I delight in the mystery of power, how it arises from seemingly nothing, is as invisible as gravity until it exerts influence upon something else, how it contains both the ability to build and destroy depending on the slightest increments of strength.
Denial is maybe the most fascinating power to me because of its inherent nature to be the best of friends, or the worst enemy, depending on how it manifests. Since learning one of my sisters is in the throws of a mental impairment that has seized her capacity to recognize she is incapacitated and that also triggers outrageous expressions of denial, I’ve spent a fair amount of time pondering the wiliness of denial’s power. No amount of rational discussion, medication, surgery or gifts of love will ever be able to break a level of denial and delusion created from a brain that has been so fried.
The kind of denial that has captured my focus recently isn’t one that is brought on by damaged brain tissue. It’s the kind of denial that manifests as a result of an emotional wound or a shock to the psyche that shows a person just isn’t able to come to terms with a new reality or new information. Maybe just not yet, anyway.
In much the same way that a transplanted seedling or a tree needs gentle handling, careful watering, and time in order for its disturbed roots to adjust, thus it is with our own ability to adapt to painful or sensitive information. Until the transplanting, there is no way to be completely sure whether the change in the setting or environment, however ideal it appears it should be, will create a plant that will thrive.
This is similar to personal information that is particularly sensitive. Until one actually has received the information, there is no way to know for sure just how a person will receive it, whether it will be embraced or not, or even possibly create an opportunity for denial to emerge and plant firm roots in the fertile soil of denial.
With regularity, my ongoing efforts to support my ill sister as well as my counseling work, brings me into elaborate conversations about denial. A particularly compelling exchange that has come up a number of times is about the denial swirling about a gay person and whether or not that person’s family knows or are in denial about it, when it is so clearly obvious to virtually everyone else that the person is not heterosexual.
The debate in Congress about repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy has helped bring the issue of denial front and center to those who aren’t even in the military or homosexual. It is likely the courts will get the power to ask and to tell since many elected leaders still seem to be too much in denial about the reality of the pain caused by wishy-washy policies. Sometimes, as in the case with DADT, compromise turns out not to be the most wise response, however compassionate the intention may be.
Questions about sexual preference that have been discussed with me include: 1) whether or not the parent(s) or family should be informed 2) whether or not the subject of sexual preference is an appropriate topic for discussion 3) whether or not relatives should be talking openly about the gay-but-not-out-to-the-family without the gay person’s knowledge and 4) what the heck should a person do with sensitive information like this?
I am grateful I have personal experience with a professional friend who never once mentioned to me their child is gay as I have been able to use this as one example of a spiritual way this issue can be navigated. To my knowledge, the professional friend never made a pronouncement to anyone. Because of my gift of clairvoyance I had already known years before, but the actual confirmation of their child’s sexuality eventually emerged through other sources.
And even though the professional friend knows I know their child is gay, it is never going to be a topic for discussion between us, unless that person decides to bring it up to me.
As a spiritually aware parent, this professional friend knows personal information is for the individual to choose or not to choose to disseminate, not the parent’s place. Even if this professional friend had not respected their child’s privacy and instead had told me this information, it would be incumbent upon me to not divulge it.
In Judaism there is a traditional teaching that speaks to this: whatever is told to someone is automatically understood to be confidential, and conversations remain private unless the person has specifically given permission to the other for the information to be shared. It is the unspoken agreement that everything said is always “off the record” (meaning not meant for the public) unless otherwise indicated. To me there is sanctity within such a powerful practice, as it prevents needless suffering.
Yet, ours is a culture that routinely deviates from its own Judaic traditions. Gossip, not privacy, seems to be the normative. One’s personal business never seems to remain personal or very private for very long, and as a result many misunderstandings and even painful consequences are created. And so it is that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was never a practical policy to implement, notwithstanding constitutional considerations regarding discrimination.
But much closer to home, what is one to do with the actual denial that swirls about a family member (or a friend) who will not, or cannot seem to, face the reality that their loved one is gay-but-not-out-to-the-family, yet? Does one have a spiritual obligation or duty to assist that person out of their denial by informing them their child, sibling or relative is not heterosexual? Does one have a spiritual obligation to open a space for the gay-but-not-out-to-the-family to reveal their personal truth in hopes they may be free in their unique expression?
None of these questions seem to hold as much interest for me as the more important question of what kind of relative or friend will you be when you are finally facing the news that your loved one is not heterosexual, and you are learning the information has been intentionally withheld from you, for whatever the reason. Will you be compassionate or judgmental? Hostile or thankful to now stand in the light of truth? Will you be unconditionally loving or unforgiving? If you don’t ask these questions and don’t tell yourself the answers, you just may be in denial.