Within the family, my mother was known as the “Queen of De Nile.” With ten kids and a Peter Pan-ish visionary for a husband, she learned that selective blindness was a helpful and adaptive way to keep her sanity.
That curmudgeon Freud was the first to label denial a defense mechanism, thus casting it into the psychological outer darkness. I think, however, that a little wholesome denial can be an artful dodge to the knuckle sandwiches of life. It’s like a shock absorber, a mental cushion, that buffers us from the potholes in the road. Everyone knows the bumps are there, but it’s easier on the spine not to absorb the full, teeth-rattling impact.
Reality will inevitably strike, which is why our brokerage account statements are lying unopened in a dusty corner right now, but sometimes, if we ignore them long enough, reality’s discomfiting facts will fade away on their own. Do we really want to know what our 17-year-old is doing at every moment? Probably the same things we were doing at that age, but who wants to dwell on that? With any luck, he’ll soon be standing in our shoes cultivating the same strategic blind spot with his own teenagers. And, with any luck, we may be able to peek at those brokerage statements soon. Experts at the Economic Cycles Research Institute report a “pervasive upturn” in the leading economic indicators, and so far, that group has never missed a call on economic cycles.
Denial must be selectively applied, however, or it takes on those bad, old Freudian overtones. Pretending that high blood pressure will go away or that a three-martini-lunch habit isn’t an addiction are the attitudes that give denial a bad name. As a species, we’re doing an impressive job pretending that we have plenty of time to deal with our warm and crowded planet.
But on the whole, given the choice between the-sky-is-falling Chicken Little and pie-in-the-sky Pollyanna, a little magical thinking is a good option. When the facts are unalterable and unpleasant, sometimes it’s best to ignore them. Chances are, the sky won’t fall. And if it does, well, we’ll deal with it then.
By Kate Convissor
“Denial.” Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. 2007.
“Denial: Learn to Cope With Painful Situations.” MayoClinic.com. 25 Jun 2009. Mayo Clinic.
“Economist Predicts Recession Will Soon Be Over.” All Things Considered. NPR. 18 July 2009.
Kirwan-Taylor, Helen. “How to Handle Wealth Loss.” Wealth Bulletin. 25 Feb 2009. eFinancial News, Ltd.