Why Denial is Dangerous

Client Name: *Trish

Client Description: Client is a 42-year-old female, moderately overweight, casually but appropriately dressed with good hygiene. Affect and orientation appear normal.

Presenting Problem: Client indicates that she has been struggling with moderately severe depression for the past three years. Symptoms of depression include: increased tearfulness, decreased energy, emotional eating resulting in a weight gain of 65-70 pounds, difficulty falling asleep, increased defensiveness and irritability, guilt about her marriage, and reoccurring feelings of hopelessness. Client states that “my mind does not stop twirling,” and that she currently needs a couple glasses of wine each night now to calm her brain enough to sleep. Client says she began using wine to help her with stress starting about three years ago. She feels that she drinks too much and for the wrong reasons. “I am very disappointed in myself that way.” She also indicates that she has tried marijuana in the past.

Additionally, client indicates that she is significantly anxious. She says that she has suffered from panic attacks and is struggling with a lot of obsessive thinking about her current situation. She finds it difficult to concentrate and focus at home. She is struggling with her increasing anger and describes herself as “going off the deep end” a couple of times a month. Though she is not currently suicidal she has thought about it in the past, especially when she’s really down.

Family History: Client has been married and divorced twice. She is currently married to *John. They have been married six years. She says that her marriage to John is good aside from the problems that she is having with his ex-wife and his 17-year-old son. These problems started two years ago when the son complained to his mom that Trish was “getting on his case,” at which point the ex-wife threatened that John would lose his son.

She states that the ex-wife is narcissistic and manipulative and that John will not do anything about it. She indicates that she and her stepson started off well but over time conflict began to arise. In her opinion the stepson is very disrespectful towards everyone. There is a great deal of conflict between Trish and John over how to parent him.

Client indicates that she has been married two other times. She married *Roger at 15 because she was pregnant. But it didn’t last long because she states that he was mentally and physically abusive. She had three children with Roger. She states that she was a responsible parent right from the start.

Her second marriage was to *Dan at the age of 23. They were married for 16 years. They have three children. All the children currently live with their father, who she describes as a “great guy.” She says they had a good family and good values but they grew apart and she fell out of love. She states also that he was hard on her older children and that changed things between them.

Client states that her parents divorced when she was ten. She had regular visitations growing up until they moved from Florida to Michigan. Her mom remarried when Trish was 12. However, she was never close with her stepfather.  In addition, both her mom and stepfather drank heavily and used recreational drugs. She indicates, however, that she had never been abused as a child or as an adult. Her mom died three years ago.

Additional Background Information: Client is a registered dietician. She says she believes in God but does not attend church. She has few friends, having just moved into the area. Client says she has hyperthyroidism. She is currently taking 50 mg/daily of Zoloft but is trying to wean herself off because she does not want to feel dependent on it.

It’s okay to get stuck. It’s not okay to stay stuck.

How do you sum up a person’s life on paper? Reading through a brief composite of Trish’s history might give you a sense of some of her life choices. But of course, there’s far more to her story than what I’ve shared. It’s enough, though, to tell you something about Trish.

She’s stuck on a certain path.

How did she get that way?

The same way we all do.

The path Trish is traveling right now—it took time to get that way. It didn’t happen overnight. And she’s on it for two reasons: the choices she’s made, and the choices that others have made that have impacted her.

And now she has another choice to make.

One of the problems with staying on the path she’s on is that she didn’t consciously choose it. No one ever intends to choose a path that is littered with the fallout of bad choices, the anguish caused by disappointments and unmet expectations, hurt and trauma.

But we do self-sabotage. We practice poor decision-making until we turn it into an art form. We become plagued with doubt and insecurities, faulty thinking and bad habits. And over time, we begin to question our ability to choose a different way. We become victims of circumstance, powerless to do anything but be tugged along. We don’t learn from the past; we wallow in it.

