Denial is a survival trait we developed as a child to keep us safe. It involved a refusal to admit that neglect or abuse took place through our childhood. It’s not that we have deliberately lied to anyone, it’s that we have had to lie to ourselves to keep us alive. Denial, when viewed objectively, may seem like an ignorant state in which to live but it is a very practical way of keeping a problem at bay. Denial is a form of survival. We, as adults, continue to deny what happened to us when we are not ready to admit the harm that took place.
Denial is when we try to explain our parents’ behavior or trivialize what happened to us. This can include thoughts or statements like ‘It wasn’t that bad’, ‘They tried their best’ or ‘I was a problem kid’. When we were small, we had no choice to leave the abusive environment.
We couldn’t afford to see that the abuse was the fault of our parents because we needed them to keep us alive. Therefore, we learned to change the way we perceived the harm that was done to us by telling ourselves that it was our fault. We were caught between a rock and a hard place. We came to both believe these thoughts and that we deserved what we had coming. We became confused with this thinking but we had no choice but to live though the denial.
As adults, this denial serves us no purpose. However, we find it extremely difficult to come out of the denial and admit the truth. Indeed, many addictions – drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, food etc. - were created to assist us in denying our problems. Although this may seem self-destructive, it has to be recognized that the addiction is, conversely, a form of survival. It is about surviving the harm by burying the painful feelings that go with being raised in a dysfunctional family. For many of us, the pain of addiction is not as great as the pain of the family legacy.
It can take us to reach a ‘rock bottom’ in our addiction before we are ready to admit to our denial. This can mean that we have to lose everything before we can move forward. The turning point for many of us has been another failed relationship, a work burnout, depression, illness, poverty or homelessness. These rock bottoms, when we are at our most vulnerable, can serve as a turning point in our denial and help us to recognize how our childhood harms have kept us running on empty.
In seeking a sense of wholeness we make a commitment to ourselves to put ourselves first and open up to the possibility that we may be in denial. This exercise serves to help us on this journey.
Our answers give us clues as to how much denial we carry. By challenging our denial we begin the healing. We recognize that we’ve blamed others for our feelings but the healing starts when we acknowledge that our original family cannot heal us. We begin the recovery from denial by accepting a spiritual solution.