Denial and Dark Matter
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.