I just read a compelling article in O Magazine about denial. I haven’t written about this topic in a while, so I’m revisiting it–along with the LDS Family Services’ Twelve Step Program. In previous posts I’ve written about its first three steps. I’ve also stressed the program’s potent power in helping Church members overcome addiction, compulsions, and/or addictive mindsets.
Step 4 of the Twelve Steps states:Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself (Addiction Recovery Program: A Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing, 2005, p. 21).
As I’ve said before, self-analysis is an extremely difficult, courageous, but an ultimately rewarding undertaking. The manual says:
You make a searching and fearless written inventory of your life, surveying or summarizing the thoughts, events, emotions, and actions of your life. Doing a fearless and thorough inventory will not be easy. When we say “fearless,” we do not mean you will have no feelings of fear. “Fearless” means you will not let your fears stop you from the process. In the past you probably justified bad behavior and blamed other people, places, or things for the problems you created. Now you will begin to take responsibility for past and current actions, even though you may need to acknowledge painful, embarrassing, or difficult events, thoughts, emotions, or actions. The inventory as also a step in helping us align our lives with the will of God. Through this inventory we identified negative thoughts, emotions, and actions that ruled our lives. By discovering those destructive elements in our lives, we took the first step in correcting them (p. 21).
I’ve come to value making a constant unflinching inventory of myself. I don’t want to live a life based on self-deception—a pretend life. I doubt any of us do. Yet, to get to the truth of our lives, we need to replace our denial with the truth. As John in the New Testament says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Here’s where the O Magazine article entitled “Eyes Wide Open” (September, 2012 issue) comes in. The author, Martha Beck, gives some valuable observations regarding self-deceptions. (As an aside, I need to make some personal observations about Ms. Beck. Because I’m using her as a source for my blog, some of my readers may take offense. Martha Beck is the daughter of the late LDS scholar, Hugh Nibley. She left the Church years ago and wrote a book about her experiences. I’m certainly not here to judge her. Despite her harsh criticism of the Church, she brings her own insightful brand of wisdom to O Magazine. Ms. Beck writes:
A wise person once said, nothing changes until it becomes what it is. And the first step in creating your right life is acknowledging where you’ve gone wrong. Most of us can tell at a glance when a line isn’t straight or a circle isn’t round–unless we’re the artist. The same goes for assessing our own ‘performance’ in life: Accurate information becomes amazingly elusive. The last thing we want when we’re feeling chubby is to know our actual weight. When we’re overspending, we avoid our credit card statements like bird flu. Of course, avoiding reality doesn’t keep us truly ignorant–just vague. We try to blur the lines just enough to make our flaws effectively invisible, but on some level we’re still aware that they’re there. We let ourselves know just enough to know that we don’t want to know. Psychologists call this denial. …if you’re feeling nervous about some part of your life while avoiding any hard facts related to it, you’re due for a tiny intervention in your head. Now consider an area in your own life where you feel pronounced uneasiness mixed with a desire to avoid specifics.
With that area in mind, fill in the following blanks. Honestly. Here’s what I know is true, even though I wish it weren’t:_______________________
Here’s what I really feel about it even though I don’t want to:_____________________
Note that this information, in and of itself, is a colossal bummer. Don’t panic.You’ve bravely begun the process of change by letting yourself know what’s wrong. As paradoxical as it may seem, the best way to improve your situation is to accept it. Unconditionally. Warts and all. Rejecting our failures is the reason that denial exists (O Magazine, p. 66).
In the past, fear and anxiety fueled my life’s engines–and I wasn’t even aware of it. Once I began to live an examined life, my fuel became more purified with truth–and my life runs much more smoothly now. Martha Beck further counsels:
Release your anxiety, self-hatred and nonacceptance. Drop your resistance to your emotions. If you’re angry at yourself, tell yourself, “It’s okay to be angry.” If you’re scared, say, “It’s all right to be scared.” You don’t have to like these feelings. But let them be as they are. While accepting your outward truth (what’s really happening) and your inward truth (what you’re really feeling), notice how tempted you are to indulge your bad habits (p. 68).
|“Narcissus” by Michelangelo|
Embracing the uncomfortable and painful feelings that come with self-examination (and ultimately self-acceptance) is a lot like the stinging antiseptic we use to cleanse and heal our physical wounds. And so it is with our emotions. Both actions require us to brace ourselves. No doubt, the medicine is good for us. Ms. Beck further explains:
…[people tell me] they feel less compulsive and crazed while accepting themselves. Acceptance helps you feel free to make calm, thoughtful choices, whereas rejection makes you freeze or run back to your worst habits for comfort. If you’re the exception–if hostile works for you–feel free to recommence hating yourself. But notice that the present moment instantly becomes intolerable, and denial resumes. You’ll sense that all is not right with your life, but since you’ll no longer see it clearly, you won’t be able to fix it.
There is an approach to life that allows you to meet every day this way, to see errors calmly and address them quickly…it’s self-acceptance. …despite the initial sting of knowing the truth, acceptance makes for quick correction and rapid progress. [An art professor assures his students saying], ‘The sooner you make your first 5,000 mistakes, the sooner you can move on to the next 5,000.’ Self-acceptance frees you, self-rejection just makes you freeze (p. 68).
Here’s what I’ve learned since coming to a place of self-acceptance: I’m no longer distracted by self-consciousness in every aspect of my life. My focus is now on higher levels in preparing myself, my family, and others to steer successfully through these Last Days.
If we spent half us much of our energy discovering and embracing our truths rather than hiding and denying them, we’d be soaring to new found heights and happiness!
Just remember: A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down!