The Power of Denial
The Power of Denial
I am continually impressed by the human skill of denial. Denial can be defined as “the action of declaring something to be untrue.”
Declaring something as untrue does not actually make something untrue, is what many of us have found, to our great surprise. Denial is a rejection of what is actually happening. Sometimes the truth of what is happening is enormously painful. Or humiliating/shameful/embarrassing. Or just doesn’t fit in to who we think we are or how we see the world or others. Or makes us feel scared and powerless.
The problem with denial is the cues and clues of what is true will come into our awareness repeatedly, and with our rigid belief of it not being true, we reject those cues and clues as valid. We then may also reject other people who are stating or embodying those truths. And still, the truth remains the truth, whether or not we are declaring it untrue or true.
If I am a (hypothetical) person who strongly believes I love pickles, and will insist that I love pickles far and wide, and my fridge and pantry is stocked up with varieties of pickles that I have made and invested in purchasing, then I may deny the truth that I don’t like pickles (because my body doesn’t digest fermented foods well, or a cucumber allergy, or sour smells are a traumatic stress trigger, etc.) So when I feel disgust when smelling pickles or the ways my stomach hurts after eating pickles, I may deny it happening at all and not be aware of these cues and clues. Or I may explain them away as something else, like blaming it on being a bad batch. I may stereotype people who don’t like pickles as being lesser than or people to ridicule. I might tell my primary healthcare provider about how healthy I am, and then feel angry or upset when I they ask me about possible stomach pain based on some of the symptoms I’ve described to them. Over time, the truth of these cues and clues probably won’t go away, but will probably increase. What is hidden wants to come to our awareness, and keeping it hidden takes tremendous effort and energy, and creates tensions within us and our lives.
Denial usually gets shown for what it is (a human action, usually an unconscious habit or belief, that declares the truth is not true) when there is the support for long hidden truth to breakthrough into the spotlight of our awareness. Like with: overwhelming scientific data and analysis about climate change, many victims coming forward to name abuse by a perpetrator, self awareness to name a pattern in therapy, recognition of self when hearing the words for trans or nonbinary for the first time, hearing feedback or worry from a trusted loved one, car accident after using a substance, losing a relationship, memories of abuse, nightmares, hearing or reading someone else’s story and being rocked to the core with resonating, etc.
It is not always a gentle process of becoming aware of what has been denied. It can hurt emotionally or mentally, to realize that the truth is the opposite of what we have declared. We can feel like we’ve let ourselves or others down, or like we can’t trust ourselves. We can feel like we’ve lost or wasted time. We can still deny the truth, not everyone is interested or ready to accept a truth at the moment it first surfaces into awareness.
But this post is titled “The Power of Denial” not “The Devastating Awfulness of Denial.” When we reject the truth, by declaring it untrue, it takes a lot of us to constantly reject or unsee the many cues and clues about the truth. In the process of truth finally breaking through to awareness, there is healing. Reunion. Balance. Release. With the awareness of what is true, many people sigh, breathe deep, relax. Reclaim. The tension (and often exhaustion) of the part of us that has been working so hard to reject all the cues and clues can come back to rest. With awareness of what was once denied, comes the power of having and embodying more of ourselves and our energy.
So if I as a continued (hypothetical) pickle lover somehow becomes aware of the truth that I really don’t like pickles, and they give me stomach aches, and recognizes and accepts, integrates that truth, then I may stop forcing myself to eat pickles, instead try new foods, or use my creative skills to grow a food garden (without cucumbers), or be able to finally deepen a relationship with a person who I had rejected because they stated how they didn’t like pickles, and overall feel better and more relaxed with myself and in my body.
Denial happens because we humans form ourselves along me/not me, acceptable/not acceptable, safe/not safe, how I want to be/how I don’t want to be, keep/reject, I like this/I don’t like this, etc. For whatever the reasons, most of us shape ourselves and our identity based on polarities. It’s normal. Learning that we’re really good at doing this, accepting ourselves for who we are, can then allows us the freedom to chose “do I want to only look at what I think I am right about, or do I want to know what’s true, even if it means I might be wrong.”
The Power of Denial is yes, the power we each have within ourselves to reject truth and declare it as untrue, but is also the power to pointing us towards the choice we have, I think at most every moment of our lives, to learn and to listen to what is true.
These are my thoughts and are informed by the work I have done with myself, others in therapy, Gestalt and Existential Humanistic therapies, Freud and Jung, spiritual and inquiry paths including Buddhism and medicine ceremonies, and the two cups of coffee I’ve had on this chilly morning. Feel free to comment or contact me if you have any response, questions, criticism, etc.
Sarah Peace, MA LMHC
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