Denial is a protective device

By Ox Drover

Someone was talking about how she should have seen what her ex-significant other was up to with all of his sweet words. He was in prison, and telling her how he had changed and found the light and how wonderful things would be when he got out. She knew what he had done to get in there, the bad acts he had committed, but she chose to believe his “sincere remorse.” Now she wanted to know why she had been so stupid.

She wasn’t “stupid—”she was using denial to protect herself from something so painful the thought of it “scared her to death.”

Years ago, when I was married the first time, my husband and I were friends with a couple. I felt close friendship with both the man and the woman. I knew that they had been separated once in their long marriage because she had caught him cheating, and that they had lived separate for a year or so before getting back together. I also knew that the woman would not put up with any more cheating on the man’s part. She had made up her mind that if he cheated again, that would be it. They would separate and divorce.

The life they had made as a couple was satisfying. They had an adopted son. The man had a good, steady federal job. They had a paid-for home and some land in a community they liked. She was a stay-at-home wife who enjoyed that role and kept busy with homemaking and taking care of their son.

After my husband and I separated, I was totally devastated and frequently I would take my two young sons and go to my couple-friends’ home to spend the weekend. They lived out in the country and raised meat animals for sale. Our children were friends, and I considered both the man and the woman to be my friends.

One weekend a month or so, my boys and I went to see them for the weekend. Just before dinner on a still, bright and light Saturday afternoon, the man mentioned he had some new animals in the barn that he wanted to show me. With the full knowledge of his wife, who was cooking dinner, we walked out to the barn to see them. While we were walking down the aisle my friend appeared to stumble and fall, and I tried to catch him, but then realized he was making a “lunge” at me, literally!

I gave him a firm “NO!” and backed away from him. He got a sheepish grin on his face and said, “Well, you can’t blame a guy for trying.” I said, “Yes, I CAN blame a guy for trying, but I love your wife and I will not tell her what you just did.”

We went back in the house and ate supper. After supper, the boys and I left instead of spending the night. I was disturbed by my “friend” lunging at me, but I felt that it was wrong to tell his wife what he had done because I knew it would hurt her. I doubted that he would tell her, so I decided to just stay away from him without someone else present.

About two weeks later, in company with another female friend of mine, I went to visit the couple for an hour or so, and the wife was very, very “cool” to me. I couldn’t figure out why she would treat me in such a manner. After we left, I started discussing the situation with the girlfriend who had gone with me, and she said, “Silly, he figured you would tell her even though you had said you wouldn’t, so he had beat you to the punch, and he told his wife that YOU made a pass at him.” DUH!

Well, obviously my friend had it figured out, and that was exactly what this serially cheating, unrepentant creep had done. He had told his wife (my friend) that I had made a pass at him.

His wife knew me pretty well, I think, and she knew I would not have in any way encouraged her husband to make a pass at me. She knew also that I was reeling from the separation from my husband in a divorce from hell, and she knew her husband was a serial cheater in the past. But she chose to believe him. She went into denial about what she knew or suspected was the truth—that her husband was  lying to her (again) to protect his behavior.

She knew if she acknowledged the truth, that her husband was a lying cheat who would not stop trying to cheat, she would have had to leave him, and she didn’t want to do that. The pain and financial problems, the loss of the “lifestyle,” would have been too painful, so it was easier to deny what she knew was true, and to get mad at me, rather than accept the truth.

What would have happened, I asked myself, if she had believed what she knew, instead of what he said?  What would the woman whose man was in prison have done if she really looked at his actions, rather than listen to what he said? They would have had to act on those truths, and because the very thought of acting on those things was so painful, they chose to believe the lie. It was the less painful option.

I, too, have chosen denial of the seriousness of the things that were true. I did not want to admit that someone was evil, that they will not change because they do not want to, that a lifetime pattern of doing illegal, immoral and mean things means that person is not likely to alter that pattern. I did not want to accept that truth.

Denial in the short term is a salve to the heart of the devastated one who cannot immediately accept the whole raw truth that, for example, their loved one has been killed in an accident. They must accept that truth a bite at a time, like eating an elephant. Short term, denial is protective.

Long term, denial is worse than dysfunctional. We must accept that they are “deceased” in order to be able to “bury the body” (so to speak), because if we don’t do that, the corpse of our existence starts to stink and rot. If we accept the truth, we must ACT on information instead of perpetually remaining in denial.

