Sarah’s Rap: This is the last post in this series and about perhaps the biggest hurdle of all to our health: DENIAL. This is what prevents people with illness from acknowledging the problem, committing to taking steps towards better health and/or from making changes to key contributors to the country’s (and world’s) disease epidemic: the Standard American Diet, a broken healthcare system, unhealthy lifestyle choices and environmental toxins.
Denial is a tricky beast– difficult to overcome. If a person is in denial, he/she won’t believe it. This is the nature of denial. Even now many of you are reading this, thinking it doesn’t apply to you. And it may not. Please humor me though. I’d like you to ask you to open your mind and keep reading. Let this post help you to take a deeper at your health and lifestyle, and perhaps by the end you might feel differently. If not, and you have no health issues, that’s wonderful. Keep up the good work! Maybe you’ll think of a friend that is in denial and needs your help. Or maybe, you will admit that you are suffering from illness and want to take control of your health and happiness.
A deeper look at denial
de·ni·al[dəˈnīəl]NOUNThe action of declaring something to be untrueThe refusal of something requested or desiredA statement that something is not trueFailure to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion or to admit it into consciousness, used as a defense mechanism
**from the Oxford dictionary online
The last definition bears repeating as it is the one that is most applicable when it comes to having one’s head in the sand regarding health issues: Denial is the “failure to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion or to admit it into consciousness, used as a defense mechanism.“ We’ve all done this at one time or other, usually without serious consequences. Like when we were in elementary school and it was safer to tease the cute little boy (or girl) in class rather than admit to any childish affection.
But when we engage in this behavior to avoid admitting that we are in pain or continue to suffer ill health without actively seeking to improve it, even if it means making major lifestyle changes, we consign ourselves to a life of suffering and often bring unhappiness to those around us.
Patterns of denial
Denial as it pertains to health has many parallels to other forms of denial, including that of substance abuse. Admitting we have a problem, whether it be with lifestyle choices, dietary habits or negative influences in our lives, is not easy and our minds come up with ways in which to avoid confronting the truth.
Terence T. Gorski, an expert on substance abuse patterns, has identified 12 patterns of denial:
1. Avoidance: “I’ll talk about anything but my real problems!”
2. Absolute Denial: “No, Not Me, I Don’t Have Problems!”
3. Minimizing: “My Problems Aren’t That Bad!”
4. Rationalizing: “If I Can Find Good Enough Reasons For My Problems, I Won’t Have To Deal With Them!”!”
5. Blaming: “If I Can Prove That My Problems Are not My Fault, I Won’t Have To Deal With Them!”
6. Comparing: “Showing That Others Are Worse Than Me Proves That I Don’t Have Serious Problems!”
7. Compliance: “I’ll Pretend To Do What You Want If You’ll Leave Me Alone!”
8. Manipulating: “I’ll Only Admit That I Have Problems If You Agree To Solve Them For Me”
9. Flight Into Health: – “Feeling Better Means That I’m Cured!”
10. Recovery By Fear: “Being Scared Of My Problems Will Make Them Go Away!”
11. Strategic Hopelessness: “Since Nothing Works, I Don’t Have To Try!”
12. Democratic Disease State: “I Have The Right To Destroy Myself & No One Has The Right To Stop Me!”
Do any of these sound familiar? I have to admit I’ve wavered back and forth between a few of these over the last 7+ years of trying to come to terms with my own health issues.
What denial sounds like
Some of my own denial and negative self-talk over the recent years has sounded like this:
- X make me so ill, but it’s so good I can’t stop eating it.
- My life is miserable.
- I’ll never get better.
- I’ll spend a ton of money on healthcare, but then fill my days with stress and unhealthy choices.
- Maybe my family would be better off without me (yes, I reached rock bottom at one point with depression and hopelessness).
Having gone through my own struggles and researched a lot about digestive issues, mental health, autoimmune diseases, and more, I also find myself more attuned to the denial exhibited by others. It makes my heart ache to hear about the pain of others but not see them take the right steps to overcome it. Here are a few things I’ve heard others say (paraphrased):
- I can’t afford to get better, so I’m not even going to try to see what options are out there.
- Doctors aren’t going to help, so I won’t go.
- I’ve been ill my whole life, so no use trying to get better.
- I can’t possibly give up X (fill in the blank – alcohol, sugar, gluten, cigarettes, my hectic lifestyle, etc).
- I have no control over the stress in my life.
- I’ve been diagnosed with X, and I’ll suffer for the rest of my life. I might as well continue with all my old unhealthy lifestyle patterns so I can still have something enjoyable in my life.
