Can Choosing Denial Keep You Sane?


Five strategies to unlock your psyche and find resolution with your issues

Recently, I’ve noticed a slight change in my behavior …

When confronted with an unknown or uncomfortable situation, my personal gatekeeper immediately pulls up the drawbridge of denial.

I don’t remember setting this trigger, and I had to get to the bottom of it. I needed to know why my otherwise curious mindset was being prompted to become overly cautious — even suspicious.

I began asking myself a few questions…

Why was I so quickly pushing back against negative situations with defensive rejection? And what was keeping me from considering an alternative perspective — one that could bring an interesting viewpoint or lesson?

Maybe I’d subconsciously convinced myself to use a different approach strategy. By setting uncomfortable situations aside, I wouldn’t have to face them head-on — because I wasn’t ready. And until I was ready, I was using a coping mechanism — denying the importance, significance, or consequences of the situation.

At least temporarily.

The more I thought about it, the more I reasoned that my provisional shield of armor might be a good thing. Because I wasn’t always ready to deal with the realities of life when they happen.

This instinctual reaction of rejecting situations — or even people — that are initially undesirable is often a knee-jerk response to being threatened with information or facts we’re not quite ready to accept or acknowledge. This auto-doubting stop-gap projects itself as an internal self-defense system, allowing us to stay on track with the “normal” part of our lives without losing focus or momentum.

Because being forced out of balance by unwanted or unexpected events and circumstances can be very uncomfortable.

But in reality, the truth can only be held back for so long.

And eventually, it makes itself known, whether by choice or default. Because self-deceit is a monster that thrives on those who ignore or even abdicate their personal responsibility.

So when does intentionally ignoring a negative issue or situation become a useful tool — a method we can confidently use to manipulate our thoughts or actions?

I’m still struggling with this concept. Realistically, I know I must ultimately face the truth by working through a difficulty, with the intention of eventually achieving acceptance, tolerance, or understanding.

Choosing denial is, at best, a temporary response — one that’s rarely a solution.

And I’m sure my choice to occasionally look away has taken me down the wrong path, eventually forcing me to deal with an unnecessary detour.

It’s not that I don’t believe in my own ability, or the conclusions I’ll ultimately determine. It’s more about understanding my need for self-protection, in spite of the facts.

Using temporary dismissal is a way of defending the relatively constant flow of our lives — our efforts toward moving toward our personal objectives and enjoying the ride — without allowing an unplanned interruption to take us off track.

And, to me, that’s different from denial, which is typically a rebellious beast that rises to power when ego and arrogance enter the room.

Don’t get me wrong…

I know I’m making assumptions based on my occasional irrational need to defend and protect myself from what I believe to be incongruent with my values and beliefs.

Yet, it’s rarely an intentional display of aggression. And I’m still working on recognizing the difference between navigating another’s viewpoint, perception, or cultural bias with detachment — and a conscious effort to make an unbiased comparison with my own firmly held vision of the world.

Here are five strategies I’ve adopted to help keep me on steady ground when the big “D” shows up, front-and-center:

  • Before expressing an opposing opinion or reaction…Take a breath and simply listen and observe without interruption. It’s not necessary to interrupt, disagree, or exhibit a response of any kind — vocal or physical.
  • Stay neutral. By consciously distancing yourself from the natural urge to immediately reject an opposing position, you may be able to defuse the situation and, potentially, allow for a congenial discussion.
  • Offer no fuel to the fire, in words or actions. Absorb, observe, and disconnect from the person or alleged conflict. If necessary, walk away and save yourself from too much negativity — while lowering your stress level.
  • Decide if you’re ready to face the problem head-on or if your own form of denial is more appropriate at the moment. It’s possible you may need time to let things settle to determine if there’s anything you can do or say to change another’s mind. Even better, if you allow space for personal reflection, you may discover an acceptable way to resolve your own discomfort.
  • When it’s time, mitigate the issue. Resolve to accept, dismiss, or compromise, keeping in mind that when you successfully separate the “you” from the “it,” things become a lot easier to deal with.

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