21 November 2007

Not just a river in Egpyt

I am so happy the NYT is now free all over the place, all the time. Check out this fun pop-psych article: Denial makes the world go round. (I can't say I'm super-psyched that the opening and closing example of the article is a woman whose shopping is out of control, who didn't feel able to tell her husband about it. Couldn't they have used a scenario about an affair or something not related to the duplicitous-female-likes-to-shop stereotype? But whatever, it's still worth the click.)

“There are lots of way to think about this,” said the lead author, Daniel J. Hruschka of the Santa Fe Institute, a research group that focuses on complex systems. “One is that you’re moving and you really need help, but your friend doesn’t return your call. Well, maybe he’s out of town, and it’s not a defection at all. The ability to overlook or forgive is a way to overcome these vicissitudes of everyday life.”

I've seen that. Aren't we way harsher about other drivers than ourselves or the trusted driver of our car? God, if I held myself and my friends and my family to the same standards I hold stangers and theoretical people to, I'd be friendless, alone and probably be planning my suicide, unable to live with myself.

Nowhere do people use denial skills to greater effect than with a spouse or partner. In a series of studies, Sandra Murray of the University of Buffalo and John Holmes of the University of Waterloo in Ontario have shown that people often idealize their partners, overestimating their strengths and playing down their flaws.

I can think of a zillion real life examples where I've seen this happening. I'm sure my own relationship is included.

This typically involves a blend of denial and touch-up work — seeing jealousy as passion, for instance, or stubbornness as a strong sense of right and wrong. But the studies have found that partners who idealize each other in this way are more likely to stay together and to report being satisfied in the relationship than those who do not.

So ... denial = neccesary coping tool for functioning in society. It's just when there's too much that there's a problem. Like drugs or alcohol! Whoa. Heavy.

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