How do you deal with the black hole that is denial?

How do you deal with the black hole that is denial?

We received a lot of questions for our last live chat segment both online and via e-mail. And in a couple of weeks I plan to answer many of the questions I couldn’t get to in another video blog. 

But one of the questions that came in I felt deserved a longer response. So I made it the topic and title of this week’s written blog.

The refusal to admit the truth or reality of something is a common defense mechanism. It’s what helps us avoid having to deal with a problem we have. But avoiding the problem does not make it go away. It just makes it fester and can even cause it to become bigger/more serious with time.

Health issues are frequently shrouded in denial. And for some conditions, it’s easy to see why. After all, we don’t typically feel cholesterol or blood pressure or blood sugar abnormalities – so even when reviewed at the time of a medical visit, the urgency to attend to them is often difficult to grasp. Excess weight, though outwardly visible, can also be something we avoid tackling because it often builds up slowly, almost imperceptibly, and because excess weight is often not addressed during medical visits. Truth is, most of us are now overweight or obese but we still feel uncomfortable talking about it.

However, in the end, denial is a destructive emotion because it prevents us from experiencing our best health. And our best health is not just a lab result or a number on a scale. It’s what decides how good we feel and how long we live. 

Denial can be difficult to overcome because inaction is often easier than action. But there can be serious consequences to inaction, and some of them can come up on you suddenly (like a heart attack or stroke) and change your life forever. Or they can come on slowly leading to insidious, progressive increases in the amounts of medications you need. Weight gain can even reach a point of no return. I sometimes see patients who are literally stuck. They are so heavy they find it difficult to move. But without moving, they can’t lose weight.

So how can you get out of the black hole?

I’m not sure I have all the answers. So what I offer here is what has worked for me when I’ve needed to overcome something. 

One thing is for certain - at some point you have to acknowledge that what you’re doing now is not working. But don’t look at it as a past failure – look at it as an opportunity for future success. No laying blame. No looking back.  Just looking forward.

Reach out for support. Regardless of what it is you are dealing with, surrounding yourself with others who cheer you on can make the difference between success and failure. Accountability to another person can also have a big impact. When others depend upon our actions, such as showing up for a scheduled walk with a friend, it’s harder to avoid delivering on a promise we have made to ourselves.

Be patient with yourself. You did not get here overnight and undoing it will take time. And slip ups are inevitable. The trick is not to let a slip up become full-fledged sabotage. One brownie is not the end of the world. A whole pan is more difficult to recover from. Recognize a slip up when it happens and move on. Put the slip up immediately into the past and start looking forward again.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to change everything all at once to have success. Even small sustained changes can have profound effects on health (Step One is the poster child for this).

And always keep your eye on the real prize – a longer and healthier life, and FEELING BETTER. You CAN achieve it.

Photo courtesy of The Epilepsy Foundation.  

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