I want to be my dog in my next lifetime! Dogs have it so easy. All she has to do is sleep, eat, play and bug me to pet her. And she’s always in the moment–not planning tomorrow or ruminating about something dumb she did yesterday.
But the main reason I envy my dog is that she feels totally in control of her world (naively perhaps, but nonetheless). She knows that when she whines by the door, I will let her out. And when I open that door, she KNOWS she will chase those squirrels and that pesky neighbor’s cat out of HER yard.
Humans love to feel in control, and we absolutely hate feeling out of control. It’s the worst feeling in the world. When bad things happen to us, we are often traumatized as much by that out-of-control feeling as we are by the event itself.
As a result of that bad event, we have lost what I call our “healthy denial.” Every day we get out of bed assuming that nothing bad will happen to us that day. We have to assume that, otherwise, we wouldn’t get out of bed!
My husband had a car accident recently. It was a very low impact fender bender, and yet it shook him up pretty badly. It shook him for three reasons: (1) it was his fault, (2) he had a vehicle full of his international students taking them to a sports event, and (3) it was in MY VAN!
It’s taken him a couple weeks to get back to not feeling anxious every time he has to drive somewhere. And he’s still avoiding that particular intersection!
After those inevitable bad moments in life, we have to get our healthy denial back. I do this by telling myself (repeatedly, ad nauseam) that I can’t control what happens to me; I can only control how I respond to it. This is my main motto for living.
Or to put it another way: You can’t control which way the wind blows; you can control how you trim your sails.
I’m also reminded of something one of my psychotherapist colleagues said one time on this subject. “If we live our lives worrying about what might happen, we aren’t really living our lives.”
So let’s hear it for the good side of denial!
To lighten things up, here’s another great example of the difference between fantasy (denial) and reality, and how sometimes the fantasy may be preferable. I know this video has already gone viral but I hadn’t seen it yet before today, and I just had to share. This is hysterical (in a sick kind of way)! But don’t let your little ones see this. They’ll be traumatized.
How about you? Have there been times when you’ve lost your healthy denial? How do you get it back, or does it come back on its own over time?
Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.
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K.B. OwenMarch 18, 2013 at 11:26 am
Oh, your poor hubby! The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago. I rolled into someone who stopped suddenly, just as we were both about to turn. My fault: I was taking one last look at the oncoming traffic to make sure I was clear to make a right turn. Really basic rule – don’t take your foot off the brake if you’re not looking in the direction the car is moving! Big DUH moment, and it really shook me up for days. Minimal damage and no one was injured (although I’m sure the poor guy probably had a sore neck for a day or two, and I really felt terrible about that). It had been decades since my last accident, and I was so mad at myself. But you’re right, it was scary, too.
Thanks for the insight, Kass!
Kassandra LambMarch 18, 2013 at 11:52 am
It’s amazing, Kathy, how even a minor accident can shake us like that. I kept telling my husband “They call them accidents because we don’t intend for them to happen.”
In retrospect, I’m not sure that helped since that would have just reinforced his feeling of not being in control of life. I think he’s got his healthy denial back now, though.
Hope you do too!
K.B. OwenMarch 18, 2013 at 12:32 pm
Thanks! I’m okay – it was tough going through that intersection the first few times. Good reminder of needed to mentally “be” in the moment, though.
Ginger CalemMarch 18, 2013 at 12:50 pm
Great post Kassandra! I try so hard to live by the mantra that you can’t control what happens but you can control your reaction. Such a tough one but worth the effort for some peace of mind!
Kassandra LambMarch 18, 2013 at 12:59 pm
It is hard, Ginger, especially for a control freak like me! 🙂 But definitely worth the effort. Thanks for stopping by!
shannon espositoMarch 18, 2013 at 5:37 pm
Wow, that kid in the video is very talented! Yes, denial and control…Well, I have a problem with imagining the worst case scenario in every situation so I don’t think denial is my problem, lol! I’m working more on realizing that even if the worst case scenario happens, I can handle it and it’s not the end of the world…
Unless it is.
Kassandra LambMarch 18, 2013 at 7:49 pm
Shannon, you are a long way from hopeless! But it does sound like you could use a bit more of that healthy denial. If only some drug company could come up with a nothing-bad’s-gonna-happen-today pill. It would help those of us who have had our healthy denial shaken, and the company would probably make a fortune! 🙂
Catie RhodesMarch 18, 2013 at 6:46 pm
The worst case scenario is always at the forefront of my mind. I pray often and attempt to coach myself away from it. What’s funny is that the few times the worst case scenario has come true, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I don’t know why I worry about it so much.
Kassandra LambMarch 18, 2013 at 7:55 pm
Catie, I think you just hit on your mantra there, “”When the worst case scenario has come true, it wasn’t that big a deal.”
Praying helps too, for sure. One of my favorites is: Lord, help me remember that nothing’s going to happen today that You and I can’t handle together.
Karen McFarlandMarch 18, 2013 at 7:34 pm
First of all, thank goodness your hubby and those kids are alright, eh? Yes, things like that can shake you up. As you may already know, my hubby got into a huge accident two years ago. He didn’t cause the accident, but does it really matter whether they caused it or not? I’m pretty sure that’s why they call it an accident.
Are we over it? Not completely. It, the accident, caused a ripple affect in our life. And in turn, we are a little gun shy as the old saying goes. Like with most things of this nature, I would think it only natural that it would take some time to get over this. As in , “Time heals all wounds.” One can only hope! 🙂
Kassandra LambMarch 18, 2013 at 8:05 pm
Oh dear, Karen, you and your hubby definitely know what I’m talking about here. Of course you’re “gun shy.” Time doesn’t heal everything but it certainly helps with getting our healthy denial back. May your husband continue to heal physically and both of you emotionally, and may you and your family be able to put this difficult time behind you very soon.
And yes, we were very grateful! If the timing had been even a little different the SUV that hit him (hubs was making a left turn) would have struck right where the kids were sitting! Instead we just lost the bumper.
Lynette M. BurrowsMarch 18, 2013 at 8:21 pm
Great post, Kassandra. You know I think motor vehicle accidents cause that reality shake up in everyone. I had a non-injury accident several years ago in a parking lot that I have to use every day. Someone ran into the side of my car as I was pulling out of a parking place. To this day I won’t park in the aisle I was in when that accident happened. I call it superstition. 🙂 How’s that for healthy denial?
Kassandra LambMarch 18, 2013 at 11:57 pm
Hey, whatever works, Lynette! 😀
Pat O'Dea RosenMarch 18, 2013 at 11:37 pm
My healthy denial is, well, healthy. By nature, I’m an optimist. Now that I’m getting older, that trait’s more pronounced because I forget things that once annoyed or upset me. II’m pretty sure I carry grudges, but, for the life of me, I can’t remember them.
Kassandra LambMarch 18, 2013 at 11:59 pm
LOL There are definitely some advantages to aging, Pat!
JuliaMarch 28, 2013 at 2:58 pm
Love that video. Almost didn’t watch it (oh where is the morning going?), but it’s pretty funny. Sorry about your husband’s fender bender. Bumps like that are sobering. Makes you realize that — yes! we’re in healthy denial– that bad things can happen at any second. Take a deep breath, as if it were your last, because, you never know! Nice post.
Susie Lindau (@SusieLindau)March 28, 2013 at 5:36 pm
I know exactly what you are talking about. It shakes our foundation when we screw up. That’s where the expression “getting back on the horse” came from!
LOVE that video and have to share. Hilarious and talented!
Thanks for bringing this to the party! Have fun clicking on links and introducing yourself!