Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

Years ago I wrote a song called Denial after a discussion with a friend about a guy I’d been seeing who lived with blinders on. He ignored obvious things he did that caused him trouble and acted like everything was okay when everyone else knew it wasn’t. He was far from stupid and I know at least deep down he knew the things he denied. When I told my friend I wanted to write a song about how he was always in denial, she laughed and said she could rattle off at least a dozen people she knew who also lived that way. I realized I could think of others too and wrote the song. The chorus was:

Denial, building up walls
Close your eyes, so it goes away
Make believe it isn’t there
So you can face another day.

Many people live like that, some to greater extremes that others, and it can exasperate those who care about them. They ignore stuff about themselves that might be too painful to change or that they feel helpless about. Being in denial can lead to all sorts of problems when you ignore things you should take care of. For example, people are in denial about things like:

•    Being an alcoholic. Many alcoholics are in denial. They swear they can stop drinking whenever they want. But, their addictions makes them never want to. That’s why at AA meeting, people stand and acknowledge, “I am an alcoholic.” That stops the denial.

•    Being in a relationship with the wrong person. When you love someone, it’s hard to see that he or she is no good for you. So you put the blinders on and make excuses, which reinforces your denial. That keeps you stuck in an unhealthy relationship.

•    Being abused by someone close to you. Whether it’s a romantic partner or a parent, boss or friend, we’re often in denial about whether we deserve abuse from someone we don’t want to lose. Abuse, whether physical or mental, is never your fault, no matter what the person says. But when you don’t know what to do or think you need the person, you blame yourself and deny the person has NO RIGHT to hurt you.

•    Being the one who causes the problems. Unlike the last example, you may believe you’re such a good person that nothing you do is wrong or that you’re just trying to help, even if people ask you to stop. So you go through life annoying people by refusing to take responsibility for what you do.

•    Being stoic about feelings. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing!” That’s a common one. Or you’re upset with a romantic partner who goes cold on you, rather than deal with what’s bothering you. I hear about this scenario often from women about their guys refusing to acknowledge what’s wrong but women do it too. Going cold instead of dealing is a wall of denial.

•    Being a DoorMat. When I was a DoorMat, I insisted I was just being a nice person. Okay, so people seemed to take me for granted or take advantage of me. But I was so scared of losing friends and being alone that I made excuses for them and reassured myself it was good that I was nice. Only when I began to spend days out of DoorMatville did I start to take my blinders off and accept that I needed to stop buying friends with favors.

I had a client who was on the brink of being sued over a medical bill she didn’t pay. Her insurance should have covered it but didn’t. She had a stack of papers 2 feet high and didn’t know where the paperwork to prove she wasn’t liable for the bill was and couldn’t handle looking for it. Instead, she went into denial about the consequences of inaction. That’s common when there’s something important that you should do but the idea of doing it is so unpleasant you ignore it. But ignoring things doesn’t make them right and they don’t go away because you’re in denial.

Until you acknowledge having a problem, you’ll never be able to fix it. Blinders can get stuck on pretty tight but they can come off if you choose for them to. Love yourself enough to be responsible, whether you’re in denial or someone you care about is. Don’t stay with someone who won’t own what they’re doing that has a negative effect on you. Denial is unhealthy, whether you do it or are with someone who does. You may try to make them see the logic of their situation or what they’re doing but denial will keep them from processing it with logic. Love yourself enough to keep denial to a minimum in your life.***************

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