On Faith: Working through denial
From Gerry Cheney
Pastor of the Bay Area Vineyard
All of us want to be healthy, whether it concerns our own personhood or our relationships or even our family dynamics. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in situations where we feel stuck. Maybe you feel stuck emotionally; you can't let go of your anger or get beyond grieving over something or someone you have lost. Maybe you feel stuck in a relationship that doesn't seem to be going anywhere or, even worse, is destructive and you don't know how to get it to stop. Maybe you feel your problem is like a giant mountain that you have been trying to get off for years, but rather than getting off, you just end up going around the same mountain again and again and again. We have all been there.
The problem is that most of us don't know where to start. Let me suggest that the first step to getting healthy begins with asking ourselves the hard questions. The first question most of us ask is, how do we know what questions we really need to ask ourselves? You must start with the ones you don't want to hear.
We need to realize that all of us are wired to want to see ourselves in the best possible light. Therefore, we rationalize and justify everything we say, think and do, even the behavior we know is destructive to us or to our families. We completely minimize our behavior and make excuses for it. This is what people call denial. What many of us don't realize is that we have been practicing the art of denial since we were all small children and now have all become experts at it.
In his book "The Good News For The Alcoholic," Jeff VanVonderen states that, on average, an alcoholic needs to be confronted 52 times before it ever begins to dawn on them that they have a problem. That's amazing -- I believe this resistance to hearing the truth concerning ourselves can be applied to any of our behaviors, not just addictions. Knowing this, it's no real surprise that it's so hard to get through to our spouse or children or friends concerning some of their behaviors.
The first step to getting healthy starts with us getting through our denial system so that we can begin to see our lives the way they really are. Unfortunately, this usually requires us to experience some kind of emotional pain. While no one likes to experience pain, in this case, pain seems to be the only way to get through our denial system.
To break through our denial system, we need to experience the pain from the consequences of our actions. We need to see how our choices are hurting our spouses, our children, our pocketbooks and so on. From this, we can experience the pain of conviction -- knowing that what we are doing is wrong and holding us back from being healthy or having healthy relationships.
The heart of the matter is that the pain of our consequences must become greater than the pain of making changes in our lives. When this happens, we become willing to do what it takes to make changes.
Here is this week's challenge for those few brave people who realize they are stuck on some level. Go to your spouse or children (your home life), your best friend (your social life), your coworkers (your work life) and ask them if they have any concerns about you or see any behavior in your life that they think is unhealthy. Be warned: this might be painful, but it's the kind of pain we need to experience if we want to get beyond our denial. Promise them that you won't hold this against them in anyway and actually will be grateful for any help they can give you. If you can do that, then congratulations, you have just taken the first step to getting your life unstuck. Next time I write, I will talk about the importance of exposing the destructive nature of enablement.