Most times we feel that living in denial is fine as long as it gets us going with our ‘normal’ lives. We may even rationalize to ourselves that everybody lives in denial at some point in their lives so why not me? By being in denial we are refusing to accept the truth that something different is happening in our lives and that we may be accountable for many of the positive and negative outcomes of our actions. In some cases our initial denial may be a good thing since it gives us time to adjust to a stressful issue thereby giving us time to embrace change. But if you allow time to lapse and continue being in denial for a long time the dark side is inevitable.
When you’re in denial, you:
- Refuse to acknowledge a stressful problem or situation
- Avoid facing the facts of the situation
- Minimize the consequences of the situation
- Activate your defense mechanism to resist facing the situation
- Try hard to protect your ego from dealing with pain and anxiety in the situation
- Occasionally reject the existence of a fact or a reality in the situation
- Try and shift your own responsibility by blaming other forces for the outcome of the situation
By living in denial we allow ourselves to operate in two separate worlds – one representing the masked farce and the other representing a covert truth that unfolds only in the privy of our mirror. The burden of managing these two distinct realities weighs us down like carrying a ton of bricks up a steep slope on a cold winter’s day.
Acceptance on the other hand shows humility and openness to make changes. It may or may not show agreement, but it certainly releases the need to rationalize every action and justify the subsequent outcomes. It subtly allows for lightness to creep in and free us from the burden of finding the fall guy. It empowers us.
Going back to my life’s example, the elections were over, the verdict was announced and my worthy opponent had succeeded me. Was I happy? The answer was NO.
Did my life come to a standstill? YES it did but only for a few days. But the day I decided to shed my false notions that my opponent had resorted to foul play to win the elections and accepted the fact that since I had failed to deliver as promised the members invested their faith in a new leader – I had evolved. I had accepted the truth and moved on.
As coaches we know that being in denial is a dis-empowered state of mind. Our clients also know this. But mere knowledge of our state of mind isn’t going to trigger change or lead to miracles. What is then holding our clients back from moving into an empowered state of mind called acceptance?
The day we decide to move from our superficial self into embracing our real self, we subconsciously sign up to face our fears by breaking some deep seated myths or half truths. We can help our clients in this transition by helping them manage each significant fear and its associated consequence one by one so that it would avoid overwhelming the client all at once.
Use Emotional Intelligence
Listen emphatically and mindfully to your clients. Ask you clients about some situations which went well when there was no denial. What did they do in those situations and how can they apply their learning to the current situation? Help them design their transition around their strengths so that the impact of the outcome can be minimized. Help them increase their resiliency towards future challenges by encouraging them to step out of denial into areas of positivity. Highlight to them the love and support of their family, friends or others that make their lives happier.
Create a Shift in the Perspective
Change always brings with a range of discomfort initially depending on the varying degree of impact. But nevertheless as coaches we have to help our clients get comfortable coping with their conflicting feelings especially since they could give up easily and slip right back into a denial mode.
A few suggestions to help our clients shift perspective:
- Who are you now? Who do you need to be?
- What would you gain by making this change?
- What other areas of your life might be positively impacted by this change?
- What would you do if all your fears were addressed now?
Agreeing to recognize the current state of denial and slowly inching into a desired state of acceptance itself, can be a huge breakthrough for a client. As coaches we acknowledge this and help our clients to strengthen their commitment further. We can enable them to get in touch with their core values and recognize their deeper strengths as they prepare for change.
Techniques for Moving into Acceptance
Most clients know exactly WHERE they are NOW, and they also know WHERE they WANT to be. But they struggle with HOW to get THERE. If a client can begin to see the path or the road ahead then the momentum for change gets triggered with minimum resistance.
As coaches we must try to connect with the client at a deeper level to understand what lies beneath. This will help the client to uncover the outer self and seek clarity into their purpose for change. This is a good technique since the ownership of making the transition comes from the core of the client’s being rather than them doing it due to some external influence.
Depending on the stage of denial your client is in, you could also consider adapting some of the stages of the Kubler-Ross model which depicts the five emotional stages of grief to help transition.
The stages of the Kubler-Ross model, popularly known by the acronym DABDA, include:
DENIAL → ANGER → BARGAINING → DEPRESSION → ACCEPTANCE
Bring Back the MOJO
Most clients will have a spark that may have been lost or hidden someplace. As coaches we can help them rekindle their deep seated inspiration and energize them with positive thoughts and feelings thereby navigating them to voluntarily shrink their world of denial.
- What is the denial that you are living with currently?
- Why are you afraid of accepting the reality?
- What is hindering you from stepping out of denial?
- How will you support your client to transition from denial to acceptance?
- What tools can you use to support your coaching in managing change?