Denial is a powerful defense mechanism that we all use unconsciously or willingly to cope with stressful situations. While it’s completely human to do so, denial should be seen as a stepping stone to handle related issues, rather than a long-term solution.
In the case of aging, denial can occur when parents refuse to acknowledge their health or adult children do not want to face their parents’ changing needs. In both cases, denial can be dangerous and/or add more stress later on. Learn more about how to recognize denial in yourself and others, so you can all face the facts and get your senior loved one proper care.
How to recognize denial
Once again, denial can be a deliberate or unconscious reaction to avoid emotional pain or conflict. You may be worried about finances or running out of time when an elderly loved one is becoming sick, and they may be worried about losing their independence or pride. As a result, it can be difficult to recognize denial in oneself. Here are some signs to look out for if you are or have a senior loved one with declining health.
- Stress: If you notice you are unusually stressed, which can manifest as anxiety or anger, you may be bottling up a very real problem. Your mind knows something is wrong. This is its way of telling you to confront it.
- Minimizing the severity of symptoms: A senior may experience differences in their capabilities or notice symptoms, but they or others pretend nothing has changed.
- Making Excuses: Rationalizing changing behavior, especially repeatedly, can be a sign of avoiding the real issue. For example, a senior may claim their hearing is not an issue but rather the volume others speak at.
- Keeping secrets: If you find yourself living in secrecy about what goes on health-wise or “don’t want to burden people with your issues,” you may be worried they’ll tell you something you need to hear.
If the above situations seem familiar, or if somebody has suggested you’re in denial, it’s important to take steps to improve your way of thinking in order to get the care needed. The first thing to do is reach out for help. Open up to friends, family, a counselor, therapist, or support group. Talking about aging is a tough conversation but a necessary one nonetheless, and many if not all people have to go through it with a loved one. There are resources to get you through the process step by step, and seeking help gets you access.
In terms of work you must do within, take a closer look at your irrational thoughts about your or your aging loved one’s health. Typically, denial has roots in fear. Ask yourself what you are afraid of facing once you accept the current situation. Remember to be honest and gentle with yourself during the process.
Have you experienced denial in your caregiving journey? We’d love to hear your stories and suggestions. Let us know in the comments section below!