Denial and Acceptance

Denial —
Four Ways to Catch It in the Act:

“Denial is when you say what is, isn’t.”
A newly recovering alcoholic came up with this descriptive definition in group years ago and the author would be hard put to improve on it. We might be a little more technical and say that denial consists of not believing a painful truth, thereby avoiding the
painful feelings and choices that would follow. That is the apparent motivation — but how does the mind do it? Let us count the ways -four!

1. Denial as Prejudice

An analogy with prejudice gives us a glimpse of the mind dispensing with irritating facts that threaten belief. For example, a male chauvinist might believe that a woman cannot
do the work he does. Unfortunately for him, a woman joins his department or job site. Not only does she do this particular job, she does it measurably better than him!Does he alter his ideas? No, not our male supremacist.
“She’s getting breaks from the boss, the customers, probably sleeps with them,” he alibis.
“Beginner’s luck,” he concludes.
By a few well-chosen explanations, he dismisses the facts that threaten his precious belief. And if he can’t explain the facts away, he can fall back on an even more primitive and complete way of ridding himself of the troublesome facts: he forgets them! In these ways,
prejudice protects itself from reality.
Denial works in a similar way. I can explain away the facts that threaten my cherished belief that I am a “social drinker,” that I am “okay,” “in control of myself,” “normal.” Or, I can just forget them.
We cling passionately and stubbornly to our beliefs about other people or groups. How much more vehemently do we defend our most cherished beliefs about ourselves! Seeing denial as prejudice also reminds us that every disbelief hides a belief — every denial is the flip
side of an affirmation! Empathy for what denial protects may soften it, while relentless battering of the wall only seems to make it thicker.
What prejudice about self is protected by telling myself “One won’t hurt?” I’m “normal.” I’m “strong.” I’m okay and I’m in control of myself — and I would never knowingly do something that would hurt myself or anyone else. Why, that would be “crazy” or “cruel,” and
I am, I believe, “nice.” Like the spouse-beater who says, “I couldn’t have caused her black eye because I’m not that kind of person!” Prejudice: clinging to mental categories and labels in the face of facts that contradict them.
What about the relapse which begins with “F— it?” Maybe the prejudice toward myself is negative. When “I quit” is what these words mean, perhaps, I protect the negative image of myself as a “loser.” Or as “inadequate,” a child, really, — you can’t expect me to continue to cope. Then again, maybe I believe I’m a “victim.”
And if my prejudice about myself is “positive?” The very fact I say a resentful “F— it” avoids facing the fact I’m quitting. If I think of myself as a “winner,” how can I admit I’m quitting? I may also avoid saying “I don’t care” by using “F— it.” Of course, I’m a
“caring person!” — just ask me. The spirit of “F— it” is blame, that something else is not how it “should” be, justifying my relapse. I only do what I do for “good” reasons, when someone else is “bad.” Whatever else recovery requires, it is going to entail facing what I have really been doing. I must give up my rigid and out-dated ideas of who I am.
“Cleaning house,” they call it.

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