How Denial Helped and Harmed Me When I Was in an Abusive Relationship
Denial is a coping mechanism that gives you time to adjust to distressing situations, but staying in denial can interfere with treatment or your ability to tackle challenges.
Denial is a tricky subject to tackle. I never understood what denial truly was or how it affected my mental growth until recently. I posted an Instagram about how I have been using reflection as a way to stop living in denial and it has helped me so much. Before I go any further, I do want to say that I am not a medical professional in any way. I am writing this based on experience and for advice purposes only!
Refusing to acknowledge that something is wrong is a way of coping with emotional conflict, stress, painful thoughts, threatening information and anxiety. You can be in denial about anything that makes you feel vulnerable or threatens your sense of control. When you’re in denial, typically you:
- Won’t acknowledge a difficult situation.
- Try not to face the facts of a problem.
- Downplay possible consequences of the issue.
If you’re in denial, you’re trying to protect yourself by refusing to accept the truth about something that’s happening in your life. I was living in denial. I believed that the man I loved was a good person and never did anything to wrong me. Let’s fast-forward almost two years later. I finally realized that I was denying the fact he was abusive. I denied that he hurt me and embarrassed me. For the longest time, I just thought he was a good guy who had his own demons he needed to fight. There was no way to see his true colors. I couldn’t see the red flags. My denial ruined my mental health. I believe that’s not his fault, it’s mine.
Denial sometimes is a good thing. Yes, it might seem unhealthy, but sometimes short periods of denial can be helpful. It can help you move forward from trauma and can help you absorb shocking information at a pace that won’t send you overboard! When he left me and started treating me even worse than he normally did, I needed time to process what happened to me.
I had to process the shock that happened to me. It was sudden and traumatizing. Using denial gave an easy way to process what was going on and come to terms with reality, but unfortunately, after a while, my denial became very unhealthy. Yes, I was in denial but I was also being manipulated by a jerk into thinking he was a god and that none of the shit people were saying about him was true. That mixture made things very difficult for me because it let me live in my denial longer than I should have.
I had so many issues coming to terms with my abuse because of denial and it hurt me in the long run. I thought he loved me so I refused to believe that he was abusing me. I refused to believe the rumors people spread about him. I kept using the excuse: “I only just met the guy. I didn’t know him in high school when you guys did. I think he’s a different person.” Well, after a while, I knew the people who were trying to tell me about his abusive persona were telling the truth. The denial took over my mind and refused to let me grow and move on.
I admit that this abusive situation was overwhelming and hard to move on from. I kept saying to myself, “I can’t think about this right now,” which wasn’t helpful in any way. I needed time to work on myself. I wanted to work through the situation that I kept putting myself in, adapt to the new circumstances, and start growing from what I learned. My problem was that I let denial take control when it should really be a temporary coping mechanism. It isn’t always easy to tell if denial is holding you back. The strength of denial can and will definitely change over time. If you feel stuck or if someone you trust suggests that you’re in denial, try these strategies:
- Honestly examine what you fear.
- Think about the potential negative consequences of not taking action.
- Allow yourself to express your fears and emotions.
- Try to identify irrational beliefs about your situation.
- Journal about your experience.
- Open up to a trusted friend or loved one.
- Participate in a support group.
If you can’t make progress dealing with a stressful situation on your own, consider talking to a therapist. They will be able to help you find healthy ways to cope with the situation rather than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist.
I am not the perfect example of someone who overcame denial, as stated above. However, I am someone who has realized what denial has done to them. Denial stunted my progress and kept me stagnant in my growth as a person. My denial started off as a good thing for me — a way to immediately deal with stress. When he realized he could use it against me, it turned bad. I have always wanted to believe that there is good in all people, but after this whole thing, I have started to think about things a lot differently and started listening to my gut. I can now see red flags and I can now realize when I am using denial in a good or bad way.
I have grown so much over the past few months! I feel good and I feel in control of my life again. Yes, there were some moments where the situation made me question his actions and I started to be in denial again. But, I quickly snapped out of it because I am stronger than him and his manipulation. With my new knowledge, I was able to use healthy forms of denial when needed and realize when the denial was harmful to me! That is progress! Even though it wasn’t easy, I stopped letting him control me and stopped living in denial and now, I am better than ever.
Living in denial is very tricky and harmful. If you are struggling, please reach out to a mental health professional. It can save you and help you grow.
A version of this article was previously published on the author’s blog, Midwest Depressed.
Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash