me down a roller coaster of highs and lows, and I'm forever grateful that I've been able to overcome everything it threw at me. Now I want to take the opportunity to give back, and help others learn tools and methods for becoming who they were born to be!