How do any of us know we’re in denial? It seems to me that being in denial relates to not knowing where our blind spots are, or could be. It’s all very well for someone to say to us, ‘You’re in denial, Pal!” My response is more than likely to be a variation of, “No I’m not!” And we know the response to that one, whether silently or out loud … “Yes you are – No I’m not – Yes you are”, is not a productive conversation.
Can’t cope, won’t go there
It’s been my experience that we, and I include myself in this, are usually in denial of some aspect of our reality and usually for a good reason. We don’t want to look at some aspect of our selves or our lives because we believe, sometimes from painful experience, that looking at it, and acknowledging it, will equal not being able to cope. For instance, it could change a relationship that we hold dear, or mean that we might have to change our profession, or our way of doing things. And who’s to say whether our belief is actually true? Especially if we haven’t brought the belief to our conscious awareness, nor even tested its veracity.
I’d be willing to bet that when I bring up the subject of denial, most of you reading this will think that I’m referring to a negative trait of an individual, or possibly a situation that is obviously negative in nature. We tend to think that denial equals something bad. And while that could be the case, it could equally be something really valuable about ourselves that feels safer if we just leave it asleep in a dark corner. ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’, as the saying goes.
Today, I’d like to talk about that other sort of denial; a sort that I have noticed for several years now: our denial of who we really are; of our essential selves. I’m noticing how many of us are in denial of our personal power.
“Right”, you say, “What is personal power?” Here’s how I see personal power:
- My authentic voice when it is uncensored by the fear of potential rejection and potential retaliation.
- What I know when I listen to my intuition – my gut feel – without allowing myself to be talked out of it.
- How I feel when I use my talents and do what I am really good at.
- How I build relationships when I believe that I deserve to be treated with respect and consideration – that I have worth just because I ‘am’.
- How I see myself when I know that every living thing has beauty that is not derived from the latest fashion but from inner grace.
- How I interact and collaborate when I am willing to listen to other people’s points of view without believing that I have to supplant my truth with theirs; when I acknowledge that we can help each other without either of us winning or losing.
I realize that the subject of denial is complicated by the fact that my truth may not be yours. But ask yourself this: how often are we confusing a point of view, or an opinion, with the truth? I think that my personal power is my truth and not ‘the’ truth. And when I can live from a place of valuing and expressing authentically who I am, with quiet authority, I can live my life more fully.
When I can stay clear
I think I’m on that road and since I’ve been on it, I think I see the world around me differently. When I can remember to check in with myself, I can stay clear about what I want and need instead of believing that other people’s needs are mine too. I don’t take offense as easily because I have a clearer sense of my own worth. I can begin to have more compassion for other people’s pain because I can better establish where they begin and I end. Valuing my own talents means that I can also acknowledge my deficiencies. Someone else, whose talents complement mine, can competently pick up what I’m not so good at. I don’t have to feel defensive about not being ‘super-person’.
The alternative to this, when I fall out of awareness, is for me to rescue, thereby keeping myself needed and safe. The unconscious deal is that I will meet other people’s needs if they agree to meet mine. This leads to a cycle where I have to constantly assess who might take advantage of me, who might need me and who might rescue me.
The healthy way of being allows me to know myself, warts and all, to accept myself, knowing that I am a work in progress that that I will continue to learn and grow, and allows me to be more honest with everyone in my life about who and what I am. As long as I’m afraid that I can’t cope, that I won’t be loved, or that I won’t be valued, I have a vested interested in staying in denial about who I really am. Not only will I hide it from you, but I will hide it from myself.
Surrendering our power
Let me give you just a few examples of how I’ve seen people surrender their personal power. For clients of mine, past or present, I have not used any one person as an example. This list is a composite and includes people in the media:
- Imagine a woman with a strong intellectual capacity in a culture that says that what women have to subjugate themselves to men and a male power system. Her truth and that of her daughters may be hidden under whatever mechanism they are forced to use in order to stay safe. Conversely, imagine the man who has to maintain the charade that he knows everything best and that he doesn’t need input from the women in his life.
- Imagine a man who was bullied by older males in his family or community for expressing emotional sensitivity. The truth of his emotional strength may be denied in favour of a compensatory pretense of insensitivity that would alter his behaviour in the world.
