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The Trap of Emotional Denial

In my last post I talked about the Two Paths to Happiness. I’ll share a bit here about why it is important to actively take actions to eliminate unhappiness instead of just attempt to be happy. These reasons have to do with real life situations of unhappiness.

Mike lives with his wife and for the past couple of years they have been sleeping in separate rooms. They are good friends, care about each other, but just aren’t in love any more. His wife has asked him a couple times to talk about the relationship and what they were going to do. She even proposed that they should get divorced and asked him to talk about it.

When she asked Mike what he wanted to do he replied, “I don’t know.”

In the conversation with Mike his words and comments alluded to the fact that he knows the relationship is over. “If we were going to do something to really get back together we would have done it by now. The motivation just isn’t there.”

So why hasn’t Mike gone forward and ended what he feels is relationship limbo. Mike cares about his wife. He doesn’t want her to be hurt and he knows that breaking up will be a painful process. He also knows it will be uncomfortable for him. A more specific reason is that he foresees he will feel guilty for putting his wife through the painful divorce process. He will blame himself for the marriage failure and her unhappiness.

These issues are just some of the reasons for staying in the limbo of a lifeless relationship. The beliefs about why Mike will feel guilty and his uncomfortable feelings of detaching are fundamental to the problem. These issues and emotions are real challenges that real people face in their pursuit of happiness.

It’s when people are faced with these types of challenges that trite advice articles on happiness like, “Be more optimistic,” “Find more time for your self,” or “Get involved in a cause you believe in,” just don’t seem to cut it. Mike’s situation has real emotional consequences that quick advice or positive affirmations don’t address.

If Mike takes action to end his relationship he is going to go through an uncomfortable process of detaching from someone one he cares about and giving up all the aspects of comfort in the relationship. He is going to be alone. If he continues to avoid and deny the situation he represses the emotions he is feeling and lives a little less every day. Even if Mike and his wife go to counseling to reconcile, he will have to deal with the uncomfortable aspects of their relationship that they have been avoiding.

Our nature is to avoid emotional pain. In Mike’s case that means avoid dealing with the relationship. Doing nothing is the least painful of the options, at least in his immediate view. It’s understandable that when asked what he wants to do about the relationship his response is “I don’t know.” His mind has already done the math on possible avenues and all of them involve unpleasant emotions. He doesn’t want to be in emotional pain and discomfort, and he doesn’t want his wife to be in pain and emotional discomfort. He doesn’t know what to do because his mind has been programmed to look for the right answer. in this case the honest truth is that there are no “right” answers or even “good” answers. There are only choices and consequences about an unhappy relationship.

Emotional denial and avoidance make a lot of sense when you see them this way. Emotional denial in the short term is a way to avoid hurting our self and people we care about. However it also keeps people from taking action when the overall happiness of their life calls for it. Denial is a reason people keep themselves trapped in unhappy relationships or life situations. They know the situation is not good, but not bad enough to force them into action.

Facing the brutal facts is important to eliminating unhappiness. Facing the truth means acknowledging that Mike pays a emotional price every day he doesn’t take action. He also at worst hurts, and at best, keeps his wife in limbo every day he does nothing. This isn’t a very high price when he is living in the moment of today. (This is another happiness platitude.) But each day adds up. In a short time he will be avoiding the issue through the summer. After the summer he will want to get through the winter. Then it will be another year of dying a slow death of limbo in a lifeless relationship. His opportunity for creating happiness will be squandered away in a series of moments struggling to find a solution that doesn’t hurt at all.

The pathway to real happiness has to include a means to deal with and eliminate unhappiness that shows up in our real life situations. Eliminating unhappiness means taking action to go through an uncomfortable break up, or go through the uncomfortable parts of reconciliation. Both of these paths mean dealing with short term uncomfortable emotions that denial would push us to avoid.

It is only by tackling the real issues of unhappiness that we have a chance to build a new and better life. Real honesty to face the brutal facts will do more than putting on a happy face and acting happy (another shot at those platitudes I mentioned).

By the time we grow up and decide to consciously create happiness in our life it is likely that we are not starting with a blank slate. If we had a blank slate we could just adopt those nice bits of happiness advice and life would be grand. But by the time you are old enough to read this your personality has probably adopted some self sabotaging habits. If this is the case you need more than platitudes. You need some real tools.

When it comes to real life situations I kind of see it like this:

Platitudes of advice on happiness:
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Then there is the reality.
When on the road to happiness and life gives you a flat tire your lemonade and affirmations won’t help you. Neither will platters of platitudes and advice on happiness. What will help are real tools like a jack, and a wrench to get you unstuck from an unhappy situation.

Having a tool box of techniques and methods for getting unstuck from unhappy situations gives you another way to get back to being happy. If you just focus on the positive you don’t have as many options.

When you are unhappy you need more than advice on happiness. You need effective tools to deal with the unpleasant, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and factors of denial that trap us.

For a tool set to help your self get back to your pathway of happiness download practice the activities in the Self Mastery audio series.

1 Response to “The Trap of Emotional Denial”


  1. 1 Personal Development Carnival 04/22/07 Edition - Spirituality Applied to Life - Balanced Life Center Pingback on Apr 23rd, 2007 at 1:58 am
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