“The emotion that’s most closely linked to denial is hope, but it’s a false hope that things will turn out to be how we want them to be, as opposed to how they really are. When it comes to our relationships, we hope that the other person isn’t as bad as they seem, or that they’ll realize the errors of their ways and change for the better.” – Marcia Sirota https://marciasirotamd.com/psychology-popular-culture/adult-children-abusive-parents-live-denial
In order to heal, we have to accept things and people as they are. No matter what our intent is, we cannot force something to be what it is not. Yet this can be difficult to process if we’ve grown up in a home where we have to deny reality in order to survive.
As children we are dependent on our parents. We may idealize them and really desire their love and acceptance. Yet if there is abuse, it’s easy to deny it or make excuses for it because there is no where else to go. We can blame ourselves for what has happened to us, or even make ourselves forget it.
If this isn’t addressed by shifting to an accurate perception of reality, the same behaviors or coping mechanisms will continue into adulthood. We can numb ourselves to abuse so much that we no longer recognize it. This is a setup for painful patterns in other relationships.
This can be amplified if we feel obligated to conform to others’ expectations. As a child we might not want to feel like an outcast for having an unloving family, and as an adult that residue can linger.
Or, if we can admit what happened; we might face harsh judgements and criticisms from those who expect that everyone should hold their parents in high regard. As we try to process our experiences others may tell us that it wasn’t that bad, or that the person is a nice and loving person, or that they simply don’t believe our experiences.
The wisdom here is that we don’t need anyone to validate our experiences. It can be nice to have someone hold space for us in a compassionate and non-judgmental way; but that is not always an option. And when it’s not – we can decide to hold that space for ourselves as we witness and process our life story.
Examples of Abusive Behaviors
If we are used to minimizing or justifying abuse, we might not be alarmed when we encounter some of the following behaviors.
Humiliation – It is not kind to make someone feel ashamed or humiliated and write it off as “just a joke”. It is also not an enlightened behavior to humiliate someone as a form of punishment – it is abusive.
Stonewalling – Some people are poor communicators, but there’s a difference between having a hard time expressing one’s feelings; and deliberately giving someone the silent treatment in order to punish or control them. If someone is constantly stonewalling you, then take that wall as a sign to inquire deeper on the true nature of this relationship.
Forcing Dependence – This is often framed as trying to be helpful by taking care of everything, but it’s really a power grab. If someone is keeping you from having your own resources or having the information you need to properly care for yourself or reach your highest potential – that is not being a loving protector, it’s vampiric.
Outbursts- If someone is constantly having outbursts and disrespectful communications towards you, it’s not because you did something wrong.
From Denial to Discernment
Some things that can help shift this dynamic of denial include:
1. Learning to identify and express our feelings instead of repressing them. Affirmation: I have a right to express my feelings, opinions, and desires.
2.Accepting people’s actions for what they are, without making excuses for things that make us uncomfortable; but instead, setting firm boundaries for what we are and are not willing to interact with. This also includes not allowing peoples flowery words and beautiful promises to carry more weight than their behavior. Affirmation: I have the right to be treated respectfully.
3. Being the change that we wish to see. Instead of waiting for someone to change their behavior, accept that it is not them that needs to change so that we can feel comfortable. Instead, we can take our power back by realizing that there is some sort of change that we need to make – maybe we need to have more self-love, maybe we need to learn how to have stronger boundaries, maybe we need to change our physical environment. Affirmation: I am the cause of my emotions, not other people. I will not give them this power over me ever again. Soul Psychology by Dr. Joshua David Stone
Let Your Words Be Your Guide
One of the best journaling questions to reflect on is, “how do you feel?” This can really help ground us to reality. You can write this as a daily prompt, or you can reflect on this after you have an experience that you are trying to process. The key is to answer it honestly without making any justifications. You feel how you feel and that is okay.
December 30, 2021
Created on December 30, 2021 – Last Updated on March 1, 2023 by Jennifer Nelson