DENIAL- The refusal to admit the truth or reality of something…….
Caregiving sometimes takes us to uncomfortable situations, where doing the right thing is often murky and difficult to know. Here at Project Independence we have become familiar with the way in which short term denial can ease the process when we are being pushed to our emotional edge.
We hear denial when caregivers communicate that their loved one is showing rapid decline at home related to a diagnosis of Dementia but when asked to consider adult day for them, the response is that they are not ready for that yet. We hear it when stories are shared of how family members and close friends offer support and then go into hibernation for months on end without any calls or visits. And again we learn of denial when caregivers reach a point of near physical collapse before they begin to seek out a support network for themselves.
The thing about denial is that while outsiders can often see it so clearly, those of us in the midst of caregiving can, and often do, become blinded to it and unable to accept that we may be caught in a cycle of avoidance. Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna Freud (1936) proposed that denial involves blocking external events from awareness. If some situation is too much to handle, the person just refuses to experience it.
For instance, initially after being faced with a life changing diagnosis, it’s quite normal that we may deny and minimize the impact this may be having on our life and relationships. The psyche needs this time to come to grips with the reality and in fact a short period of denial can allow us the necessary time to adjust to the circumstances and prevent emotional overload.
I’m reminded of a time in my life, 16 years ago, when my husband Stan was dying of Lung Cancer. In the evenings after I had helped him into the hospital bed in our dining room I would sit down in the living room and call my best friend Patti to talk. Mostly I complained, telling and re-telling the various things Stan was refusing to do during the day while I was at work. He wasn’t doing the physical therapy exercises that were prescribed, he was taking too much of the prescribed Morphine and refusing to take a shower.
Then one night Patti got up the courage to interrupt me and in a gentle compassionate voice she said to me “Shell, he is dying and you are not helping him do that.”
Things changed after that conversation; I heard her. I suppose I was ready to hear her. It took time and after that night, I moved forward in helping Stan do what was next for him in his journey. I helped him die at home. I took family medical leave and dedicated myself full time to spending his last days hanging out with him, listening to his favorite music, massaging his feet and reminding him that that I loved him and was right there by his side.
What can you do to move past denial when it’s continued on beyond the initial adjustment period? How can you begin to more realistically face the realities of your particular situation?
First begin by reminding yourself that this is a journey and it will take time. Next consider trying out some of the following:
- Carve out time to meet with a trusted friend and vent regarding your situation and what scares you the most about it. Caregiving experts explain that through telling our stories to someone we trust, we begin to come out of denial and face our situation more realistically.
- Consider keeping a caregiving journal where you can jot a short note to yourself on the particular challenges and frustrations you are facing. Examine it regularly and look for emerging themes and patterns.
- Explore what the potential negative consequences could be of not taking action or of taking too much action.
- Participate in a support group consistently where the group may be able to offer realistic feedback and share concerns. Often through trusted relationships we can hear and accept the truth.
Denial prevents us from facing truths that while painful once faced can lead to transformation. When we begin to relax into our reality and accept it, we let go of the battle and become freed up. This can be empowering and allow us to bring to the situation greater compassion, creativity and even a sense of humor that can make all the difference in the world. Letting go of denial allows us to rise to the occasion and do our very best for the one’s we love.
Author Bio: Shelly Ehrman is the Outreach and Caregiver Support Specialist for Project Independence. Shelly has been a nurse since 1985 and has extensive experience in geriatrics, mental health and homecare. For questions on caregiving resources and ways PI can help make the difference in the lives of others please reach out to Shelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 802-476-3630