Archive for the ‘ denial ’ Category

When Your Body Takes Another Road

Statistically, there will come a point in nearly all our lives when our body stops behaving in a “normal” way and doesn’t stop. Sometimes it’ll be sudden, some times it will creep up on us, and for some it will have simply always been that way. The thing that we have in common is a sense of loss for that normality, and a completely human need to grieve for it. This post is going to be primarily aimed at those that have acquired a long-term condition/impairment or had one worsen, as that is an area I have experience in.

Loss can be categorized as either physical or abstract, the physical loss being related to something that the individual can touch or measure, such as losing a spouse through death, while other types of loss are abstract, and relate to aspects of a person’s social interactions.

We all grieve differently, it’s far more complex than just feeling sad. While yes, some do feel sad, some also get angry, some withdraw, some cling, some seek justice, some seek to keep the memory of the past alive, some hunt for meaning, some wish to campaign for better, some choose to support others, some try to make a new normal as quickly as possible. Most will travel through a mixture those different states before “recovering”. Of course recovery is an odd one when what you are grieving is an abstract loss of normalcy. Gone is the “normally” functioning body and/or mind, gone is the normal way of doing certain things, gone are the “normal” expectations about how you fit into the world be it with friends, family or with your paid/unpaid work, gone are you hopes of being “healthy”, gone are the ways you learned to navigate certain challenges, gone are the dreams you had that relied on being able to function “normally”, and most hurtfuly, gone (or at least severely dented), is the idea that you are “normal”. Continue reading

The Denial Barrier & It’s Effects On Activism

Since really starting to make a push with human rights activism I have kept coming up against the same barrier. A rather specific form of denial, the denial of ones mortality, which is something hardwired into nearly all of us. It’s something I really want to talk about but I’ve not been really sure how to approach it. After a bit of an email to and fro I’ve decided to just type out my thoughts in the hope it goes somewhere useful.

The denial of mortality (or Denial of Death as written about by Ernest Becker) I’m going to try to explain what I understand of this concept now, bear with me, I’m not a Psychology student but I’ll do my best. The general idea is that people’s minds, for their own protection, work hard not to think about our own mortality. Where we all know on some level we are going to die it still doesn’t really sink in. A large part of many of us thinks death is something that is a) a long way off, b) happens to other people, c) is totally outside of our control (so there is no point worrying about it) and d) can be avoided by taking precautions.

Psychologists talk about a cognitive barrier set up to protect us from the damage to our mental well being that can occur when we realise just how fragile our existence is. As someone with PTSD with a lot of acquaintances with the disorder I regularly see first hand the ‘damage’ the trauma of being exposed to your mortality can do to ones sense of self. In many ways this barrier is a good protective force. Without it leaving the house and/or talking to other people would become so anxiety provoking our lives and independence would suffer greatly.

This defensive barrier is denial in the psychological sense which manifests in the following ways;

  • It produces a desire to ‘minimise‘ the danger by acknowledging it is out there but telling us it’s not really that big of an issue it needs thinking about/ dealing with.
  • It tries to ‘rationalise’ the risk by reassuring those listening that there is a good chance it won’t be them (which feeds the minimisation) or by working out rules to keep us safe (like not wearing short skirts if we want to avoid rape or driving carefully to avoid disablement via car crash).
  • When someone tells us an uncomfortable truth it causes us to ‘project’ our feelings of disquiet onto them, so we can tell ourselves they are not worth listening to.

 
The issue is that this ‘denial & minimisation’ of our mortality seems to extend to a lot of causes close to my heart. Disability and women’s rights being two big ones. I’m sure there are intersections with other civil rights struggles too, but as I don’t know the areas well I don’t feel equipped to comment.

Disability & Denial

In the UK today the majority of disabled people become disabled after the age of 18, 1 in 5 people of working age and 1 in 2 people aged 65 are covered by the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act). You’d think those kind of figures would make it pretty overwhelmingly apparent that we will all be touched by disability in our life times, yet most non-disabled people still believe that disability happens to other people or that it is something that can be avoided.

Becoming seriously sick (like developing cancer) or being maimed (loosing the use of limb(s), organ(s) or whole sections of ones body) is not a pleasant thought for most people. For many it mentally equates with being given a death sentence. As a result people’s minds minimise the likelihood of it happening to them. The same seems to happen with other illnesses and serious accidents that could lead to disablement. People just don’t want to think about it. Not because they are callous or uncaring, but because, in many way they are wired that way. It’s the force that tells people disability is sad, just too depressing to think about. It’s the force that helps make people feel awkward and change the channel when faced with a advert trying to raise awareness about an important issue. It’s part of the force that champions the ‘just world fallacy’ which makes people assume that disabled people were either born that way or became disabled through reckless or immoral behaviour. It’s one of the reasons why people the idea that most people who say they are disabled must be lying sits so comfortably with people – that way the chances of actually becoming disabled/chronically sick/terminally ill are minimised once more. It’s a huge barrier for the disability rights groups to cross because until currently non-disabled people start paying attention to disability rights and taking our desire for rights not charity seriously we find ourselves less able to make gains.

Feminism & Denial

It’s not just with regards to disability either. Currently 1 in 4 UK women will experience domestic violence in their lives, over 1 in 5 will be sexually assaulted and between 1 in 6 to 1 in 10 (depending on stats used) will report being raped. Still, most women who have not already been the victims of these crimes don’t expect them to directly impact on their lives or they think they can behave in certain manners and avoid the issue.

I regularly read blog posts from feminists telling of their shock when they were abused by someone close to them and that being a feminist didn’t serve as a shield/radar. Many of these stories all have an uncomfortable touch of “I behaved in ‘x’ manner so I thought it wouldn’t happen to me”. These people were familiar with the statistics and the forms abuse can take but on some level didn’t think it was ever going to happen to them.  I’m not going to list all the ways denial makes getting the message out about gendered abuse, harassment, assault and horrid acts like Female Genital Mutilation difficult. I’m sure you’ve got the picture by now.

Dealing With Denial

Even though we can’t get rid of this barrier (well, not without harming the person we are trying to raise the awareness of) we can acknowledge it’s existence. By knowing it is there we can try to challenge it when we run into it. By understanding it’s a protective force existing within many (if not all) of us we can try to be more patient with people being influenced by it. By talking about it we can hopefully find more productive ways of engaging with our audience. We can also try to see it in ourselves when we jump to conclusions about someones personality or take a dislike to someone telling us things we don’t want to hear. If we can’t challenge it in ourselves we have no right to expect other people to do the same.

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