Denial: It’s The Human Brain’s Normal Condition

As many of you who read my posts know, I advance a healing protocol that contains five levels to work through. The first level is termed “Knowledge.” Because I believe that childhood trauma is a fundamental root cause for many health and behavior issues, I felt it was important to take information about a client about the existence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s), if they have any, and discuss it with them. This concept is straight out of Dr. Felitti’s experience at Kaiser Permanente (KP). When I watched Cavalcade’s 2 hour video discussing the ACE Study and interviewing patients, it became clear that knowledge helped them heal. Dr. Felitti confirmed this a number of times during his recent trip to Juneau. With a sample of 130,000 KP patients in slightly more than 2 years, the completion of an online survey and discussion of the results with the patient had an impact. Visits to the doctor declined by 35% over the following year. Knowledge has a powerful impact on your brain and its ability to accept a path to healing. Denial is the enemy. Why do we so forcefully deny data and commonly accepted knowledge? There are a variety of reasons that I will discuss today.

After researching the ability of our brain to reject truthful information in order to realize the meaning that we have given to our circumstances (something I often refer to as “Culture”), I now realize that we need to spend time with clients who do not accept the existence of childhood trauma and it’s effect on our health and behaviors. It’s our job to overcome the denial, and the first step is the dissemination of knowledge about the ACE Study. Acesconnection and its companion site, Acestoohigh, are doing that. And the work of most of you is lined up with that mission. The resolution I am hoping will pass the Alaska State Legislature is a method to give the dissemination of information greater credibility.

My original thoughts for the Restoration to Health (RtH) protocol was for those who sought it out. I now believe that we have many opportunities to make RtH available for individuals who are essentially ordered to seek it out. But in order to serve them effectively, I now believe we need to do 2 things: (1) overcome their denial, scientifically; and (2) allow them to put together a healing pathway with hope as a major driver. It appears that hope is one reason we enter into denial. What I am researching is the potential for substituting a healing hope for the type of hope that leads to denial. I refer to it as “Change Management.”

Denial has been researched extensively. For example, the Dunning Kruger Effect (DKE) is a “Cognitive Bias” through “which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it really is.” [WIKIPEDIA LINK] Dunning and Kruger wrote "The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.” [LINK HERE] In a nutshell, we believe we are better than we really are. That’s why,, when you go through a performance evaluation at work, you are oftentimes shocked. You believe you are above average. For the most part. Some who are in fact highly competent underestimate their abilities because they overestimate the ability of others. They incorrectly assume that everyone else they compete with have the same or better competencies that they do.

Once we have a confirmation bias, we tend to seek out information and people that support our bias. We dismiss non conforming information because it is inconsistent with our illusion. In other cases, we believe we are the part of normal that doesn't suffer problems. So if 40% of marriages end in divorce, we are going to be part of the 60% that doesn’t. We err on the side of the hopeful part of whatever behaviors we are considering. With alcoholics, they “can quit anytime, just don’t want to.” With smokers, they believe they are a part of the population that won’t suffer ill health effects. After all, they have been smoking for 20 years and feel just fine. And oh, but the way, what about that woman who lived to 107 years of age and smoked for 90 years? Our brains select the most hopeful path for us.

And once our brain selects a hopeful path, we see support for that position everywhere. It’s called the “Frequency Illusion,” scientifically referred to as the Baader Meinhof Complex. [LINK HERE] It describes how a concept you were just made aware of starts to appear everywhere. Dr. Arnold Zwicky identifies a number of Baader Meinhof Complexes: Recency Illusion; Antiquity Illusion; and Frequency Illusion. [LINK HERE] Our mind convinces us that certain patterns we see are true. And with frequency comes comfort and a resistance to change.

I see this within organizations. We have always done it this way, so it must be the best way. Nelson and Winter counted the phrase to describe “Organizational Routine,” A general description is “the relatively mindless repetition of actions that have been well-established via evolution or voluntary design of an individual that is not a participant to it.” {LINK HERE} We use habits because the effort required to think uses a lot of our brains limited capacity and huge even requirements. After all, that 3 pound brain is about 2% of total average body weight but uses between 20 and 25% of your bodies consumption of glucose and oxygen. Once routines have been habituated, they are difficult to change.

So how do we incorporate a willingness to change in the minds and habits of trauma burdened adults? Taki Sharot shares some advice in this TED TALK. We basically share knowledge about the impact of trauma and move the participant to their own pathway for healing. This concept is used in the realm of Psychology as “Motivational Interviewing” [LINK HERE] and in business as “Humble Inquiry.” [LINK HERE] For Motivational Interviewing, the concept is “Motivational interviewing is a directive, client-centered counseling style for eliciting behavior change by helping clients to explore and resolve ambivalence. “ For business, Humble Inquiry is: “the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”

Based on this, I have added Change Management to the RtH protocol. As always, I appreciate any thoughts that can add to my understanding of healing.

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I love this Patrick.  I see examples of confirmation bias all the time with family members and parents I talk about spanking their children.  You'd be hard pressed to find a single child-rearing or early childhood development professional who says it's a good idea to hit your child, yet the typical response from someone who views corporal punishment as an effective child-rearing tool is, "I was spanked and I turned out all right".

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