A coping mechanism is an adaptation we make that enables us to deal with a difficult environmental stress that we feel we cannot change or eliminate. The adaptation we make causes us to feel like we have control over the way we feel and behave. One could argue that provided a person cannot actually change something, some coping mechanisms are beneficial to you and people around you and some coping mechanisms harm you and the people around you.
We can grasp this concept because looking at that definition; we can see that drowning yourself in alcohol is a coping mechanism that many people use to deal with the distress of their jobs. It is easy to see that this coping mechanism harms not only the drinker, but also often the people around the drinker. We can also see that using a coping mechanism, like changing the meaning you have added to a painful experience that is out of your control can potentially greatly benefit the person who is in pain and also the people around them.
But what we have to look at is whether the coping mechanism that you thought was benefitting you and the people around you was actually harming you and the people around you.
Denial is a coping mechanism that is damaging and especially pervasive in the spiritual and self help community. Denial is refusing to accept or admit to the truth of the reality of something unpleasant. An example of this is a person who has been left by their spouse and who continues to think and say and act as if they are just on vacation.
I cannot tell you how prevalent denial is. When we can’t deal with, change or eliminate something painful, in order to avoid despair, we simply deny whatever is painful. But it is a powerfully unconscious state of being because to slip into denial, a person has to stop seeing, feeling and hearing any proof to contradict it. At some level, they have to go into a bubble so as to not be reached by the proof of world.
You might think that denial is a good tool. After all, if someone can ignore proof in a law of attraction-based universe and focus on what they want to have be true, they will manifest that into reality instead right? Wrong. Denial is a state of resistance and suppression. It is a pushing against what is unwanted. It is a refusal to accept something. It is a war with what is. And whatever we resist, persists.
Denial does not work because unless you know where you actually are, you cannot know where you want to be and you can’t take the appropriate step between here and there. For the sake of understanding the difference between denial/suppression and genuine improvement, imagine getting in an airplane and flying out across the ocean. Imagine that a low oil pressure warning light comes on in your cockpit. Now imagine that instead of actually addressing it, you take a piece of duct tape and put it over the light so you don’t see it anymore. Can you see how that coping mechanism would get you into a whole lot of trouble?
Denial is not just about denying that there is a problem, some people see there is a problem but their denial comes in the form of minimizing the impact it has on our lives, excusing it, forgetting it or rationalizing it.
It is easy to see how we can deny something physical like that. But what about denying thoughts and denying emotions? We can deny those things as well. But I must say that the single most prevalent form of denial in the human race is emotional denial. We do not want to accept the reality of our own emotions and we do not want to accept the reality of other people’s emotions. As a result, we are constantly at war with ourselves and with each other. To understand fully about how to deal with emotions, I encourage you to watch my video on YouTube titled: The Emotional Wake Up Call.
But lets talk today about the effect of denial on relationships. We can see this most often with regards to childhood. Lets imagine that a parent simply cannot deal with the pain they feel in response to their child’s negative emotions because it makes them feel like they are a bad parent. Not being able to cope with that, they will deny the child’s reality and refuse to accept it as true or valid. They may minimize, invalidate, refuse to acknowledge the emotion or disconnect and withdraw from the child. The child is not able to be seen, heard, felt or understood by the parent. The child becomes desperate for their pain to be seen and acknowledged. They may develop disorders that show that pain physically in a way the parent cannot deny. For example, I have never met a teenage cutter who does not have at least one primary caregiver who copes via the mechanism of denial.
Denial in a relationship makes a relationship impossible. People may be in the same room physically, but they are in different realities completely and usually, the one who is not coping with denial is in torment because they are not just alone, they are alone in their pain. The single most painful thing a person can experience isn’t something painful… it is going through something painful, entirely on their own. Pain requires presence. Denial is the opposite of presence. To really help someone with their pain, it has to be acknowledged, seen and valid and understood. Otherwise, all the “helpful actions” you take aren’t really helpful; they are simply attempts to trump the person’s painful reality with your reality. It is essentially a war between perspectives.
Many people with the coping mechanism of denial simply cannot understand why nothing they do for other people is good enough or why when they try to do good things, people always get upset at them for it. The reason is that unless you are willing to fully accept the reality of someone else’s reality, you cannot see what is in fact genuinely right for them and needed and wanted by them.
People who cope with denial run into big difficulties in relationships and cannot often keep them long term unless they are in a relationship with someone else who also copes with denial because by virtue of being in denial, they are inherently antagonistic. They fight with other people’s unpleasant realities. Their mentality is “you are wrong about your reality or about how you think or feel”. Their mentality is “I don’t see you or feel you or hear you or understand you because it’s too painful to me to do those things.” The underlying message is: I cannot accommodate your reality into my reality and feel good at the same time, so I’m going to choose to leave you alone in your pain so I can feel ok.
But the lurking shadow underneath the denial is that the person who is in denial themselves knows in some place inside themselves that they are lying to themselves.
Certain spiritual tools can serve to enhance denial instead of awakening. This is the reason I did an entire video on Spiritual Bypassing. Take a look at it on YouTube if you are curious after watching this one. For example, positive focus can be a way to fuel denial of what is negative. To understand more about this, watch my video on YouTube titled: The Next Step In The Game. “You create your own reality by virtue of what you put your attention on” can be used to fuel denial. “You can choose how to feel” can be used to fuel denial. “No one else can hurt you because the only pain you feel is pain you allow” can be used to fuel denial. Changing the meaning behind an experience can be used to fuel denial. And the list goes on and on.
