Having been raised in a dysfunctional family, we had to use denial as a way of surviving. It helped protect us by blindsiding us to the reality of the abuse that was directed towards us as children. However, if we don’t face up to our denial, now as adults, it will plant the seeds of family dysfunction for the next generation.
We begin by looking at what happened to us as children and how we’ve understated it. There are times when we attempt to brush over events in our past. When describing them to someone else, and watching the shock on the other person’s face, we attempt to underplay it.
We use statements like: “It wasn’t as bad as it sounds” or “Everyone did it that way in those days”. The denial tactic worked for us as a child, because we couldn’t contemplate how horrible we felt, and we had to cover up those feelings by ignoring them. As an adult, we are ready to admit our denial if we want to find recovery and peace.
Denial of our parents’ behavior highlights our need to protect our parents. The reason for this is so we don’t have to face our own anguish about what happened to us as children. This denial may downplay the abuse we received like:
Being hit or beaten
Being picked on by siblings
Witnessing constant rowing by parents
Being told secrets by the adults.
We may not recognize things that happened to us as being wrong because the nature of our denial doesn’t allow us to unpack these events and examine them.
These next two exercises will take a look at our denial around our parents' behavior and then look at our denial on our own behavior. They will help us to open the suitcase of denial and begin the task of identifying things that took place and abuses that occurred that may not have seemed out of order when we were young but, now we are adults, we know were wrong.
Denial of Our Parents’ Behavior
In this first exercise on our parents’ behavior, there are five columns to be filled in. The first is ‘What Happened’, and we list the events that were obviously wrong like sexual abuse or being hit and screamed at. We also put down more subtle forms of abusive behavior like our parents swearing, using drugs, inappropriate language or other types of behavior that were not appropriate for a child to be around. They may have left us in harm’s way by leaving us with other adults who harmed us. They may have neglected us and allowed us to be badly influenced by other family members like siblings or cousins. They may have not conducted themselves in a way that was caring and loving to us, the child.
We copy this exercise into our journal and fill in all the columns, starting on clean pages if we need to write more, and in the last column we describe what happened as we see it with an adult’s eye.
MY PARENTS’ BEHAVIOR:
Denial Of Our Own Behavior
It is common to live in denial of our own behavior as an adult. We display neglectful, hurtful, even abusive behavior to others. It’s not easy to uncover the denial and admit to such deeds. But if we have been victimized, as a child, the chances are that, unless we have uncovered the denial, we simply act out to others what was done to us. We see this as ‘normal’.
Added to that, we often act on our hidden rage because of what was done to us. This leaves us with two avenues to explore to tidy up our side of the street.
This exercise can be painful as it may trigger old feelings of shame. We must turn to our Higher Power to help us through this exercise. We must trust that this process is the right path for us. We must believe that we can uncover our own denial and own our actions with the loving help of our Higher Power.
We know that there was little chance of us turning out any different than the way we have turned out given all the abuse that we had suffered as children. We don’t condemn ourselves as we uncover our harmful behavior. However, we do own it and understand why we did it.
We look at our behavior towards our loved ones: children, partners, siblings and parents. We then look further to others we may have harmed including work colleagues, other children or our wider families. We look at how we may have behaved as a perpetrator to others by victimizing them.
We may have become a dominating authority figure or learned to manipulate others by behaving like a victim. We may have raged at people when our martyrdom went unnoticed. Perhaps we have engaged in verbal abuse by gossiping maliciously.