Let’s talk about denial

This week the most asked question was about denial. We have written about the four paradigms of self-mastery (fear, duty, achievement, and integrity) and the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). The only reason that there are five stages of grief and four for self-mastery is, you must get past the denial stage of grief to get started on the path to self-mastery. Denial is a defense against realities that threaten us, and it can be a good defense in the face of bad news.

We have many events that happen during the day, and they are not all the same level of impact. I could take a simple event like not getting the last piece of chocolate cake, and it is no big deal to me but is a very big deal to someone else.   We may only be in denial for a few seconds, but we start there. You may deny the reality to avoid humiliation, pain, or many other reasons. In an extreme case, I have seen people deny any knowledge of past statements, contracts or events regardless how well they are documented because they do not want to deal with it.

If you can understand the stages you go through, you have a better potential to shorten your path to Joy. This is what your journey looks like after an event happens. Your first reaction is shock and denial – almost disbelief. You may add to that some guilty feelings due to your contribution to the event. Life feels chaotic and out of control. The degree of the severity is dependent on your belief system, your current state of mind and the circumstances involved with the event. Someone with a positive outlook on life and a positive belief system will not be in denial very long. Someone that expects negative things to happen or has a negative belief system will reinforce the impact.

The first sign of acceptance is often a reaction with anger and frustration. You will look for someone or something to blame. You do not want the burden of responsibility, the pain or the negative impact on your life, but you start to accept reality. Using the terminology of self-mastery, you enter the fear paradigm. How long you are in the fear paradigm will determine your loss of joy. If you are in the fear paradigm, you are unable to accomplish anything. In an extreme case, you may even show the world how painful this all is and look for sympathy. In the fear paradigm you will find anger, bargaining, and depression.

One of the first actions used by many is bargaining. You will attempt to bargain your way out of this instead of accepting what has happened. When I was diagnosed with a muscle disease my first reaction was “this is a mistake”. I would bargain within my belief system. Finally, I will accept what has happened. With acceptance, I have the potential to move on. Instead of feeling sorry for myself or blaming others I start to climb out of depression. I am ready to move to the duty paradigm. I will do whatever I think is expected of me. With the results of my muscle biopsy, I decided to do whatever the doctors asked of me. I became the perfect patient. I am learning to deal with reality.

After I have accepted my reality and started on a solution in the duty paradigm of Self-mastery, I now have the potential for achievement. I have a new reality, and I am ready to improve my situation. In the achievement paradigm of self-mastery, I take charge and move forward. I have learned many lessons as I went through the duty paradigm. In the achievement paradigm, I have the potential for joy. At first, it is a lot of work. I not only have to learn new facts and skills; I am making a lifestyle change. The event that happened could be a change in health status, a new job, a new relationship, a change in finances, or any of the events that change our life. It is in the achievement paradigm that I become comfortable with my new reality.

The last stage of self-mastery is called integrity. I take all the lessons learned and modify or reinforce my belief system. I may modify my values. All elements of my life are now in concert, and I experience joy. Through all the stages there were periods of happiness, but I now experience joy. My father would say that I am at peace with myself.

Many of us get stuck in one of the early stages. We may be in denial or duty where there is no potential for joy. We may be stuck in achievement that has periods of happiness, but it is a lot of work. Sometimes this happens because there are so many events happening that we are not capable of handling all of them without help. Worse case, we are stuck in denial and do not even recognize that we need help.

What is true in life is true in business, find a trustworthy partner who shares your beliefs and values. Learn to ask for advice and listen to differing points of view.