“…I must know the truth very precisely, in order to hide it from myself the more carefully” – Jean-Paul Satre
There seems to be a large disconnect with oneself when facing matters that could be embarrassing or shameful. In fact, I would venture to say that most people have lived in denial about one thing or another.
We often have to know the truth in order to hide it from ourselves. I remember avoiding the truth when I was stressed to the max at a former job for about half a year. I was coping with stress by using sugar to motivate me to get through the rest of the afternoon. I would wander down to the small cafe in our building to get relief and motivation to help me last a few more hours. The sugar led into a downward energy spiral, and when I got home I felt exhausted. After this pattern for about 6 months, my work pants were getting tight and uncomfortable to sit in. Part of me knew that I was gaining weight from my coping skill but I chose to counter that thought with others that were more comfortable:
“The washing machine and dryer must have done a good job with the fabric! These pants got tighter from the dryer’s heat” or “The scale must not be accurate. Maybe the floor is cold and so the wires are tighter inside of it, making the numbers higher than they actually are.”
Now, those excuses sound silly, and if I had heard anyone else say them, I would have thought to myself: “that person is in denial.” But to myself, these excuses were enough to save me from the embarrassment of facing my reality that I had gained about 10 pounds because of my habit. I was both the culprit and the victim of my own denial. I tried to protect myself from the harsh truth, but instead, I became the victim because I wouldn’t allow myself to believe the truth. Instead I offered myself alternative beliefs that were easier to swallow.
It is a paradoxical concept that “The person who deceives himself or herself is at the same time both culprit and victim” (Blackburn, 57).
After reading “The Big Questions of Philosophy”, by Simon Blackburn, I began to see a pattern of living in denial when it came to tough situations. It became easier to spot when myself or others would use a coping statement to deal with tough situations, instead of facing reality and being willing to accept the truth. As humans, we a vulnerable by nature. We have fragile views of ourselves, and often the truth can be uncomfortable.
“It is particularly painful to be confronted with our own flaws and failures. We all have to preserve our potentially fragile self-esteem…Things that threaten that self-esteem are particularly unpleasant. They provoke anxiety, and it would be much better if they were not true. So we have every motivation to prevent the truth from swimming into view… we have every motivation to attack the messenger: to find ways of dismissing what is being suggested” (Blackburn, 62).
As a personal trainer and coach, I understand that we are vulnerable, especially in areas that are deeply personal like weight loss, nutrition, and life habits. My job is to reflect to someone who they are, and sometimes that means reflecting these areas of denial that hold them back from reality and ultimately their goal of transformation. Change requires vulnerability and the ability to see clearly, even in the areas that are uncomfortable.
So, where do we go from here? First, have grace. Accept that you may have some areas that are uncomfortable to face, and that’s alright. Next, instead of denying the truth, try denying the judgement that you place on yourself for seeing the truth clearly. Lastly, work with a coach or a counselor to develop some strategies for facing reality.
For myself, once I came to accept that the scale wasn’t broken, and my washer and dryer weren’t shrinking my pants, I was able to move past the embarrassment and lose the weight. I started logging my food (and sugar), and instead of coping with stress by snacking, I began running 16 flights of stairs in the tower that I worked in. It built my confidence to have a strategy to deal with the stress, and I was able to overcome my denial and start living in a brighter reality.
Citation: Blackburn, S. How Can I Lie To Myself? In The Big Questions Philosophy (p. 57, 62). New York: Metro Books.
About the Author
Aimee Frazier’s mission is to empower individuals with the tools and resources needed to live their healthiest life. As a Coach she has partnered with hundreds of clients in achieving their goals by facilitating empowering conversations about their goals and providing them with research-proven tools and education. Aimee is the owner of Emerge Health Coaching. She has her B.S. degree in Health and Human Kinetics.