I never saw my couple friends again. I knew that there wasn’t any use in trying to tell her that her husband had lied, that I had not made a pass at him. If I had told her the truth and she had believed it, she would have had to ACT on it, or continue to deny it. She did not want to ACT, so she therefore continued to DENY he lied, and put the “blame on me.”

I do understand, though, how that woman felt. I stayed in denial for many, many years, rather than accept the truth about my psychopathic son and his lack of repentance for his crimes, including murder. Accepting that truth after decades of denial was difficult, and at times I asked myself why I denied it. I think the answer is that at the time, I thought it was easier and less painful. Looking back, I know I wasn’t stupid, but I did make a choice that, “knowing what I know now,” I would not make again. There is no use in  beating myself up for not knowing then.

I know now. I make decisions now on what I know now.


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57 Comments on "Denial is a protective device"

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Dear Whyme,

Well, I can relate to that. I’ve never gotten a DWI but I could have back in my younger days. I pretty well straightened up my act before I had my kids though, and tried to live by the “do right” rule, worked hard even when I was a stay at home mom, tried to be a good parent to the best of my ability. Not been perfect by a long shot, but I do have a conscience and so do you. I agree with your therapist.

What I meant about the criminal records is a PATTERN OF CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR THAT LASTS and L*A*S*T*S and cheating is a way of life, a way of thinking. The “jay walking” was a bit of a hyperbole, but the point I was trying to make is that people who have multiple criminal acts and do prison time are NOT GOOD BETS FOR A PARTNER/FRIEND MOST OF THE TIME.

There ARE some people who go to jail/prison and then actually DO get right with society and with themselves and with God but the MOST DO NOT! So, I am NOT WILLING TO TAKE A CHANCE on someone who has a big bad prison record, a record of many previous bad relationships, abusive, crooked, lying behavior etc. in their past.

I’m no “virgin” I’ve smoked my share of dope when I was a kid, I hung out in LA during the height of the “hippie” days of love ins in Griffith Park etc. and what I haven’t done I saw done but it never became a way of life for me. Even back then if I did something I knew was “wrong” I did feel guilty about it. I still do.

I don’t think there are any of us who can look back at our lives previous to today and say “I was a perfect person. I never did anything I knew was wrong. I never hurt another person.”

We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t, but the point is that we have accepted that, and tried to change our ways. The story of King David in the Bible tells me that you can be a good person even if you’ve done some pretty shabby things (and boy did he ever do that!) but he REPENTED and changed his ways when he realized what he had done. He accepted the consequences for his actions. Admitted his wrongs. That is something a psychopath will not do. So forgive yourself and do what you need to do TODAY to have a better life. If that is get a job, then do it, and you can retire again when you get your pay out from your inheritence. (((hugs)))

Did I see you at Griffith Park, Oxy?? 🙂
I wuz there! I lived in Redondo & on Catalina & in the Haight & in the Sierras in a school bus! In fact, I got married on a *brightly colored* dawn at Tioga Pass in 1968!

Thanks for reminding me of King David. David’s story was one of the things that lured me back into the church in 1990 & launched me into my years of intensive Bible study. I allus figured that if God loved David most of all, with the things David did, He must be able to love me, too!

“Behold, the love the Father has for us, that we should be called the children of God!” The very idea of that is just AWESOME to me…..

I was there at Griffith park, was that 66 or 67? I can’t remember but I met a really sweet and beautiful young man there named David. I llived in a little rented house on Franklin Ave behind Grauman’s Chinese theater, it even had a little yard and a lemon tree, I was cutting film for Consolidated Film Industries CFI and then started dating a couple of different guys—just friends more than anything. Ah, the memories!!! I think it was the grace of God and dumb luck nothing bad happened to me in those days because I had no idea what the REAL ugly world out there was like. The summer I was 21 I had my first big crush—and believe it or not we are still friends, he and his wife retired a few years ago and moved here to be close to me. Glad I didn’t marry him though, but we are good friends for 40+ years, and that’s the way it should be.

