I mentioned writing about denial ages ago but have been busy with procrastination. I was reminded of this the other night while having an argument with my son. He clicked on the x-box at 11:00 pm. We didn’t really argue, I just stared him down with the crazy-Mom-face until he turned the TV off. After that he launched into his rationalization. I knew what was coming but gave him a few minutes. He said, “You came in at 10:42 and said it was almost 11:00! You didn’t say anything about going to bed!” Aye Yai Yai. I couldn’t help myself. “So the last two years of me telling you to go to bed mean nothing because I didn’t say it tonight!?” Must have given him a really scary face because he hugged me and said he loved me and moved on up the stairs.
What a great description of denial! He blocked out what he knew to be true, and replaced it with a more favorable thought.
Some denial I struggle with is literally flat-out ignoring basic realities I do not want to deal with. Emotional denial is a little harder to spot. Although equally painful in the long run, isn’t it easy to replace emotional realities with more palatable counterparts? I say more palatable because they are never easier per se. They usher in a whole different set of problems .
I remember telling a friend that I have a terrible habit of “cutting myself off at the knees.” I meant it as screwing up my own forward motion with dumb decisions. (Hum, I taught my son well.) When we looked it up we found another use of this expression in the form of iconoclasm. The literal meaning is the “breaking of images.” Today it usually means rejecting formally held beliefs, or any status quo. The actual breaking of idols or religious statues has been practiced throughout history in many regions. I read somewhere about statues being literally chopped in half, hence the expression, “cutting off at the knees.”
I’m thinking now that it would be good to be my own iconoclast. To see those more convenient thoughts as idols to break instead of emotional coping methods to cling to.
A simple example would be that in the face of feeling hurt it is less emotionally taxing to be pissed off instead. Walking through hurt is not fun. But anger? Usually causes more hurt to someone else on some level. Then the hurt is doubled and you are left with the original hurt anyway. Grr. Much more fun to throw things off the deck than to cry a river. I guess the idol to break here would be anger.
Strangely, shame can act like an idol as well. That feeling when you screw up or recall past screw ups and feel like a bag of useless shit and shuffle around in self-loathing spreading black clouds wherever you go. It feels so…normal. I get stuck there sometimes, ignoring the fact that a little humility and acceptance can lead to healing. Shame is just as much a waste of time as my son’s ridiculous explanation I described.
Fear is an idol. Not saying it’s easy to recognize by any means. A daily practice of brutal internal honesty helps fight that. Maybe taking a situation to its logical conclusion in our minds can help. Like, what is the actual worst that can happen? Most fears never come to pass. And if they do? In hindsight, making a courageous step feels awesome even if nothing turns out like you hoped.
I know, I didn’t really share the specific places of denial in my life. I’m not a real fan of bleeding all over the world. I have a few dear ones that hear me out on those and point me in the right direction. I hope you do too.
“Our life is made up of time; our days are measured in hours, our pay measured by those hours, our knowledge is measured by years. We grab a few quick minutes in our busy day to have a coffee break. We rush back to our desks, we watch the clock, we live by appointments. And yet your time eventually runs out and you wonder in your heart of hearts if those seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and decades were being spent the best way they possibly could. In other words, if you could change anything, would you?”
~ Cecelia Ahern