I know denial very well.
It accompanied me into every bad job, every bad friendship, every bad decision, and (I hate to say this) every bad relationship.
The facts were crystal clear, but I didn’t believe them. My intuition was telling me the truth, but I turned a deaf ear. My friends and family were right, but I thought I knew better. Clearly, I did not.
Do I hate myself for keeping myself stuck in relationships that knocked me to my knees? Yes, sometimes. Do I forgive myself? Every single minute of every single day.
For those of us who haven’t been in destructive relationships, it might be difficult to understand why we would form an attachment to someone who ultimately makes us succumb to denial and self-deception. When I look back at that old version of me, I almost don’t recognize myself, but I know how hard it is to break toxic attachments and walk the path of recovery, which, by all means, is messy and painful.
I kept postponing that walk because it represented fear and uncertainty. Toxic relationships, despite their disastrous consequences, feel safer. I slowly turned the relationship’s flaws into positive qualities, fooling myself into believing that I was “forgiving,” “kind,” and “patient.”
But being forgiving, kind, and patient doesn’t mean we overlook the deficiencies that make us miserable. Love can easily slip into idolization, which is the first sign that we might be in denial about an unhappy relationship.
1. Idolization. When I was younger, I thought that seeing my partner as this perfect, intact, absolutely gorgeous being was love. The more my partners showed me who they really were, the more I generated positive illusions in my mind. I can see clearly now that my way of loving was unhealthy, toxic, and unreal. This wasn’t love; this was fear. By mentally refining my partner, I was slowly but surely protecting myself from the problems that might stem from his “imperfections.”
I have learned the hard way that the most essential trait of a healthy relationship is willing to see each other’s faults as they are and learning along the way how to deal with them.
If you’re idolizing your partner, you’re in denial about their toxic traits. If you’re in denial about their toxic traits, it means you subconsciously think that they’re not manageable, and this naturally puts your relationship at stake—which is something you don’t want to happen. Please understand that justifying behaviors is only a coping mechanism; move beyond it.
2. Procrastination. Putting off pivotal decisions is the hallmark of toxic relationships. Again, I misinterpreted my patience and confused it with love. Patience that stems from love is different than patience that stems from fear.
If we keep postponing a breakup or an important conversation, it means we want to avoid the pain that comes with it. The inevitable might be clear, but we’re not ready to face it. And so, we drown in denial and rethink all our decisions and motives. Of course, it goes without saying that with time we will doubt our decisions and slowly fall back into idolization.
Please stop delaying your breakup or life-changing decisions. I know you can’t bring yourself to do it, but staying in a relationship you know is over won’t bring you any happiness or satisfaction.
3. Loss of self. When it comes to toxic relationships, we lose ourselves in small ways. I couldn’t tell that I was losing myself when I slowly became dependent and unhappy. I thought I was the victim of emotional and mental abuse, which ultimately made me cling to that weak, powerless version of me.
Now I know that I wasn’t powerless; I was struggling with an extremely low self-esteem that stemmed from a lack of boundaries and personal autonomy. When we stop trusting ourselves, perceptions, and decisions, we eventually lose ourselves and become increasingly occupied and obsessed with our partner. The desire to remain in that low, weak position can lead to denial.
If we feel hopeless, trapped, anxious, angry, sad, or confused, we might have chosen our relationship over ourselves. In a healthy relationship, there are no alternatives or such choices. We don’t give up parts of ourselves to please our partner. In fact, your “self” will shine and your boundaries will become stronger.