Can we stop pretending, please? Where denial helps us and when it starts to hurt us

I’ve been heartbroken this week reading news reports about the Coronavirus parties people have been holding to challenge the reality that COVID-19 is, in fact, ‘real.’ Some of the stories of the consequences of reckless and irresponsible actions have been totally heartbreaking.

It’s as if some people have chosen to live in an imaginary world, in order to escape the unsettling reality of what is.

My Zoë has a wild imagination. One minute she is a twirling and skipping fairy princess; the next she’s pretending to be a gurgling, crawling baby. When she’s fully in character, it can be a bit of challenge to bring her back to earth and to establish anew that she is – in fact – simply herself.

The other day I had to tell her she couldn’t run about in her Rapunzel dress because it was too long and she could easily trip and hurt her arm (which is currently in a cast) again.

The devastation that ensued was quite something. ‘But I AM a princess, and princesses don’t wear trousers,’ she protested, as the tears streamed down her face. The reality of the situation brought my little drama queen to the depths of despair.

It seems, too, that human responses to crisis can be found somewhere on a spectrum between these two extremes.

The first extreme is to deny that the difficulty even exists, turning away and hiding from it. This reaction results in a disconnect from reality and is accompanied by behaviour that seems reckless and irresponsible to others.

The second extreme is to be so weighed down by the reality of trials that they are magnified exponentially and fear sets in. This response fixates on difficulty to such an intense level that everything feels hopeless.

Both responses aren’t healthy, and yet – in the case of this pandemic – we’ve seen both in action.

We were at the seaside yesterday and the close proximity of the crowds was remarkable to me. Everyone seemed to be blatantly throwing caution to the wind. It was as if they were totally convinced – like a child deep in imaginary play – that they themselves were Superman or Mrs Invincible.

But why is it that so many are sticking their head in the sand and refusing to accept what is real?

As I’ve been thinking this over, it’s occurred to me that denial is the first stage of grief – and that this might give some insight into what is going on.

The 7 stages of grief (Kubler-Ross)

– Shock and denial.

– Pain and guilt

– Anger and bargaining.

– Depression and isolation

– The upward turn.

– Reconstruction and working through.

– Acceptance and hope

In this health crisis, people are grieving the ‘normal’ that was. And rightly so. But when events are too painful for people to cope with, denial often kicks in.

When you are grieving, denial is your body’s way of giving you time to adjust to distressing situations.

But it is never meant to be a permanent condition.

Denial should be a temporary mechanism that helps us process a frightening truth. It helps protect us from the realities of our lives until we can begin to cope with that truth and have hope again.

So at some point, grief should work its way through to some form of acceptance of a ‘different, new normal.’

And yet, it can be tempting to live in a perpetual state of denial in an attempt to avoid facing what is real.

Steven Taylor, a professor and clinical psychologist, calls one type of denial an ‘unrealistic optimism bias.’ It’s a tendency to minimise threats and to see yourself as being more invincible than the average person.

But please let’s not pretend all is normal when it’s actually not.

🌱If we pretend we are impervious to sickness, we will put ourselves in unnecessary danger.

🌱If we pretend we aren’t in a pandemic, we can put others at untold risk.

🌱If we pretend we aren’t at all unsettled by the uncertainty ahead, we prevent others from feeling safe to share their worries and concerns with us.

🌱If we pretend we don’t have areas of brokenness in our lives, then we don’t leave our lives open to healing.

It’s part of human nature to throw pat answers at a problem that are meant as quick fixes. For example I’ve heard this one used – ‘As a man or woman thinks, so he or she is.’ (Proverbs 23:7) The implication here is that you can ‘think yourself’ into being out of danger. You just need to believe you’ll be ok, and you will.

Fact is, believing falsehoods to the nth degree won’t actually do anything for us. If the thoughts we think are untrue, we will live deceived.

It is only when we fully face up to the situation we are in – that is when real change in our attitudes, hearts and minds can begin.

🌱I may be facing many kinds of uncertainty in this crisis, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the certainty of heaven.

🌱Yes, I may have struggles and heartaches, but when I recognise that, I become ready for healing.

🌱Yes, there may be danger out there, but I can take positive steps to protect myself and others.

🌱Yes, this situation is tough for many, but it won’t last forever.

Let’s not resort to pat answers at this time. Let’s face up to where we are, think of others, and allow God to change our attitudes and responses in the process.

H x

Let’s stop pretending we have all the answers

And bow down our heads and pray

Denying the problems we now have upon us

Won’t keep them hard times away

Merle Haggard

Published by Hilary

Mum of two girls 👩‍👧‍👧 positive inspiration 💡 parenting 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 health 🏃‍♀️ life 💓 faith 📖

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