Denial: Learn to cope with painful situations

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Denial: Learn to cope with painful situations

Post  Hummingbird on Wed Sep 02, 2009 12:48 am

When someone says you're in denial, it generally means you aren't being realistic about something that's happening in your life, something that may be obvious to those around you. Indeed, when you're in denial, you seem to be pretending that something isn't happening or isn't true.

In some cases, though, a little denial can be a good thing. Being in denial for a short period can be a healthy coping mechanism, providing time to adjust to a painful or stressful issue. But denial has a dark side. Being in denial can prevent you from effectively dealing with issues that require action, such as a health crisis or financial problems.

Find out when denial can help — and when it can be a roadblock.
Understanding denial and its purpose

Denial is a common type of defense mechanism that occurs in reaction to a trauma or perceived threat. It is a way of coping with emotional conflict, stress, painful thoughts, threatening information and anxiety by refusing to acknowledge that something is wrong — in essence, denying the existence of a problem. You may be in denial about something happening to you or happening to a loved one.

In its strictest sense, denial is considered to be an unconscious process. You don't generally decide to be in denial about something. But some research suggests that denial may sometimes have a conscious component — on some level you might be choosing to be in denial.

In either case, when you're in denial, you:

* Refuse to acknowledge a stressful problem or situation
* Avoid facing the facts of the situation
* Minimize the consequences of the situation

Common reasons for denial

You may be in denial about anything that makes you feel vulnerable or threatens your sense of control over your life, such as:

* Mental illness or addiction
* Chronic or terminal illness
* Financial problems
* Job difficulties
* Relationship conflicts
* Traumatic events

Situations in which denial may be helpful

It may seem that refusing to face facts is never a healthy way to cope. In some cases, though, a short period of denial may be helpful. Being in denial gives your mind the opportunity to unconsciously absorb shocking or distressing information at a pace that won't send you into a psychological tailspin.

For instance, after a traumatic event, you may need several days or weeks to fully process what's happened and come to grips with the challenges ahead. Consider, for instance, what might happen when a woman discovers a lump in her breast one night as she's lying in bed. She feels a rush of fear and adrenaline as she imagines it's breast cancer and immediately leaps to the conclusion that she's going to die. So she decides to ignore the lump, hoping it'll go away on its own. But when it hasn't gone away two weeks later, she consults her doctor.

This type of denial is considered an adaptive — or helpful — response to stressful information. The woman initially denied the distressing problem, but then as her mind absorbed it, she came to approach it more rationally and she took action by seeking help.
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Re: Denial: Learn to cope with painful situations

Post  Hummingbird on Wed Sep 02, 2009 12:48 am

Situations in which denial may be harmful

But what if the woman had continued to be in denial about finding the lump and tried to forget about it entirely? What if she never sought help? In cases like that, where denial persists and prevents you from taking appropriate action, such as going to the doctor, it's considered a maladaptive — or harmful — response.

Some examples of unhealthy denial:

* A college student witnesses a violent shooting but claims he's not affected by it.
* The partner of an older man in the end stage of life refuses to help get affairs in order and tells others that he's getting better.
* A businessman periodically misses a morning meeting after drinking excessively the night before but insists he's still getting all his work done, so he doesn't have a problem.
* A couple are ringing up so much credit card debt that they toss the bills aside because they can't bear to open them.
* The parents of a young daughter with drug addiction keep giving her "clothing" money.

In situations such as these, denial prevents you or your loved one from getting help, such as treatment or counseling, or dealing with problems that can spiral out of control — all with potentially devastating long-term consequences.
Moving past denial

When faced with an overwhelming turn of events, it's OK to say, "I just can't think about all of this right now." You may need time to work through what's happened and adapt to new circumstances. But it's important to realize that denial is a temporary measure; it won't change the reality of the situation.

It isn't always easy to tell if denial is holding you back, but if you feel stuck or if someone you trust suggests that you're in denial, try these strategies:

* Honestly ask yourself what you fear.
* Think about the potential negative consequences of not taking action.
* Allow yourself to express your fears and emotions.
* Try to identify irrational beliefs about your situation.
* Journal about your experience.
* Open up to a trusted confidante.
* Find a support group.

If you don't seem to be making much progress dealing with a stressful situation on your own — you're stuck in the denial phase — consider talking to a mental health provider. He or she can help you find healthy ways of coping with the situation rather than trying to pretend it doesn't exist.
When a loved one needs help moving beyond denial

You may find it incredibly frustrating when someone you care about is in denial about an important issue, whether it's health, finances or relationships. But before demanding that your loved one face the facts, take a step back. Try to determine if he or she just needs a little time to work through the issue.

At the same time, let the person know that you're open to talking about the subject, even if it makes both of you slightly uncomfortable. Often, people facing distressing issues fear that those close to them will be unable to cope and will abandon them. So, make sure your loved one knows you're available, no matter what happens. Ultimately, this may give him or her the security needed to move forward and take action.

If your loved one is in denial about a serious health issue, such as depression, cancer or an addiction, broaching the issue may be especially difficult. Offer support and empathetic listening. Don't try to force someone to seek treatment, which could lead to angry confrontations. Offer to meet together with a doctor or mental health provider. If the impasse remains, consider counseling for yourself to help you cope with your distress and frustration.
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