When we stay stuck fear sets in, stealing our belief that we can change

Trish has been stuck so long on a path that, while difficult, has become very familiar. But she’s in denial about where the real problem lies.

Denial is tricky. Short-term denial can give you time to process. There’s always an adjustment phase when we go through a life change.

But when denial gets in the way of you taking decisive action to change your circumstances, it becomes harmful. So telling yourself that you don’t need to be happy, or that happiness can’t be achieved in this lifetime, or that it’s too late to change, or that you don’t deserve it, or you don’t know how…are all just excuses you use to stay stuck right where you are!

Another reason we default to the familiar is that too many women approach middle-age still believing that our needs and desires ought to be fulfilled by others. Then we find ourselves unhappy and unsatisfied. So, we blame. And, we try to find fulfillment in temporary things.

Trish is stuck in blame mode. She sees her life as a series of wrongs that others have done to her. If only her husband would be more supportive. If only the ex-wife would back off. If only the stepson would be more responsible. But none of those things are happening, so Trish has begun to find fulfillment in other places.

The problem is, no matter who she blames, and no matter how much she chases after self-fulfillment, it’s never enough. Sex, romance, shopping, food, alcohol, exercise, money, recognition, power—none of those will bring about lasting happiness for her.

A crisis of truth is often the junction where two paths cross

Trish has come to a potential turning point. It’s a place where her current path diverges and she faces a choice. You see, what I haven’t told you is that Trish has met someone at work. It’s a man who’s been paying her a lot of attention recently—attention that she hasn’t been receiving from her husband. And it feels good.

It also scares her because she recognizes that there’s a need in her that’s not being fulfilled right now by John. So, she’s been welcoming this other man’s attentions. She’s been engaging in some flirtatious behaviors. She’s been thinking about him when she’s at home.

And now, he’s begun texting her outside of work hours.

So far, she hasn’t responded. But she wants to.

This is Trish’s crisis of truth, and what she does now is critical to her future. Because, of course, she has a choice. She can succumb to her emotions, to her vulnerability. Or she can take a hard look at herself, at why she’s in the position she is.

What’s your crisis of truth?

Sometimes a crisis of truth is created for us because of circumstances. Events are set in motion that force us to take a long, hard look at where we are versus where we thought we wanted to be when we first set out. Other times, it’s internal. We wake up and realize we’re headed somewhere we don’t want to go and only we can change that.

Trish still has a choice. She can walk away.

What about you? How can you know that your turning point has arrived?

There are clear signs:

  • Discontent with yourself
  • Discontent with your marriage
  • Anger and resentment toward people and situations
  • Chronic feelings of overwhelm, stress, anxiety and/or depression
  • Chronic irritability over “little” things
  • Stress-induced illnesses
  • Feelings of victimization
  • Bitterness
  • Feelings of powerlessness or hopelessness
  • Wanting (or feeling obligated) to control everything (and everyone)

When you come to that place, that turning point, a new path emerges that you may not have noticed before. It was always there, of course. It’s just not well traveled. That’s partly because there’s a bend in this path that you can’t see around, which makes it all the harder to take. So some stay on the familiar path because at least it’s…well…familiar!

The other reason it’s not well traveled is because we don’t want to face ourselves. It’s easier to spot problems in others. That’s why it’s called denial.

Denial is alive and well…and dangerous! It’s dangerous because if we allow it to continue, it leads to delayed decisions, indecision, or wrong decisions. It causes us to see things through a subjective lens that isn’t accurate, which affects the way we understand ourselves and others. It causes miscommunication, hurtful communication and many other dysfunctional behaviors.

When you stop denying, you’ve taken a step down the other path—the path of personal accountability

The other path requires you to take responsibility for that discontent you’re experiencing and determining to change what you can from this point forward. And it’s the path that leads you to true fulfillment.

So, get tough with yourself. Stop denying. Stop blaming. Start changing.

*Name and details changed to protect privacy

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