- Imagine a young man and woman who believe that the world is ruled politically and economically by the wealthy, the well-positioned, the strongest, the most ruthless or the ones most ‘in-the-know’. They may give up on their own power as citizens, before they even engage as young adults, falling into the apathy that comes with feeling unimportant and hopelessly overpowered. “No one is going to listen to us anyway so why bother?”
- Imagine a young artist with a talent for painting or sculpture, in a family that expresses the belief, often one that reflects the reality of their culture, that the young person won’t be able to make a living if they follow their passion. This artist may give up on her/his own talent and spend their life doing something that they find mediocre or even soul-destroying in order to earn a living – denying their talent even to themselves.
- Imagine a parent who believes that his/her input into child-rearing is in conflict with their partner’s, or with societal norms. This parent may silence their own voice about what they may bring to parenting in favour of what they see as the superior value in their partner’s or society’s position. In not believing in their own knowing/talent/power, they may deny their partner, their children and their community the opportunity to learn from what they have to offer. In effect they may prejudge their own worth before anyone even knows what it is, not believing in themselves enough to lobby for their contribution.
- Imagine a teenager who has a friend or friends whose friendship they are afraid of losing. Their friend is doing something that doesn’t sit well with this young person; their gut doesn’t feel right about it but they don’t know how to identify what is bothering them and so can’t put it into words, or they may know what it is but when she/he brings it up, the friend minimizes it or laughs it off. This teenager may not stand up for what she/he senses because they don’t feel legitimate enough to reject what doesn’t ‘feel good’. The young person may allow themselves to be uncomfortable but silenced, and may continue this way well into adult life. Eventually, they may even silence the inner voice altogether. Why hear it if they don’t feel able to do anything about it?
- Imagine a young woman who feels that she’s not beautiful and that therefore she needs to sacrifice being true to herself in order to have a long-term relationship with a partner. She may give up voicing her needs, or her preferences or even her dreams, in order to be accepted and ‘loved’. I put emphasis on ‘loved’ because how can anyone love us when we don’t bring who we really are to the relationship, for whatever reason? Such a young woman either never gets her needs met, or she may unconsciously manipulate to get them met as the only alternative.
- Imagine a child who is forced to grow up very early as a result of having parents who are not effective at recognizing or taking care of her needs. Believing she had no other option, she might have stepped into the breach and used her personal power to protect and provide for her siblings, or even just herself. In later life, she may not be able to let go of that role and so may continue to solve everyone else’s problems, rescuing them even when it isn’t appropriate. Or conversely, in the inexperience of childhood, she may not have used her power very expertly. In later life, she may not want to be that powerful, for fear she could do the same again.
Absence of role models
Abuses of power abound in our culture and aside from the occasional great role model, there don’t seem to be very many places to learn about what constitutes healthy power or how to nurture it in ourselves or our children. In the confusion about power in our communities, legitimate and otherwise, I believe that many of us either unconsciously abuse it, or we become wary of it and prefer that someone else express it.
I believe that a person without power is really a person whose power has been:
re-pressed by a family member, society, another person or an organization;
suppressed – by themselves either consciously or subconsciously and in all likelihood projected onto someone else or onto a group such as ‘the government’ or ‘rich people’ or ‘big business’ or ‘them’ – whatever group looks like it’s taking what it wants at someone else’s expense
In my opinion, we are all born with personal power. My fervent hope is that we are beginning to wake up as a global society and realize that we need to support every individual to be personally empowered and responsible, for I believe power without self esteem and responsibility is a recipe for disaster. Only people who feel empowered can build a better world. That better world of which I dream starts with me. I can only control my own behaviour and through that, how I treat the people in my life. As I mentioned before: I’m a work in progress! If we could all be more conscious ‘works in progress’, then I believe we would improve the world inch-by-inch. The world leaders like Obama can work from the top down, and we can work from the bottom up. We’ll meet in the middle.
Do I have all the answers? Not at all! I do have observations and I’m curious. I’ve been asking myself: Who am I really? When I’m not afraid and finding ways to keep myself small, and safe from ridicule, prejudice and being minimized, who am I? The answer to this question is a truth; my truth.