For years and years I was in denial. I denied the obvious dysfunction in my marriage, and how terribly unhappy I was in it.
I told myself over and over that things would change and get better, that it wouldn’t be this way forever, and that I could find a way to be happy with how things were.
I had long given up hope that my spouse would change, but I have to admit, I joyfully splashed around in deep denial, telling myself that I could change.
In my mind, if I could change my feelings about my marriage, I would miraculously be at peace, and things would get better.
I tried to change what I needed, what I thought, and what I wanted in attempt to make things better.
The key to this false sense of peace was to accept the unacceptable—and I had become a master at it.
I’d tell myself, “My relationship is good enough as it is and I’m just going to be happy.”
No matter how hard I tried this ‘acceptance’ strategy, I was not and could not be happy with the way things were. I desperately wanted more companionship, conversations, and intimacy. I wanted to feel seen and heard.
But day in and day out, lingering below the surface was this feeing of loneliness in my marriage. The truth was, I had an emotionally unavailable partner who had shut down, and he completely shut me out in the process.
Acknowledging the truth about my marriage and my unhappiness in it only bombarded me with all kinds of emotion—from sadness, to fear, to guilt, to shame. So I did everything I could to avoid it.
Every time unhappiness came rushing up to the surface I would skillfully wrestle it back down again.
Then one day, a glimmer of light shone through in the form of a question. I was asked a simple, and what would be life-changing question: “Was my marriage enough for me? And if so, why?”
That question stopped me dead in my tracks. I knew the answer to it immediately—it wasn’t enough. It came bubbling up from that wellspring of inner ‘knowing’ that I had been keeping silent, mostly out of shame and fear.
I knew I wanted more. I also knew that for way too long I had allowed the unacceptable to be acceptable.
You would think that this light bulb moment would lead me to immediately take action and change what I needed to in my life, but that wasn’t the case.
What happened for me next is what I have come to recognize as the dance between fear and denial. It unfolds like this:
At first glance, the idea of change may feel good to you. It’s even inspired you enough to peek out from behind your wall of comfort to see what lies on the other side.
Once you see what lies beyond, you have that moment of ‘deep in your soul knowing’ that it’s right for you. For me, it became crystal clear that I wanted more from a relationship, from myself, and from my life.
Then a strange thing happens. As you move closer to thinking about making the change, going for the life you want and need, you seem to find all kinds of reasons to stop. And there you sit—stuck.
This is where fear, with its beautiful toolbox of deceptive tricks, swoops in and efficiently constructs this brick wall called ‘denial.’
The wall of denial blocks the very truth you’ve just caught a glimpse of—the one that whispered to you that you want to be more, have more, and do more.
Denial starts its conniving routine of reassuring you that nothing is really wrong with the way things are, and as a matter of fact, you really don’t want or need to make any changes.
You wonder what on earth you had been thinking and without warning, you actually begin to defend the old undesirable life you are trying to move away from. In my case, it was my marriage.
What if I never find anyone better? What if I’m alone for the rest of my life? What if I can’t make it on my own? What if I’m making a mistake?
Denial will always feel like a welcome relief because it skillfully lays your fears to rest, enticing you to resume life exactly as it is.
The late Debbie Ford shared an insightful acronym for denial: Don’t Even kNow I Am Lying.
And there you sit. No rope, no ladder, deep hole of denial.
So how do we outwit this sneaky thing called denial?
First, we must give ourselves permission to do absolutely nothing at all.
The truth is, we can’t change what we don’t acknowledge. And we won’t acknowledge the problem if we think it means we have to take any kind of action before we feel ready to.
I believed for a long time that if I really acknowledged how bad things were in my marriage, I’d have to take immediate action and leave.
And if I didn’t take immediate action and leave, it meant I was a coward and was inevitably doomed to live an unhappy life in an unhappy marriage.
Either option terrified me.
This is the thing though, the reason we are stuck in denial isn’t because we are afraid to admit our own unhappiness. We are stuck in denial because we are afraid we have to do something we aren’t yet ready to do.
Taking ‘no action’ is the way we create safety. It’s from this safe place of ‘no action’ that we are able to look honestly at ‘what is’ and evaluate it. In the safety of ‘no action,’ there is no pressure or fear of changing ‘what is.’
The goal of ‘doing nothing’ isn’t to trick yourself into eventually ‘doing something.’ Nor is it to strong arm yourself into taking an action you’re not ready for or, for that matter, even sure you want to take.
The goal of ‘no action’ is to create space for you to just become aware. In the safety of ‘no action,’ awareness is the rope that allows you to pull yourself up and out of that deep hole of denial.
Awareness always brings with it the generous gift of transformation. Stepping out of denial and into awareness is where the journey of healing and transforming yourself begins.
Regardless of whether we find ourselves in an unhappy relationship, unsatisfied in our job, or struggling with money issues, the solution is never about changing or not changing our circumstances—it’s always about changing ourselves.
The truth is that when we decide to look at our lives with eyes wide open (through the lens of awareness) and not with both eyes closed (with the blindfold of denial) we give ourselves the most amazing gift.
We discover who we are, what we need and what we want.
In allowing myself to be present in the beautiful ‘no action’ space of the truth about the circumstances of my marriage, I began my journey of healing and transforming.
I began untangling myself from the fears and beliefs that no longer served me.
I started taking responsibility for my own happiness and stopped waiting for someone else to make me happy. In the process, I also stopped taking responsibility for everyone else’s happiness.
I learned what healthy boundaries were and began to put them in place and practice them in all aspects of my life. I learned to let go of any judgments about what I should and shouldn’t do, and learned to hear and honor my own voice.
I stopped accepting the unacceptable and claimed my right to live my own life.
I warmly invite you to allow yourself permission to be present with what is going on in your life and begin to explore how you feel about it, knowing you are to do absolutely nothing but simply observe it.
Is it enough for you? Is it what you want and need? What’s missing? What are you tolerating? Where are you accepting the unacceptable?
Take a good look, knowing that transformation begins in the exploration of ‘what is.’ The answers you need will arrive in perfect timing, when you are ready for them, and not a moment sooner.
And then, from that beautiful, safe place of awareness, you will make your decisions based on truth and not denial.