If you know that you can’t easily get what you want and need, you have two choices.
You can suffer, always feeling hurt and deprived, using your own awareness of what you don’t have to justify whatever actions you take, even if they are grasping or vindictive.
At one point in college, I was in the worst dorm — Tower B, it was called — and students took out their aggression by doing things like busting up a vending machine and pushing it into the elevator. I came up with a slogan for them and they loved it: “We’re Depraved Because We’re Denied!”
The other option, though, is to make that lack a virtue. By embracing denial, you are empowered, seeing it as character building. Learning to be grateful for what you do have, effectively using any resources you might acquire is not a bad thing.
Many spiritual paths understand æsthetic denial as a virtuous thing, allowing one to become clear of the desires of Eros and live a considered, conscious life.
There is a difference between being able to choose a monastic life and having to accept denial because you are not given any other choice, as anyone who was told by their church that the only righteous way to live with same-sex desire was to stay celibate will tell you.
For me, denial has always been a survival strategy. While I was gifted with the chops to pull it off — a sharp mind, theological bent and savage willpower — it was only the best choice I could make to protect myself in a world where so much of what I needed as a human was denied to me.
Mirroring was scant for me, if not non-existent.
My Aspergers parents didn’t know how to see, acknowledge and honour my emotional needs, down to the simple need for touch, attention and smiles. Instead, they demanded that everything be about them, that any deviance was an attempt to punish and hurt them, deserving of any level of attack on me that they desired.
This severely impaired my own social development, so much so that I had few skills to connect with other children and learn as a member of their networks.
Instead, I was struggling to survive, leaving my teachers baffled as to why such a smart kid didn’t have the social discipline or support to get routine work done.
I was first sent to a counsellor about my trans nature in third grade. I had learned by age seven or eight that any discovery of trans expression, of dressing up in secret, would be punished severely. The actions may have given me comfort, but always at severe risk, teaching me that denial was always the best course of action.
How do you learn to date when your mother has already surrogate spoused you at age 13, when you know you are queer, and when you don’t have the simple training in social skills? Girls expected me to be a guy, and when I failed at that, not being as cocky as they liked, relationships fell apart quickly.
Instead of seeing a world of possibilities for myself, I saw a world where denial was the only choice. I had to hide myself, wrapping my personality in iconoclastic eccentricity, staying small and not taking the kind of simple risks which build confidence and skills.
I was enmeshed with my family, set as a caretaker, the target patient who negotiated the weirdness for all of us.
Making a virtue of that was my only choice, so when I joined a startup software company, I became the point person for negotiating weirdness, developing strategies, training and moving the company forward.
Anyone who values my writing will know that negotiating weirdness is what I still do, even to the point of being baffling and intense, too overwhelming to engage. By denying my own needs with sheer discipline and intense thought, I work to pull structure out of the spinning void.
Like everything, denial is best in balance. Too much of it and you lose important parts of life, like the capacity for human connection and opening to desire.
The bits you deny are human bits, part of your soul. They don’t go away when you deny them, rather they are just sublimated, pushed down, glossed over. This creates a hidden pool of emotion, one that is healthy when kept in balance but that can become fetid if not stirred up, drained and serviced once in a while.
When you have to go back and find feeling, bits of desire & passion to drive ambition & growth, well, going into that stagnant pool can be awfully tough. Desires that have missed their time don’t age well even as you do, so touching them leaves you with inappropriate desires which can never really be fulfilled.
So many transwomen understand this as they struggle to claim a girlhood in a body that will never be female and never be young again.
For me, as much as my skill at æsthetic denial lets me explain this, the needs and desires of a lifetime lie just beneath the surface. Even as I know that I am a lovable child of my creator, I also feel that no one will ever be able to see, embrace and love all of me.
Denial is an good skill to have, allowing you to not be controlled by your emotions in the moment, to consciously consider your response, seeing the situation in a clear context with the ability to defer gratification or acting out.
Too much of a good thing, though, is still too much.
I know why I found the need to learn denial, to subsume my own feelings because I was sure that I couldn’t get them respected & mirrored, to put aside my own needs because I learned I couldn’t get them met.
I also know that too much of that scarcity, pushing it too far, has accelerated my introversion, restricted my social skills, destroyed my trust, limited my joy in relationships and left me dry and crispy.
My life is a model of denial, of denial as a survival skill. I have done good things with denial, yes, but the cost, well, the cost is clear, at least to me.