- X makes me so sick. Can you pass me another helping of it?
- I can’t.
- I won’t.
- It’s too hard.
- My poor health is a result of bad luck.
- My poor health is a result of unfortunate genetics.
- I don’t have time to take care of myself.
- I don’t understand why I can’t lose weight.
Do any of these sound familiar? Most times people don’t realize when they’re in denial. We don’t do it intentionally. We often truly want to improve our health, but we fall short in the execution. Sometimes the denial is fed by a lack of information about their condition and available options. Other times, someone takes steps towards better health – but gets discouraged and gives up.
There is no easy answer, magic pill or one-size-fits all answer to improve your health. We are all different, bringing our unique histories, genetic make-ups and personal lives into the mix. But there are a few recommendations that I want to make in hopes that they can help those suffering from illness to improve their situation:
- Acknowledge your situation – be honest with yourself.
- Recognize that you have a hard road ahead.
- Make a list of why you want to be better.
- Write down your health concerns/issues, pains, problems and symptoms and how long you’ve had them.
- Write down how each makes you feel.
- Write down as many things that you can think of which bring on these symptoms – keep a food log, document your lifestyle, pay attention to toxic environmental influences.
- Learn! Visit doctors, read books, research your symptoms and condition, and be as knowledgeable as you can about them.
- Get second, third and fourth opinions.
- Recognize that you are worth making sacrifices and difficult changes to your lifestyle if it means better health.
- Be in it for the long haul. Acknowledge that it can take years to get to a better place. Every day you try is one day closer.
- Find other ways to reward yourself that also improve your health – massage, relaxation, extra sleep, a fun outing.
- Set up a support system of positive people.
- Avoid enablers and enabling situations.
- Stop eating a Standard American Diet.
- Know that you might never be as well as you were in your youth, or before the onset of disease/illness, but remind yourself that even small improvements can lead to a happier life.
- Be proud of yourself for every step you take.
- Love yourself and all your flaws.
- Cultivate healthier habits.
- Use daily affirmations (below) to remind yourself of your goals, your worth and your strength
- Never give up. You are worth the effort, no matter what it takes. It won’t be easy, but believe in yourself and the power of your body to heal.
- Some recommended reading:
- Never Be Sick Again, by Raymond Francis
- Why Isn’t My Brain Working, by Dr. Datis Kharrazian
- Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms, by Dr. Datis Kharrazian
- The Paleo Cure, by Chris Kresser
- Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown
- The Loving Diet, by Jessica Flanigan
- You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay
- Love Yourself, Heal Your Life (workbook), by Louise Hay
As corny as they may sometimes sound, affirmations can be very powerful in helping to focus our intentions and bolster our courage and fortitude. Here are a few that I hope will offer your encouragement and support in your journeys towards better health.
- I am responsible for my own health.
- My body is like a garden – it will flourish when tended with care.
- I deserve to be well and happy.
- Each step taken towards my health is a step taken towards a better life.
- I am strong enough to let go of negative influences in my life.
- My heart and brain are strong and will help me to achieve my goals.
- My willpower and resolve gets stronger each day.
- I will trust my instincts and listen to my body, they are wise and have my best interests at heart.
Here are a few wonderful affirmations borrowed from Dr. Carmen Harra:
- I am the architect of my life; I build its foundation and choose its contents.
- I am superior to negative thoughts and low actions.
- I have been given endless talents which I begin to utilize today.
- My ability to conquer my challenges is limitless; my potential to succeed is infinite.
- My thoughts are filled with positivity and my life is plentiful with prosperity.
- Today, I abandon my old habits and take up new, more positive ones.
- I acknowledge my own self-worth; my confidence is soaring.
- Everything that is happening now is happening for my ultimate good.
- My future is an ideal projection of what I envision now.
- I am conquering my illness; I am defeating it steadily each day.
- My obstacles are moving out of my way; my path is carved towards greatness.
- I wake up today with strength in my heart and clarity in my mind.
- My fears of tomorrow are simply melting away.
- My life is just beginning.
Tomorrow is a new day
Changes aren’t easy to make and improvements don’t happen overnight. If you fall back, pick yourself up and try again tomorrow. The past is in the past and all we can do is go forward with intention. Rise up, see the light and bask in it’s glow.
If you have a motivating story, book recommendations or tips for coping with denial and overcoming health issues that can help other readers, please share. If you know of a friend or loved one that can benefit from this post, please share it with them and help be a part of the support system they need to get past the denial to the good stuff beyond.
As always, it is my sincerest wish for everyone to love themselves and be happy and healthy.