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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


Perhaps you’ve heard the joke before. Denial is more than a river in Egypt. I didn’t say it was a great joke—maybe not even a bad pun. But I was intrigued by the word because it has such a fascinating meaning. One can deny that something is true claiming an invention, or a lie. To deny someone is to prevent them from attaining what they seek or even their very existence. But self- denial—the meaning behind the pun is a contradiction that intrigues me the most.

On the one hand it can convey a sense of selfless abstention from worldly attractions, a form of discipline with a hint of fervor about it. It may also suggest a failure to observe in ourselves some trait or behavior that we chose not to see. It is this last meaning that is the subject of today’s post.

In a podcast I recorded with my partner, Alvean Lyons, some months ago we talked about the lies we tell ourselves. Some are a form of protective denial—that is a way of defending ourselves from truths that make us uncomfortable or reveal our innermost fears and doubts. Other lies are based on indulging our vanity—putting ourselves in a better light than we deserve. And let’s not forget the inventions of our sub-conscious self, those that are intended to provide an excuse for doing what we know in our higher selves is just wrong.

All of these represent denial in one of its cunning disguises or another. But you may say, it isn’t really possible to lie to ourselves, after all we are witness, judge and jury all in one. Who could possibly pull off a deception with that formidable prosecution arrayed against them? The answer is any and all of us. We just have to be willing to look away—or rather not to look too hard at all.

The truth is these deceptions are paper thin. If we are even the tiniest bit introspective, if we allow ourselves to dwell on the things we think we’ve masterfully hidden from view they are in plain sight for us and for everyone else to see. That does not mean we have to see them—we can keep up the pretense for a lifetime if we choose. But there they are—the elephant, so to speak, inhabiting the room.

The only way to rid ourselves of these unfortunate pachyderms is to stop playing the game of the emperor’s new clothes and acknowledge what everyone else already knows about us. The truth is we have fooled no one. Our faults, flaws, fears and doubts have a way of insinuating themselves despite our best efforts and while most people are polite enough not to mention what they observe—they and we know it to be so. We gain nothing by continuing to deny. On the other hand we stand to gain a great deal by coming to terms with the fact that we are flawed, have caused hurt or pain, done some things of which we are not proud, or expressed feelings which are not based on any truths but rather scars, biases and grievances which we have not let go.

I hope you don’t see this as a holier than thou rant—far from it, friends. Guilty as charged. I have played this game with myself on occasion and it has never been to my benefit. In the end when I finally let go of my self-deception, I was relieved. That isn’t to say I was exonerated, I still needed forgiveness, but I ceased to carry the heavy weight of subterfuge. Like most things that are hidden from view, when they finally come to light, we discover that the effort of keeping them hidden has cost us as much or more than any judgement we or others might have harbored.

So, today I say to you, take a chance on yourself. Cut yourself some slack and let go of those dark creatures lurking in the corner pretending to be part of the scenery. You may squirm a bit a first, but once you have mustered the courage to take this first step, you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to live with yourself—and a lot easier to live with everyone else.

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