Effects of Trauma: The Fine Line Between Denial and Healing

Letting go comes in many forms and letting go of denial can be an important one. It means letting go of what’s stopping you from facing the fear, anxiety, isolation, disconnection and growing and fully embracing your power. Fear and anxiety play a role short term to keep people alert in situations of dance. However, they serve a short term purpose, it becomes problematic when there is no real long term threat or danger.  It’s when we get trapped in it that we need to see how it stops us from seeing how we avoid, deny and defend the wonderful opportunities on the other side of a life challenge.

Many of us were not taught how to express our emotions in a way that is not harmful to ourselves or others. Often people hold them in until the kettle boils and there is an explosion of anger, frustration or sadness. Many of us go to a place of denial to cope with emotions that are hard to express or deal with.When you get used to not expressing yourself then it becomes a habit and anything new often feels scary, including your own emotions and feelings.

I’ve seen denial often with clients over the years, who have called me to help them with their life clutter. When we hit a soft spot around the why they have the clutter, out come the many excuses, downplaying, blaming and other comments that prevent them from facing the truth. For example, blaming a partner for not putting items away in the home is the reason for the clutter, meanwhile they have an excessive amount of belongings that they don’t use or need. There is a long list why they need to keep them and there is no going around it. This creates a brick wall to getting anywhere because if something doesn’t change then the situation can’t change. Without getting to the root cause for why things are the way they are it makes it hard to really address a situation fully. 

What is denial

One definition is that “denial is a type of defense mechanism that involves ignoring the reality of a situation to avoid anxiety.” Kendra Cherry talks about how you can’t look at what’s really happening or the consequences of your actions. It’s having trouble accepting something that seems like more than you can handle. Denial is a way to cope with something that seems just too big to deal with and impossible to change. Taking it slowly gives a person time to slowly shine light on the situation at a speed that allows them to address it bit by bit. Ideally this slow process is with the  help of someone where you can move through it with support, less stress, less confusion and overwhelm and more clarity. 

Going back to the example earlier with the client who has too much stuff they don’t need, it might be helpful to take micro steps by looking at beliefs, where they came from then looking at letting go of items.

Just like shame, denial protects a person from what is just too much. We often associate denial with individuals who struggle with mental health and addictions.. I’d like to let go of the labels and say that it happens to all of us in one way or another. Denialis someone struggling to deal with change. This is called being human. Our brain wants to keep things simple, save energy, and as Erin Urban says, it wants “situation normal”. Our brain is used to a chemical combination and anything different just doesn’t fly.  The brain always defaults to the easier path. In a way denial is one way the brain is saying no to change. 

The other thing to note is that sometimes you might have an awareness of a situation, yet are unable to articulate it or think about it in a logical way. There are times when words don’t work and just being with a situation in an energetic way means being patient and waiting for more answers to come. So where some may say it’s denial, it could be their point of view, judgements and projects of what they see. Whereas for you, you are experiencing something totally different in which denial is actually not the case. 

Getting in tune with how you feel and what is going on in all areas of your life will help you discern when it’s denial and when you are aware that things are unfolding in a way that doesn’t require direct action. 

What are the signs of denial?

I’ve reflected on, researched and compiled some of the many ways denial shows up: 

  1. Down playing the situation

  2. Denying family situations, a situation at work, relationship dynamics 

  3. You refuse to talk about a problem that is affecting your and/or others

  4. You find ways to justify your behaviour that is clearly causing harm in some way

  5. You blame other people or outside forces for causing the problem

  6. You persist in a behavior despite negative consequences

  7. You promise to address the problem in the future, but then don’t

  8. You avoid thinking about the problem

  9. The person in denial often truly doesn’t see a problem

  10. Making excuses for your repetitive behaviours that cause chaos

How can you let go of denial?

Decluttering goes beyond your spaces and time wasters. Letting go is essentially a way to let go of what is making you heavy, stuck and overwhelmed. 

With denial comes a story of why things are the way they are. These stories have been repeated, recycled, and reused for years.  It’s a way to not face what you are afraid of and it’s ok to avoid something that doesn’t feel possible. Asking questions is a very powerful process that I’ve practiced for many years with clients and found that it has helped shift old mindsets and points of view. Recently I’ve come across the approach from Dain Heer around what is possible and integrated into the questions I ask clients.  Start asking questions and get curious: 

  • How can you make the situation possible in a way that allows you freedom? 

  • What do you need to make it possible? 

  • What story can you let go of around a particular situation? 

  • What are you downplaying?

  • What would it take to change this?

  • What else is possible that you haven’t considered?

Other ways to deal with denial

Involve someone else

If you are dealing with a loved one or someone else in your life who is struggling and unable to face a particular situation, it can be helpful to involve a third party. This can be tricky especially if the person isn’t open to getting help in general, doesn’t see a problem,a reason to speak to anyone or is completely resistant to change. In those cases you can focus on how it is affecting you and speaking to someone is really about helping you deal with the situation. This allows you to own your part, let go of what they do and get your needs met while maybe even creating some shift in perspective in the other person. 

Compassion, Nonjudgement, Listening

Often people don’t open up because they don’t feel safe and they have a lot of shame around a particular situation they have been avoiding, hence the reason for the denial. If you are able to come from a place of compassion, understanding and truly listening then the other person will feel this and slowly open up. This is not reality TV though and having one long intense conversation is not going to solve the problem. Rather I invite you to get curious in tiny steps making it easier for you to stay grounded and centered and for the other person to feel safe enough to shift and open bit by bit. This goes for you as well if you are looking at your own avoidance and denial. 

Take care of yourself

What can you do to address the situation without taking care of everything in a codependent way? Is there a way that you can be of support and make sure your needs are being taken care of?

At the end of the day there are infinite ways to describe a situation. Slapping it with a definitive label like denial keeps people trapped, feeling shame and more  avoidant to tackle the problem. Rather, be honest with yourself, those around you, keep it simple and ask:

  • Is this situation really as it seems?

  • What point of view can I change so that I’m not projecting, judging, rejecting myself or others?

  • What is possible that I haven’t considered that could create more ease with this situation?

And most of all be kind to yourself and balance taking action and observing without judgment to get clear on what you want to create and where you want to put energy.

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