At the end of the day, the bottom line in all of this is that awakening is all about expanded awareness. It is the ability to hold space within your consciousness for all truth, not the controlled focus on what you want to have be true. Any methodology that is being used to fuel denial is by definition an enemy to awakening, enlightenment, awareness and expansion.
There are a few warning signs that can indicate that you (or someone in the relationship are in denial. They are as follows…
You can’t get on the same page with a person in your life no matter how hard you try.
If people around you escalate because they think the other isn’t hearing or seeing what is being communicated.
If you’re really confused in your relationship about what is happening.
If you have a pattern of controlling things and obsessing over what you can’t control while ignoring, minimizing or not prioritizing things that really do need to change.
If you like to come to people with answers about how to fix and solve themselves into happy people instead of being present with them and asking questions and curiosity because you want to completely comprehend their world.
If you judge other people for their negativity, especially their inability or as you see it, unwillingness to get out of negative states.
If your reaction to conflict or problems is to immediately blame someone else.
If you have an excuse for everything.
If you’re overly confident, especially in a situation where all signs point to demise.
If you feel ganged up on and like everyone has made you the enemy or is against you when people who are supposed to be your friends and family are against your point of view.
If your philosophy is “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”
If the bad moments are erased by the good moments, no matter how few and far between they are.
If relationships seem to go bad fast and with no warning.
If people around you seem like they are consistently overreacting.
If you have an attitude towards negative emotions and negative thoughts that say ‘this isn’t useful’ ‘it serves no purpose’ or ‘it only brings harm’.
If you daydream about things being different than they are.
If you are entirely focused on the potential good outcome and not on the potential pitfalls or on what is occurring now.
If you don’t want to burden other people with your problems.
If you realize that you simply don’t have certain emotions or have found strategies to not feel them the second they come up.
If you are an obsessive problem solver and you rush into finding solutions.
If you feel like talking about problems for too long is a waste of time and counterproductive.
And most of all, If you live according to the philosophy that you are simply selective about the reality that you will accept.
What should you do to come out of denial?
- Ask yourself, Am I willing to feel? The reason we use the coping mechanism of denial is because we do not feel willing to feel our own negative emotion and our own pain. And the reality is, until the day that you can honestly answer yes to this question, you will struggle with denial. We have got to take a look at why we are so resistant to feeling and take a look at when that started.
- Take a look at your life with curiosity specifically in terms of how you could have been in denial in circumstances in your past. See if you can see the damage that denial did and what could have been avoided if you were not in denial at that time. What would you have done differently?
- If you really struggle with denial and feel brave enough to invite other people to tell you what they think you are in denial about or what you have been in denial about in the past, ask them to write a list for you and give it to you. Go over that list in your own time, watching how resistant you are to it. Go over the list with the genuine desire to see how they might be right instead of spending your time defending how they are wrong.
- If denial is one of your coping mechanisms, you can guarantee that you have denied yourself over and over and over again. This is a self-abusive relationship you have with yourself and one of the first things you deny in yourself besides how you actually feel is what you actually need and actually want. So, I encourage you to get really clear about what your need and desires are. If you need help in that department, watch my video on YouTube titled: Meet Your Needs.
- Ask yourself “What am I really afraid I might be in denial about right now?” Make a list. Denial runs deep. But often it doesn’t run deep enough to totally silence the little voice inside that is warning you about the potential truth of an unpleasant reality. Then ask yourself with each item on the list, “If I the voice of denial were not so loud, what would the unpleasant voice underneath it be saying to me about this situation?” See if you can really accept those unpleasant truths.
- Reach out for support for those painful truths from someone you trust to see you clearly and accept all of you. The desire to isolate and not let anyone in on things that you, yourself don’t want to admit to is strong, but it is counter productive. After they are fully present with the painful reality, solicit their help to focus on an actual solution to what you now see is the actual reality.
- Recognize that shame is literally the heart of denial. You do not want to admit to unpleasant truths because if you did and especially if people around you saw or knew those truths, you and they would see you as not good enough or less than or unworthy and you would have to feel shame. Shame is the emotion that you want to escape from at all costs. Because this is the case, first you have to really let yourself feel shame because your unwillingness to do so, is what is keeping you trapped in denial. Then, watch my video on YouTube titled: How To Overcome Shame.
- Feel your body when you go into defense and you tense up. Chances are if denial is your coping mechanism, it will be what you start doing if you feel threatened. So, when you feel that happening, close your eyes and ask yourself, how does this make me feel ashamed? This is the backdoor to get through your own denial. If you wish, you can explain to your loved ones that you struggle with shame so much that you are likely to go straight into denial if they express something in a way that directly implies that something is wrong with you. See if they are willing to communicate it in another way so that getting on the same page is easier because you will not defend yourself with denial. Instead you will be receptive enough to accommodate their reality.
- Recognize that even though you love control, when you are in denial, you are in fact giving up control. By not accepting the reality of something unpleasant, you can’t do anything about it. Eventually, it will get out of hand and take its own course with or without your consent.
- Watch my video on YouTube titled: How To Let Go Of a Coping Mechanism and take the steps I outline in that video for denial specifically.
Be brave enough to face your life. Realizing that you have been in denial and then using the acceptance of the painful truth you were denying to actually take inspired action is the key to a deliberately created life. You will be amazed about how effective the things you do from that set point are to create genuine and lasting improvements. You will be amazed at how much better your relationship with yourself will become. And you will be blown away at how harmonious your relationships can actually be.