It is always easier to see how others tune out, and more difficult to notice our own patterns - that is because we tune out the ways that we have been tuning out!
- Barbara DeAngelis, How Did I Get Here?
As much I may pride myself on being conscious and aware, I discover I am not. Not always. In fact I engage in denial without recognizing it for what it is - tuning out the truth.
Barbara DeAngelis turned the volume up for me in her chapter, "Playing Hide and Seek With the Truth," in her book, How Did I Get Here? She identifies 4 common ways of tuning out reality, calling them the "Four Denials." She says that unwelcome realities, unexpected wake-up calls, difficult turning points, and confusing crossroads trigger these denials.
These 4 denials include:
- Preoccupied Denial
- Idealistic Denial
- Angry Denial
- Unconditional Denial
After reading over this section, I can see that this form of denial runs rampant in American culture of extreme busyness, over-volunteering, and over-achieving. I can see how I slip into this form of tuning out when I allow myself to become over-extended. And then I tell myself I don't have time to deal with what I really want/value/need because I am so busy over here. In other words, I don't heed my heart. (I'd really like to blog more consistently, but I am so BUSY with my real estate investing business and dealing with my life!)
Here are specific examples from 15 that DeAngelis listed under this form of denial:
- "I know I need to work on controlling my anger, but we're remodeling the house."
- "I know I need to stop smoking, but I'm recovering from my father's death."
- "I know I need to quit my job, but my mother just moved in with us."
- "I know I need to start an exercise program, but Christmas is coming up."
What strikes me most about this form of denial is how impressive our excuses can be. They sound so reasonable and logical. As DeAngelis points out, however, it is always inconvenient and disruptive to face the truth and mess up our "to do" list.
Here's a situation where having too much of a good thing can create problems. Being a positive person, who strives to see the best in others, can send out waves of good will and positive energy. Where these ideals turn into denial occur when compassion turns into co-dependence, patience into stagnation, concern into enabling, and support into sacrifice.
As DeAngelis notes, when we are in idealistic denial, we use our positive traits to avoid confrontation. We get trapped by our own idealistic tendencies. She ends this section with a story of a loving, compassionate pediatric oncologist who admitted in the first hour of therapy that he knew, in the first month of marriage, that he made a mistake in marrying his wife. It took him 10 years to acknowledge this mistake and leave her.
Unexpected events can make us feel scared, which in turn makes us lash out with anger and hostility. When we engage in this form of denial, we'll likely "kill" the messenger. In our hostility, DeAngelis notes that we become blind to the love and goodwill of others, and blind to what lies in our hearts.
We can tend to this form of denial when we feel threatened that an inadequacy of ours, that we have worked hard to eradicate, may be exposed.
The example in the book describes the true story of a woman hired to run a Chicago office. The new hire did a great job. One year later, the owner decided to bring in an international business management firm to oversee the financial operations of all locations in the company. To that end, she asked her Chicago hire to gather all the financial papers needed. The Chicago hire misinterpreted the request, assuming she was being investigated. She went ballistic and filed a lawsuit. It took the company owner 6 months of time and legal fees to make this staff person go away. The company owner had unknowingly awakened all of her hire's secret fears of being inadequate, losing her job, and not being qualified enough.
This form of denial is ABSOLUTE in its denial of truth, in spite of any and all evidence to the contrary. I can think of a few high level politicians in the White House who suffer from this. Hitler was the poster boy for this, and unfortunately, many others in our country and the world over continue to spread hatred and evil.
But I need to get off the political podium and address this at the individual level. DeAngelis explains that we can fall into this when we believe our psychological survival depends upon an unswerving adherence to our version of the truth, with no room for negotiation.
She gives the example of a woman whose husband has left her, filed for divorce, remarried a year later, and the woman still believes her husband is coming back. The woman cannot accept the evidence that her marriage is over and sends her ex-husband a card on their anniversary.
DeAngelis concludes this chapter with the admonition that living enlightened lives compels us to find the courage to face the truths that have been stalking us. I love this quote she found from a 19th century writer:
The change of life is the time when you meet yourself at a crossroads and you decide whether to be honest or not before you die.- Katherine Butler Hathaway