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Learning to Stop Pretending Not To Know

Posted Dec 18 2011 6:10pm

There’s denial and then there is denial…many people seem to twist reality into a version that works for them…they tell themselves lie upon lie…excusing inexcusable behavior in others, accepting unacceptable behavior from others…rationalizing and justifying that which needs to be stopped. Many times it’s a matter of not wanting to deal with it, not wanting to be honest in order to avoid the pain of the cold hard truth and the necessity of doing something about it. Many times it requires a very aggressive denial of the past and a very aggressive rose-colored view of the future. In other words, a lot of energy living in fantasy land.

When I started to stop living in fantasy land and review some of the ways I had managed to do deny, deny, deny, I would cringe. It was painful thinking about some of my denial reactions to some of my friends’ reactions to things going on in my relationships. From a couple who tried to help me when the abuse in my first marriage was obvious (me running to their apartment with obvious and multiple bruises), to a friend who pointed out a basic personality clash between me and long-time boyfriend, to begging off a friend’s invitation so I could go have a “talk” with my estranged boyfriend, to ignoring obvious signs of cheating…these are all times that would later make me cringe and think, “What was I thinking?”

But the denial, the pretending, the settling for, was absolutely necessary in order to keep a dysfunctional relationship together or to go back to a dysfunctional relationship or to hold out hope that a dysfunctional relationship would get better (newsflash: nuh uh).

But unless you’re a complete whack-a-doodle, denial only goes so far. Unless you have recently gone off some rather strong psychotropic meds, you have some understanding that something very wrong is going on. It was no different for me….on some level I knew…I knew…I always knew. There were other times I “suspected” infidelity or conveniently ignored the hurtful words in the last argument…because if I acknowledged them I’d have to do something about them and I wasn’t ready for that.

If the hurtful incident came into my consciousness, I would immediately mentally switch it off. It was too painful to think about. And the “this relationship has no future” or “if I stay in this, it’s just going to be more pain” NEVER came into my consciousness if I could help it and, most times, I worked very hard at helping it.

The fantasy / denial either postpones the inevitable…or keeps us stuck in a bad situation…and we settle for less and less each day…because if someone gets away with it once, they do it again…and we have to pretend more and more while we ignore more and more…until we’re so far afield from reality we don’t know whether to sh!% or go blind.

Sometimes we start to detach from all of our feelings and go on autopilot because we can’t feel as bad as we really feel. Other times we become a basketcase freaking out over every little thing until everyone. We become anxious and irritable. Maybe we cry easily or take offense over small things. Our responses are inappropriate on both ends of he spectrum. We ignore things that need to be addressed and overreact to small slights. Sometimes we start drinking or overeating or doing some other destructive behavior and then have to go into denial about THAT. We set up layers and layers of self-deception., We can ricochet from one end of the emotional and mental spectrum to the other trying not to face the cold, hard facts.

We find that our insides are churning and there is no true relief from the reality of the situation, which is that the situation sucks. until our insides are churning all the time and there is no peace of mind. Sometimes we start to detach from our feelings and go on autopilot because we can’t feel as bad as we really feel. Other times we become a basketcase freaking out over every little little thing until everyone, including ourselves, begins to doubt our sanity. We can ricochet from one end of the spectrum to the other trying not to face what we will eventually have to face: the cold, hard facts.

If we’re lucky, our survival mechanism starts to overtake our ability to live in lala land. As I said, IF WE’RE LUCKY. Many people live their lives in denial, telling themselves it’s not that bad OR things will get better OR there are reasons for this person to be that way OR we are over-sensitive OR we did something to deserve this OR …. There are so many ways to live in denial and people are very very creative at figuring out how to do it. Doing nothing about that which hurts us becomes what we do. And rationalizing and justifying that lack of action is also what we do. So doing nothing and rationalizing that takes up all of our time.

People live like that. If you’re reading this, you’ve spent time living like this or you’re living like this now…refusing to recognize the truth, the cold, hard facts, or excusing and justifying the actions of someone else or the fact that you’re holding on to something that’s over, someone who doesn’t want to be with you, or the fact that you need to move on. I’ve said, so many times in my years as a counselor, “But he/she does NOT want to be with you.” and the response was as if I said something completely out of line or talking crazy talk. It might sound harsh to hear, but it’s the truth of the matter. And I should not be the first one to point this out. This thought should have surfaced long before I brought it up.

One of the most important things you need to do in order to move on and be healthy is the ability to face facts without excuses, justifications or rationalizations. It’s important to learn to observe things in as objective a way as possible. It’s important to learn to step back in all situations and try to take a fresh look, to turn things over in your mind, to think about things from different angles, ask questions you might not normally ask. Becoming healthy means taking time to question your view of things without falling prey to obsession and becoming muddled. A healthy life understands the balance. You don’t want to question yourself or others to the point of unbridled suspicion or accusations, but you don’t want to accept everything and everyone including your current take on reality. If you feel distrustful of someone, you learn to understand what is coming from intuition and what is coming from insecurity, what needs attention and what can be JUSTIFIABLY dismissed (meaning it makes logical and objective sense to dismiss it, not that you are justifying something that should NOT be justified). You learn to analyze your incoming data not just accept it as is and not just reject it without reason.

Being a healthy person means acting with discretion. Being discerning. Being an observant person. A self-aware person. An accurate reporter of reality.

Not easy. Never ever easy. But necessary to living an authentic life. It’s a horrible moment when you start to realize that someone you had hopes for or feelings for is not a nice person or isn’t that interested or committed or worthwhile. It’s not a great moment. You get angry that you are in this position to HAVE TO DO SOMETHING. You get angry that you have to face facts and reality. Yes, that initial WTF moment is a tough one. It’s a moment when things are coming to light in a way you don’t like. But it’s much easier to figure that out and move on than to stay in denial and get used to misery or get used to denying the misery.

Now, you might ask yourself, how do I get there from here…how do I get to healthy observer from person of denial and excuses?

First you need to ask yourself:

What have you pretended not to know? What are you still pretending not to know? What thoughts are you having that are denying the cold, hard facts of reality? How are you dressing things up to make it more palatable? What are your patterns? What mental exercises do you do in order to keep your reality a certain way that isn’t the real reality?

Understanding how you’ve denied the truth and ignored reality is the most important thing you can do to break your patterns and start to come back to reality and learn how to use it to your advantage. It’s important to start by looking, REALLY LOOKING, at what you’ve done and how you’ve managed to rewrite and redefine reality is the first step to Becoming a discerning person who observes, analyzes and accepts reality the way it really is….

So, how have you managed to pretend, deny, and twist reality into something that is not real?

And how are you going to stop and face reality? What are you doing here and now to change things?

It’s time for denial to become a past behavior and for being an observant, discerning, objective and aware person to become second nature. Start today.

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