Self- Denial: a Preservation Paradox
Self-denial is absolutely fascinating.
Self-denial is defined by Merriam-Webster as: psychology : a defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality.
It is important to state the definition because it reminds us that self-denial is a protection for our minds, it is well intentioned for the moment. However, intentions only mean so much if the action or consequence is actually harming us or even others around us. I believe it is important to embrace compassion when experiencing a person in denial; especially if that person is us. Denial is often seen with a negative connotation, but there is a reason for its existence. Denial often means we are avoiding a situation, suppressing true emotions or hiding from a perceived fear. Our brains believe that facing that fear is too much to handle- at that specific time.
I believe our psyches are ready to expand when it’s ready. It’s not something we can ‘click on or off’ with our conscious minds. We all have blind spots and they emerge when whatever we have been avoiding comes to pay a visit. I adore the phrase, “whatever we resist will persist.” Although it seems like a paradox, if we can gain enough self awareness and acceptance around the idea that we will never reach full awareness of ourselves, this keeps us growing with an open mind.
Since self-denial is generally an unknown to an extent, it’s worth considering all aspects of your life if you want to improve on a possible blind spot. This is especially important when undergoing something that is bothering you and you are unable to place it. Or if someone whose opinion you trust makes a comment about your behavior that leaves you perplexed. For example: a denial about how much a relationship is actually hurting us so we pretend it doesn’t bother us, even though we are experiencing symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, overthinking, stomach or head pains, or another ailment that we feel we cannot trace.
A personal anecdote to support that notion:
Many years ago I was in denial about why I was so physically and emotionally unhealthy. I had stomach migraines often, was constantly fatigued and in an anxious flight or fight mode every day, among other symptoms. I blamed everything except what was right in front of me. I destructively blamed myself. I thought I was broken. I had to be ready to face the truth and let the pieces of my marriage and religious faith unravel. I am so proud of myself that I did. I imagined all the worst case scenarios and faced the unknown head on; my intuition knew it was the best decision for me. And it was right. It was brutal but beautiful. Most of my stomach migraines went away almost immediately once I removed myself from that situation.
The first step to growing is to ask yourselves questions about your current life and review your day to day. Your day to day often gives clues to what your denial may be. Remember that you need to introspect with care and not with any self-judgment, or you may end up chasing your own tail. Once you break through the denial, it is like a Pandora’s box: you will be unable to unlearn the knowledge. It’s then the time to be ready for the consequences, favorable and unfavorable. I cannot foresee the future for someone else, but I will always advocate for listening to your soul when it is alerting you. The pain will be temporary and the blessings will come.
If this is what you want in order to grow, start with the questions: How do I become ready to break through denial when it comes?
I have come to find that thoughtful and kind re-evaluation of ourselves is the key. We hear phrases like “be honest with yourself,” or “talk it out” frequently. Although I agree with those sentiments, without self-compassion and true self-acceptance, how can we really move past denial or any other issue? Are we ready to go through the discomfort or do we want to just go through the motions? It is not a race nor should it be a challenge, it comes with practice and becomes cemented when we lead with love.