Remember the time when you sat in an airplane. As the plane takes off you look out of the window and you find things getting smaller and smaller till they eventually disappear from your view. Even the tallest of trees or the giant sky scraper, all disappear from your view. You sit back in your own world surrounded by clouds oblivious to those buildings and trees on the ground.
What happens to these buildings and trees? Do they disappear? Do they cease to exist? Or are they very much in existence where they were. The moment you land back you have to face them again. If you have gone away for a longer period of time chances are that they might have just grown bigger in number.
These buildings, these trees and a lot of other things that seem to disappear on our flight are like the problems or issues that we have in life. More often than not we choose to sit in a flight of denial and wish to forget their existence. Unfortunately for us these problems and issues do not cease to exist but are not visible to us in our flight from reality.
I have seen a lot of people who go about their life in denial. They refuse to accept things that bother them or tend to minimise how much things bother them. They believe that ignoring the issue may just solve it or eventually stop bothering them.
The existence of pain whether physical or mental is with the purpose of making us aware that their is a problem in that region. An aching body part is the body’s way of telling you that the part needs attention either in form of treatment or rest. Similarly the feeling of mental discomfort or sadness tells you that a particular issue is bothering you and needs to be addressed.
What happens when you ignore an aching part and continue to live your life as if there is nothing wrong. Chances are that the injury gets worse and you have to rush to the doctor in great pain.
Emotional pain is the same. It is an indicator that all is not well. It tries to tell you that there are issues in and around you that are bothering you and need your attention. The issues need to be accepted and faced. They need your attention otherwise they will worsen and have a deeper impact.
It is a very simple logic. Why then do people choose denial? Why do they prefer to pretend that there is nothing wrong or that they are fine when it is obviously not true?
One of the main reasons for that is we like to believe that accepting pain is a sign of weakness. Admitting that something bothers you is seen as defeat. I met a boy going through relationship break up. He refused to admit how much it was bothering him. He trivialised the matter and pretended that all was OK with him. Eventually he started having anxiety attacks and bouts of irritability. He tried to use work as distraction and ended up overworking leading to fatigue and insomnia. Eventually we did talk about the relationship which had made him feel rejected and worthless. If only we had dealt with the issue earlier on, things may not have become this bad.
Another reason for denial is probably social pressure. An elderly lady who was taking care of an ailing husband denied that it was taking a toll on her. She had become completely home bound and hardly had time for herself. She missed her social interactions and leisure time. However she believed that admitting this would make her seem like a bad wife. It would mean that she did not love her husband. Even stepping out for an hour of exercise would mean cheating on her duties. She eventually started suffering from low mood and disinterest and ended up in depression. Slowly as she accepted that taking care of the husband is tiring and she needs to take care of herself too, she started working on herself and as a result was better able to take care of the husband too.
A heightened sense of self is another reason for denial. I met a lady who was having problems in her family relations. She refused to believe that the behaviour of her family members was bothering her. Why? Only because she believed that she was extremely mature and understanding and should not be affected by such trivial matters. She believed that her understanding nature did not allow her to get affected by small matters. The more she denied these problems the situation in the family became worse. Her refusal to accept the situation resulted ultimately in serious family disputes.
Some people deny their problems simply because they are not as bad as the other people’s problems. There have been innumerable couples who end up separating because they deny problems in their marriage earlier on. They believe that they have a good marriage because other couples have bigger problems. Over the years simple problems which were denied become complex. Simple problems are easier to solve if only we can accept them as problems.
Some of us deny problems because we take our social roles too seriously. A man was unwilling to mourn the loss of his father. It was more important for him to support his mother. True but that does not mean that it did not affect him. It certainly did not mean that he will be seen as weak if he cried for his father. Unfortunately some perceived societal roles do tend to encourage denial.
Sometimes we believe that denial is often the right way of solving a problem. A family who had lost a young son refused to talk about him. They hid away all his belongings and photographs. They refused to talk about him or meet his friends. They thought this will help them move on. It certainly did not. It just made the situation worse.
A pain killer does not cure. It brings temporary relief. Denial is temporary relief not the solution. Pretending that it does not bother you is not being strong. Accepting that it bothers you makes you human. Working towards it makes you mature and strong.
Remember no matter how comfortable the flight ground reality is where we thrive.
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About the author
Dr Gauri Choudhary is an MPhil in Clinical Psychology from Mumbai. She has her expertise in Adult and Child Psychotherapy and diagnostic Psychometry. She is also competent in neuropsychological assessments and retraining.