Two Types of Denial
We’ve all heard the term “denial.” Unfortunately, however, the term is frequently both misused and misunderstood. Actually, we commonly use the same word to describe two very different realities.
Freud spoke of denial as an unconscious defense mechanism. He saw it as our mind’s way protecting us from consciously experiencing unbearable emotional pain. You don’t choose that kind of denial. Nature employs it for you, without your awareness. I give illustrative examples of it in my books. Tactical denial is different. Some folks use it consciously and deliberately to evade responsibility and manipulate others. (See the sections on denial in both In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance.) (See also: Denial – What It Is and Isn’t.) But both kinds of denying hamper our ability to profit from past mistakes. So, no matter the form, denial obstructs character development. And it almost always wreaks havoc in relationships, too.
Reckoning with Denial
Popular 12-step programs all start with the first step. That involves correctly identifying and accepting (“admitting”) the true nature of one’s problem. (It also involves humbly admitting powerlessness over it.) Before you can effectively tackle any issue, you have to know clearly and accept what it is. And you have to admit you haven’t been dealing with it very well. Denying only gets in the way of that honest self-reckoning. And it keeps you from taking that all-important first step toward character growth.
Sometimes the truth is just too hard to hear or bear. So, you might not be emotionally ready to come to terms with it. But other times you might simply be getting too much out of whatever you’ve been doing. That will leave you with little motivation to do things differently. You might know at some level that you need to change your ways But you might also be too stubborn or prideful to admit you’ve been going down the wrong path. You might also be too averse to the idea of heeding someone else’s direction. We humans are great self deceivers. And sometimes it’s just as hard to admit things to ourselves as it is to own up to them before others.
Unfortunately, we can deceive ourselves so earnestly and so often that we begin to believe our lies. This really gets in the way acquiring any motivation to change things. And it probably represents the biggest single impediment to character growth. Much character pathology comes from believing our own fictions. I’ll be talking more about this in next week’s post. And I’ll be providing an illustrative example of how denial – in any form – obstructs character growth.
The workshop schedule for 2018 will post in about 3-4 weeks. The first venues will be in the Philadelphia area and in Dallas.
Character Matters will feature a rebroadcast of an earlier program this Sunday. So, no phone calls can be taken.