Distressed Grandmother

Oxy this is a good one. and you are right denial is a lot easier than acceptance. I wish I could deny everything that is going on in my life right know. I choose a hard road and the guilt is eating me up. I feel like I betrayed my grandsons turned my back and gave up. Yet I know there is nothing I can do to make this right. I need to get help. I am not coping well. I am tired of putting my pain on everyone. It does me no good to put my pain on everyone. I feel weak and tired. I will make a appointment with the Doc on Monday as I do have a lot of great family who do love and need me and I now that. I am just having a hard time in dealing with the pain I am inflicting on my grandchildren. They have let them call several times over the last few days testing to see if I meant it when I told them that I will be staying out of all there lives. They fool so many people and even my husband some times. He took the gifts over and came home and said.Did the boys phone I said yes why? He said well I thought you might want to know that your daughter was being nice and told them to call.I did not talk to the boys! She was not being nice at all she was testing and pushing me they would love me to crack and prove to the world that I am the crazy one. Please help me find the strength to make it through this. Right or wrong my decision is made please help me find a way to make it through the hurt and pain and pray form my grandsons that they never feel the hurt and pain that I am. Pray that the parents quit using them as pawns against me. I do not think I will ever understand what I am living or why I have to live it. I keep saying what did I ever do to deserve this. Please set my grandchildren free! Amen

Great post, Ox. I can totally relate to this and am guilty of staying in “perpetual” denial until HE walked out on me and I was forced to face the cold hard truth of who he is and the lengths he will go to just to get what he wants…regardless who gets hurt. Getting what he wants is all that matters.

Dear Grandmother, I am sorry I didn’t see or respond to your post until today! Doggone it, I hurt for you and I hear your hurt and I understand how trapped you feel. It is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation and they use the innocent to punish you. I can’t tell you why bad things happen to innocent kids, or why life is not fair, but we know it isn’t…I have a faith in God and I lean on that faith hard sometimes because I cannot see how “All things turn out for good for those that Love the Lord” but I have to believe it. I t is what my faith is built on. Looking back however, I can see that some “mega bad things” that happened to me, later turned out to be blessings in disguise—and at the time they happened I was DEVASTATED that my world had collapsed. I lost a job I loved Through no fault of my own, I was DEVASTATED….I got another job that I didn’t like much but had insurance, good pay, and was only 2 days a week, and not long after that my beloved step father was diagnosed with cancer, and I was able to be his caregiver and be with him 5 days a week and go to his doctor’s appointments with him, and be there to see he got the care he needed. A BLESSING. I was still able to maintain my health insurance etc. and have an income during that time. Also a year and a half after I started that 2 day a week job, my husband was killed and I had been able to spend much more time with HIM those last 18 months, so all in all, losing that job I loved put me in a place to have BLESSINGS that I couldn’t even anticipate later down the line. All I could see at the time I lost that job was I LOST SOMETHING I REALLY LOVED.

When my husband died (we all either die before or after our spouses) I was devastated, but at the same time, I realize that even his violent and sudden death was less horrible for him than it would have been for him to have had a stroke or heart attack or cancer and died slowly. At least he died doing what he loved and didn’t suffer. He had watched my step father waste away and I KNOW my husband would NOT have been a courageous patient like my step father was. LOL So somethings that seem bad at the time, burn out to be blessings…I can’t tell you how or when, but keep praying. Pray for them and pray for yourself, and do get some help. Get some therapy and put yourself back together so you will be there for the rest of your family and for the boys when they need you the most. We can’t know what tomorrow will bring us, but I DO know you need to TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF starting TODAY! God bless (((hugs))))

Towanda, OxDrover. Truly horrific stories. Those lovely, upright, “stable” people who use denial to hold it all together.

I was thinking, on a far more lighter but related topic, about how we all go into denial somewhat to preserve the stability of our lives. I mean, I don’t just storm out when they’re giving me hell at work. But nor do I deny what’s going on. I think. I hope. It’s easy to forget bad incidents with co-workers, friends, and family when things go well for a while.

Maybe that’s what created the kind of person I am, with a big “victim” sign on me for small-time scammers. My need for stability leads me to overlook some things.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about grace. Grace is very poorly understood. Grace is surfing change, letting the chaos in because it brings truth and insight. It’s letting God’s message get in. The opposite of control and denial of the truth.

So I hope the new year brings with it lots of grace. And I fear that, too. Oh well.

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