313. Denial

Denial may not always be as bad as it’s often made out to be. I was talking with a friend who is suffering/recovering from the effects of throat cancer and related medical procedures. He referred to himself and me as “experts at denial.” I plead guilty as charged, but I’d like to reclassify at least some of my “denial” as “optimism.” For some reason, optimists are more often accused of denial than pessimists. But from my point of view, people who only see evidence of ugliness and impending disaster are just as guilty of denial.
Let’s not let psychology have a monopoly on the word. I know we’re supposed to learn to face harsh realities. I know denial is a stage of mourning, and it doesn’t undo the sad realities that are denied. So I’m all for learning to accept unpleasantness that must be accepted. Personally, I think I’m making progress toward that goal.
But that’s not all there is to it. I’ve found it interesting how people have gradually come to respond differently to my usually positive attitude. When I used to walk or run around, play piano, and have a larger income, my optimism seemed, to some people, shallow and naive. As soon as I’d done some substantial living, they seemed to think, I’d learn to think more darkly.
Now, more people seem to react to that same positive spirit as if I’m heroic and wise: if I can smile and feel hope while antibodies are nibbling at my myelin, I must really know something they don’t know. But I really think it has to do with perspective, not awareness; half of the glass really is full, and the other half really is empty.
I don’t think denial is as common among children as among adults, but adults who have children often have to deal with some harsh realities, and
sometimes they go to great lengths not to. They view learning problems and behavior problems as teaching or administrative problems. Of course, schools and teachers are factors, and can cause or aggravate problems, but so can parents, and so can plain old reality.
And it’s not that simple; sometimes a very appropriate and effective way to handle a problem is to treat it as if it’s not a problem. That can be true because some problems are mainly problems of attitude. Sometimes a child just needs to be treated as if he/she is capable, and whatever problems seemed to exist just fade away.
All this means is that sometimes you’ve got to see things one way, and sometimes you’ve got to see them another way. It would be nice if we could come up with one reliable perspective, but sometimes we can’t. Some attempts to simplify issues are born of denial.

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