I am routinely overwhelmed and sick of it.
I have spent my entire life feeling overwhelmed, like, “This is just too much for me.” I now realize that that is my childhood trauma talking. Children can’t handle adult responsibilities. And various parts of me got stuck at a pretty low level of development. I asked my shrink a couple of visits ago when she thought my primary trauma was, the age I was. She said, “In utero.” Greeeeeeeat. I have all the adult confidence of a preemie.
Here’s the flip side. I have been obsessed with the topic of denial lately. I have seen it in myself and others. Here’s a clue you are in denial: when other people warn you about something and you do not heed their warnings. Been there, done that. A topic will never arise in your mind until your subconscious is ready to deal with it. Period. You can’t make it happen.
(Don’t get me wrong. I believe that denial should be broken, not respected or coddled. If you truly feel that someone cannot handle the truth and you should “respect” their denial, my suggestion is to avoid that person. If you are aware of something they don’t want to deal with, even your very presence will piss them off. Denial is not the same thing as ignorance. Some part of them knows the truth and their tolerance for your awareness will be zero. People can sense levels of awareness. Always keep in mind that the stage after denial is anger.)
The last shrink appointment offered a lot of hope. I have been reading a book by Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery. The book talks a lot about reconnection being part of recovery. I had only glanced at later chapters and it depressed me badly. I have a very low trust level of humans, others and myself. How am I supposed to create these magical, connected, secure relationships when I trust no one? She said, “You don’t need anyone else.”
“You mean I can do this myself?” I responded.
“Yes. Or you wouldn’t be aware of these issues.”
The light bulb went on in my head. “Oooooh. If I wasn’t ready to deal with these issues, they simply wouldn’t rise to the level of awareness.”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” she replied.
My adult self may lack confidence. Other people may have varying levels of confidence in me. But my subconscious is saying, “Let’s do this!” I feel encouraged a little bit in a twisted way. Sometimes, it feels hard to get all my pieces on the same page. Can I do this, that, or the other thing? My subconscious is saying, “Damn straight, you can!”
I’ve been thinking about denial a lot lately–and I do mean a lot.
I am a believer in Dr. Phil’s assertion that “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.” But say you are in denial about something. How on earth can you figure it out?
In science, there is this stuff called “dark matter.” What is it? Scientists do not know. They can’t see it. And that begs the question, “Then how do they know something is there?” Because, whatever it is, it has mass and sufficient gravity to bend light. They are not looking at the dark matter itself, but rather its consequences or after-effects.
And such is true with everything.
In Al-Anon, there is this pamphlet entitled, “Alcoholism: A Merry-Go-Round Named Denial.” There is a newer, slightly expanded version, but the old version is still, and always will be, true. Alcoholism is presented as a three-act play. Act one: alcoholic does stupid crap. Act two: people clean up the alcoholic’s mess. Act three: repeat act one, with the consequences of the alcoholic’s behavior increasingly serious. Nothing meaningful has changed and everything gets more severe with every passing year. What’s the solution? For the other actors, beside the alcoholic, to stop protecting the alcoholic from any and all consequences of their behavior. Period. Denial protects nobody from anything ever. The consequences are real, regardless of whether or not they are acknowledged. You don’t have to see the problem to be stuck with dealing with its consequences.
Here’s the fun part of denial: it only affects that individual, person, family, culture, whatever. All outsiders have no problem seeing the false assumptions with enormous clarity. We can all see each other’s blind spots without a problem. How do you find your own blind spot? Ask around. Trust me: your unaffected family members and friends can see your blind spots effortlessly. And you can see theirs.
I believe our culture is erupting because nobody wants to deal with their issues. We don’t see the denials of our families, communities, and nation. But newbies see everything. Recent immigrants (and small children to hilarious effect) can see our blind spots instantly. Just like we can see their hypocrisy instantly. Nobody is free from hypocrisy. We all have our blind spots. Nobody’s value system is free of some internal conflict.
I started going to psychoanalysis precisely because I was dealing with huge emotional problems that all the cognitive behavioral therapy in the world did not touch. The crippling shame. The total lack of meaning in my life. The lack of a will to live. Honestly, my attitude was simple: if this does not help, I will kill myself. I cannot live live like this for another thirty years. I was saying and doing things and sometimes hurting other people and thinking, “What the hell? Where did that come from?” If you cannot change what you do not acknowledge, I was officially screwed. It was a last-ditch attempt to make life meaningful and perhaps even worth living.
I am so glad I did. I know where my emotions come from now. The mystery is gone. I am no longer blatantly self-destructive (tearing out my fingernails and toenails). I feel like my anger is properly placed now. I am dealing honestly with my issues and feel a new sense of potential usefulness in this world. I have truly ended my “relationship” with my family of origin. I have some freedom now.
How did I figure out where my denial was? The consequences of it were destroying my life. I was (and am) no longer willing to bear the burden of my family’s dysfunctional garbage (emotionally or physically). I thank Gabor Mate, Pete Walker, and Laraine Sorrell (my psychoanalyst). I owe these people everything. It is a debt I can never repay.