Living in denial can hinder change

Tuesday, March 8, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:59 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

It’s hard to function around people in denial. You have to be so careful not to jar them out of their state of bliss.

  It’s not so bad when their condition is based only on personal relationship issues. For example, if they are in denial that their mate is unfaithful or that their children are deadbeats. People caught up in that kind of denial are usually harmful only to themselves.

On the other hand, when denial affects other people, it is related to personal family issues, it can be criminal. Most of us have heard or have even known mothers who have vehemently denied that their mates are sexually molesting their sons or daughters. I can remember the first time I encountered that kind of denial. The woman was the mother of one of my fourth-grade classmates. The girl had shared her situation with the girls in the class. She had told her mother about her step-father’s behavior, but the mother only accused her of creating problems. In those days, we were horrified with that kind of information, and we didn’t have a clue what to do with that kind of problem. The girl ran away from home when we were in fifth grade, and we never saw her again.

Of course, not all denials of the personal kind involve someone other than the individual. I know a woman who denies she is overweight. She continues to buy clothes several sizes too small and has to squeeze into them. I know a man who is in denial about his inability to read or write. He memorizes masses of information to hide his illiteracy. A neighbor’s cousin denies that she has a hearing problem, although she asks you to repeat what you are saying two or three times.

And honestly, sometimes I think I could be a lot happier if I could just refuse to believe certain things that are staring me in the face. OK, so my cat is a teeny bit — well, a little more than a teeny bit — plump. I like to think if I don’t allow the use of the “F” word (fat) in his presence, his weight problem will disappear. And there really are times when I can read the fine print without glasses — even though those times are getting fewer.

And then there is the other kind of denial, the kind that is based on one’s political persuasion. This is the kind of denial, I fear, that is reaching epidemic proportions nationally.

The first group, I can think of is made up of men and women who can’t stop blowing America’s horn. These folks go on endlessly about how wonderful everything is in this country, from its superior earthworms to its ATM machines. There are certainly many wonderful things in America, such as the Constitution, our sanitation systems and our efforts at wildlife preservation, to name a few. On the other side of the coin, these people never admit to are our shameful health care system, our education system, drug abuse, our literacy rate and the disgraceful amount of child neglect that goes on in our society.

The trouble I have with the denial of these problems is the impression such an approach presents. After all, none of these problems needs to be permanent, and with some commitment and determination, we could solve them. But when folks close their eyes and refuse to admit problems exist, there is little hope any effort will be made toward resolution.

The idea that such denial is an expression of patriotism is absurd. I hate to think what the country would be like today if people of earlier centuries had merely set up choruses of praise and refused to lift a finger to address the difficulties that were making it impossible to move the nation forward. Railroads would have never been created to address the transportation issue; the radio would not have been invented, severely limiting communication. To say nothing of electricity, etc. If folks had settled for the way things were, slavery would still exist, women would not be able to vote, there would be no child labor laws and all people could do is look the other way when domestic violence occurs.

Flag waving will do very little to make the world a better place for future generations. Standing around patting each other on the back will not treat the debilitating diseases that lack cures. Maintaining a democracy is an ongoing process that has to be nurtured in every generation.

Even if everything is marvelous at your house, what about the people next door? How long will it take the unemployment, the health care crisis or the disappearance of a retirement fund as a result of corporate fraud to reach your front door?

What about the disabled veterans from the war in Iraq? As they return to their homes, will they find them intact? Will there be the jobs and support waiting for them needed to re-adjust to civilian life?

Personally, I don’t think it’s unpatriotic to admit that we do not live in a perfect society or that we do not have perfect leaders. But I’m not a dream killer. So, perhaps one can hold those beliefs and nothing will happen in real life to dispel them.

Do yourself a favor and don’t wake up.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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