Relationship Traps – Getting Out of Denial

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Hi, it’s Clifford Edwards and welcome back to this series on creating more connected relationships.

Recently, I talked about avoiding the two-fold trap of non-acceptance.  The first part was releasing resistance; today I’ll deal briefly with the second – getting out of denial.

Denial is a hugely complex topic, so I’ll address one aspect of it.

Here's a simple definition of Denial:

  1. Refusal to acknowledge, own up to or take responsibility for some fact, circumstance or situation.
  2. Denying the existence or reality of something.

Some additional characteristics of denial:

  • Rationalization
  • Excuses or justifications
  • Projection – shifting blame or responsibility

It’s likely that as an active Mormon, you learned denial as a coping skill!  It might have occurred as a defense mechanism against the waves of cognitive dissonance that come from trying to conform to all the teachings and the rules of the Church.

To maintain your faith, you likely had to deny and/or rationalize the contradictions, nonsensical beliefs, incriminating historical evidence, and outdated stance on social and cultural issues. But you broke out of the trance of denial in order to leave.  So the good news is that you’ve gotten out of denial once, and you can do it again as needed!

Denial is a common thing.  When something that we’re experiencing or doing doesn’t fit into our current self-image or belief system, we tend to deny or minimize it.  Or something may seem overwhelming or too much to cope with– so we deny it!

One way in which it might show up as a trap in relationships with those close to you, is being in denial of something about yourself.

I used to have real anger issues.  I was an incredibly angry, often volatile guy.  Growing up I took on a perfect ‘nice guy’ persona, therefore I couldn’t acknowledge or be with my anger. When things happened that triggered a natural anger response, I suppressed it, stuffed it and otherwise denied it, because I didn’t want to be an angry person.

But I was an angry person. I had a ton of unprocessed, unacknowledged anger stuffed inside.  Also, the idea of facing up to it and dealing with nearly a lifetime of suppressed anger seemed overwhelming.  So I continued to deny.  Then the emotion came out in sneaky or unexpected ways.

  • Panic attacks.
  • Passive aggressive behaviors.
  • Self-sabotage.
  • Explosive outbursts set off by minor things.

It hurt my relationships with my wife, family, close friends and others.  But I minimized, justified, made excuses or blamed someone else for these behaviors. To shift things I had to get out of denial, accept and own up to my anger, adjust my self-image and take responsibility for learning to deal with it in more healthy, constructive ways.

The fantasy of denial is that if you ignore something, it will just go away.  But that rarely happens.  Denial lets things fester, and get worse.

Maybe you have something you’re in denial about – something that’s negatively affecting your relationships.  One great clue is to note any behavior or condition you continually minimize, justify or make excuses for. Or notice if there’s something you’re “sensitive” about - you get upset when someone else tries to point it out to you.  It could be something big like an addiction or looming financial collapse, or something seemingly minor, like a habit of sarcastic, belittling remarks.

ACCEPTANCEGetting Out of Denial and Into Acceptance

If you can admit you’re in, it’s a good idea to get out of denial.  Here are some simple steps you can take.

  1. Start by acknowledging it to yourself, first silently a few times, then out loud. From my example earlier, that sounded like: “I have anger issues. I am an angry person.” Consciously breathe and relax your body as you do.
  2. Write about it. Sit down with a journal or notebook and free write about whatever it is. Get it out of the recesses of your mind and onto paper.
    1. What is it exactly and how or when does it show up?
    2. How might it conflict with your self-image?
    3. What might seem scary or overwhelming about trying to deal with it?
    4. What started the cycle of denial?
    5. And anything else that comes out as you write.
  3. Acknowledge the cost of the denial. Continue in your notebook and journal.
    1. How does it limit, hurt or otherwise negatively affect you?
    2. How does the denial negatively affect your relationships with others?
    3. What is likely to happen in the future if you don’t deal with it?
  4. Recognize how things will change for the better once you’re out of denial and dealing positively with things.
    1. How will you be more healthy, productive or happy?
    2. How will your relationships change for the better?
    3. What will you be able to do, have, create or experience that you haven’t been able to up ‘til now?
  5. Make an action plan to deal with the situation, habit or behavior. If you need to reach out for help.
    1. If it’s an addiction or psychological issue, then get treatment.
    2. If you need structure, support or accountability, then hire a coach.
    3. If appropriate, join a support group or find a community online.

There you go, a brief take on getting out of denial!

Once again, I trust this was useful.  If you need any support with denial or other relationship traps, I’m here to help.  Just click here to schedule a free "Relationship Reboot" consultation.

See you next time for more Tips on Avoiding Common Relationship Traps.

This is Clifford Edwards saying, bye for now!


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