If I had been able to be honest with myself during my first marriage, I would have known that something was wrong.
But I wasn’t honest with myself. Instead, I was doing the adult equivalent of the child hiding under the covers when a strange noise reverberates throughout the house. Part of my brain was acting in an attempt to protect me; keeping me blinded from the truth and providing me with the illusion of security.
At the time (and even in the months following the brutal discovery of what was happening beyond my closed eyes), I wasn’t able to tell that I was in denial. When asked, I would describe in detail the extreme efforts that my ex undertook to keep the truth hidden from me. But I would stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the efforts I went to in order to keep the truth from myself.
Looking back, these are the five signs that suggested that I was in denial:
1 – I Made Excuses
I attributed my stress to work. I brushed off my then-husband’s strange comment to his health-related tension. I excused the rejected debit card as a miscommunication with the bank. There was always a reason for everything, and that reason never had anything to do with my husband embezzling marital funds or seeking another wife.
When excuses, for yourself or others, become the knee-jerk reaction, it’s a sign that you may be ignoring something important. Pay attention to your pardons. If they are frequent, especially with regards to a certain person or situation, it would be wise to consider looking deeper.
2 – My Reactions Were Over-the-Top
When my husband would call and announce that he would be home late from work, I would have to fight back my initial strong response. When he made a minor – and admitted or visible – mistake, I would find myself becoming irrationally upset. And that’s because I wasn’t responding to the situation at hand; I was reacting to what I was not allowing myself to see.
Pay attention to your reactions. If they are consistently rating a 10 in response to a level 2 or 3 offense, your emotions may be due to something else entirely. Take a moment and explore what is really upsetting you.
3 – Certain Thoughts or Topics Were Off Limits
We never talked about what would happen if our relationship didn’t go the distance. We never discussed infidelity or the temptations that all people can encounter. I never allowed my thoughts to wander in the direction of my husband being anything but loving towards me.
When certain topics are in the no-go zone (either between you or even within your own mind), it is an indication that you may be intentionally refusing to explore what is hidden there. Those darkened spaces become the closet where the monstrous secrets can hide until they grow too big to contain.
4 – I Had an Underlying Current of Anxiety
It was electric, a strange buzz that radiated through my entire body. It came on slowly, so it was difficult to say for certain that it hadn’t always been there. It reminded me of the spidey sense I get as a teacher before a fight breaks out – it’s a physical awareness of emotional energy.
Even when our brains are stubbornly refusing to acknowledge something, our bodies are often clued-in. Pay attention to your physical symptoms – elevated heart rate or blood pressure, stomach issues or frequent illness. Your body may be trying to tell you something.
5 – There Was a Disconnect Between Observations and Conclusions
I believed that my husband was a good man. Kind. Caring. And hard-working. Yet there were times that his actions didn’t support those presumptions. So I simply brushed those times aside.
This is confirmation bias at its worst – we make conclusions and then proceed to seek out evidence that supports it and reject any information to the contrary. This is a cognitive distortion that we are all subject to, yet awareness of it goes a long way in limiting its reach. Don’t allow your conclusions to be so entrenched that you ignore any further observations.
Denial seems like it’s a comfortable place. After all, the child hiding beneath the covers convinces himself that there is safety to be found on the bed. At the same time, he is held prisoner beneath the sheets, convincing himself that to step out from the covers would be dangerous even as he constantly worries about what lurks outside.
Instead, if the child throws back the sheets and summons the courage to investigate the strange noise, the worry dissipates as he either discovers that the threat is imagined or he learns the true nature of the danger.
Denial comes a great cost. It provides you with some temporary security and asks for your constant fear in return. Trust that you can face whatever scares you and you will find that your fear fades away.