When denial becomes grace


When denial becomes grace

There is a column in which we spoke of cognitive biases, these filters that our brain uses for its proper functioning. But which, if they become rigid, risks reducing our field of vision of reality. Another science can help to better understand our faculty to produce blindness, and that is psychoanalysis. In 1924, Freud describes a mode of psychic defense which consists in a refusal by a person to recognize the reality of a traumatic perception; the concept of denial was born. Our psyche is amazing: through the mechanism of denial, the perception of reality can simultaneously coexist in us at the same time as a total denial of certain pejorative or unbearable elements of this reality. The subject then functions with a psyche split in two: one lets certain information filter out while the other denies them. One party knows, while the other refuses to face reality. It is denial that will make us react to the announcement of a serious illness by a “No, that’s not true, they must have been wrong”, or who will make us say “My child is fine” while he is out of school. Denial has its advantages. It allows to give a person time to tame this painful reality which presents itself to him, to get used to it little by little. This is why I prefer the term “protection” to the term “defense mechanism”. When the reality is too brutal, it is sometimes good to protect yourself, to protect life which has become fragile. Nurturing dreams and desires can help us at times to overcome the harsh reality of what is happening to us. In the monastic environment, to describe this stage, we speak of “grace of blindness”. I like this expression, which expresses that temporary blindness can also be a grace to better accept the facts and prepare for what follows. With humor, a nun told me that this expression was also used to qualify the first months following the vows, during which we do not fully realize what there will be to live!

To get out of denial, being surrounded by people showing kindness, empathy, patience and solidity is essential. But sometimes that is not enough. And when it stiffens and “becomes chronic”, denial prevents us from facing what is there. Because it selects the only acceptable part of reality and excludes the painful part of it, it truncates an entire section of what is. And then it does not allow me to welcome reality in all its dimensions. Then passing by this breath of Life which also circulates in misfortune and allows to cross it. Being at the side of a person in a lasting denial is very harsh, a path of forced humility. Accept the helplessness in which she puts us, learn to no longer want to “open her eyes”, choose not to judge her, renounce this tendency to want to make her “move forward”, sometimes only to be careful not to let her settle in isolation …

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