Denial. I think on some level we all live with some denial in our lives. “The leaves aren’t turning colours yet, it is still summer” or “I will just have ONE donut”, all things to be in denial about that really don’t hurt anyone. What about the big things though? “That mole isn’t really bothering me” or “he’s just having a bad day, he didn’t mean to hit me.” These are types of denial can be life threatening.
Why do we do it?
We don’t want our reality to change. As a Survivor of abuse I can say I lived in a world of denial, with my ex, simply to survive. It was too painful to see the truth. Like anyone I wanted my marriage to work. I wanted to be like my friends and have a solid marriage, not be a new divorcee. I wanted my kids to live in a home with both parents. Ultimately I didn’t want to feel the pain of having to leave the man I loved. I didn’t want my heart to break. I didn’t think I would survive it. So instead I took on a different pain. I denied to myself, and eventually the outside world, that my ex was abusing me and my children. I lived in a pretend world where everything was ok.
How did I deny the abuse?
I denied the abuse by making excuse upon excuse; “he’s having a day”, “he didn’t get enough sleep last night”, “work is stressful, he needs to unload it somewhere” and on and on. I became so good at denying what was happening at home that most of my family had no idea I was being abused and only found out after 15 years of it. I buried it deep inside me. It simply was NOT happening.
What did this do to me?
Denying the abuse, well let’s just say it completely messed me up. When he was nice to me I would think that I was right, he had just been having a bad day. When he played the doting husband in front of family I didn’t see that he was just acting to make himself look good, I truly believed he loved me and I was so glad I hung on during the rough days. This thinking made me hold on just a little bit longer. The denial deepened and unfortunately the abuse got worse. My ex saw that he could get away with the abuse, I never called him on it, I pretended it wasn’t happening, we both pretended it wasn’t happening. If he acknowledged it he would have to take responsibility for what he was doing. He was not about to do that.
The denial became so bad for me that I started to deny he was raping me. At the end of my marriage the abuse escalated ten fold and my ex would rape me at least once a week. To survive I found a part of my brain where I could pretend it was not happening. I told myself over and over that he did not know what he was doing. To admit that he was forcing me to have sex when I had said no and turned away would have caused my world to crash in on itself. I couldn’t let that happen. I had to hold everything together; kids in school, daycare paid for, groceries bought, mortgage paid and work attended too. If I stopped for a moment and admitted that my husband was raping me, that I was terrified, all the balls I was juggling would certainly fall. I couldn’t let that happen. I denied it mentally but my body could not deny what was happening. My hair fell out, my weight dropped drastically, a stress rash took over my body and I struggled to sleep. My body was screaming at me to face what was happening, but I still denied the rapes and all of the abuse.
Moments of clarity
I should say that I did have some moments of clarity. I did have moments where I bawled in the shower cause everything hurt so bad. I did have times where I comforted my scared children. On some level I knew that everything was going terribly wrong. It was in those moments that I started to hear a voice, a small voice, saying, “He IS hurting you. He won’t stop. Save yourself and your kids.” Over time that voice got a little louder and one night it was screaming at me so I confronted him. I went up to him and point blank asked him why he was forcing me to have sex. I remember the moment clearly. It was as if time stopped. He was doing the dishes and he calmly brought his head up, looked straight ahead with no expression on his face and said, “I know. I know I was hurting you.”
My world crashes in….or does it?
When I heard those words, “I know. I know I was hurting you”, every layer of denial was stripped away. I could no longer say that the abuse was not happening. I could no longer say that he did not know what he was doing. I could no longer say, “Oh he was just having a bad day.” I couldn’t pretend. I let out a blood curdling scream and yelled “it’s over! It’s over!” while talking down every wedding photo in my house. He did try to push me back into the world of denial. He followed me around the house saying, “No, no it’s not over!” I looked at him realizing how sick he was, how sick we were. The denial had to stop. The next day I ended my marriage.
In the end does denial help?
In some ways being in denial helped. It protected my mind during some terribly traumatic events. It is a coping mechanism when something is too powerful to process emotionally or mentally. For some denial can run so deep that they block memories out. That level of denial protects your whole being until you are strong enough to deal with the painful event. In that aspect I am glad I lived in a world of denial. It helped me survive and get strong enough to deal with what was happening. Short term this can be ok. Long term, not so much. Like my own story if you ignore the issue long enough your body will start screaming at you physically to wake up. You may develop an ulcer, have unknown headaches, difficulty sleeping, or poor concentration. Eventually the issue needs to be faced. Once I separated from my ex my rash went away, I could eat again, my life started to rebalance itself. I survived. So will you, if you have something you are denying.