November 04, 2008

Denial is the Opposite of Intuition

Red Riding Hood by Warwick Goble

Intuition is: "Knowing something without consciously knowing all the evidence."

Denial is: "Choosing not to know when all the evidence is right there in front of you. Denial is something all human beings do by believing this incident will be the last." ~Gavin De Becker

I've been thinking about warning signs that might alert us to a change in the narcissist’s behavior, even if we might not be able to define what that change ‘means’. Perhaps it’s a subtle shift in their behavior that catches our attention though we may not be able to decipher the meaning of the shift. When a person does or says something that’s not in sync with their persona, we might start rationalizing the discrepancy based on prior experiences. We might even doubt our initial gut reaction because we've known this person for a long time and excuse their behavior by telling ourselves they are having a bad day, or they're stressed, or any other number of reasons explaining atypical behavior.

Gavin De Becker explains the power of intuition to warn us that our lives may be in danger. One example in his book, The Gift of Fear, illustrates that over a period of time, we become accustomed to specific sounds in our home. We might sleep soundly through the night despite the fact that our home is creaking and groaning in the wind. But the minute there’s a different sound than what we’re accustomed to hearing (even in our sleep), we wake up. We pay attention. Familiar noises won't interrupt our sleep, but a break in the pattern evokes our internal alarm system. We wake up. We sit up in bed. We investigate. If we're accustomed to street noise throughout the night, we'll only be alerted when there’s silence---when the pattern of expected sounds has been altered.

Of course I’m going to write about raising my kids, but this is kinda what happens when we’re parents. We’re familiar with our child's personality and even without conscious awareness, our intuition is aware of inconsistent behavior. It's the difference, the uniqueness of this subtle change that suggests they are "Hiding Something From Mom".

"How'd ya know I was lying?” they ask when we probe further into why they're bringing us a bouquet of dandelions or volunteering to do the dishes.

"Why" is because they broke the pattern of familiar interaction and we knew it, even before our brains could process the information. Something was off and that's all we needed to know in order to start asking questions rather than ignoring our intuitive ‘tug’.

“It’s mother’s intuition,” we tell them.

The child might believe mother’s intuition means we can read their minds, but as De Becker defines intuition, it is “knowing something without consciously knowing all the evidence." We observe our child, we are familiar with our child, we can predict their behavior within a fair degree of accuracy. The intimacy of daily relationship with a child becomes the basis of our intuitive ‘knowing’.

In the same way, we are familiar with a narcissistic partner’s behavior and only become alarmed if they deviate from routine interactions. People often say the warning signs were there all along but they couldn’t make sense of them until after the fact. Maybe people who love narcissists are in denial, or maybe they simply misinterpret the ‘meaning’ of intuitive warnings. One thing for sure, hindsight is always 20/20. We can connect the dots only after we find the beginning and end to the puzzle. We may not be able to decipher ‘gut feelings’ until after the unthinkable has become a reality. Hopefully, we learn from this experience and don’t ignore warning signs the next time.

So I began wondering if there were lists of warning signs predicting violence, especially in a controlling relationship in which one person justifies abusive behavior by blaming others. Since current research suggests even verbal abuse escalates without therapeutic intervention and that narcissism worsens over time, we might want to educate ourselves about when our lives at risk. If we’re used to arguments and anger attacks, when does an anger attack become life-threatening? Are there Red Flags alerting us that this time, there will be no restraint on impulsive reactions?

How about seeing the ‘whites’ of their eyes? Is that a sign a narcissist has lost control over their impulses and might be capable of ‘the unthinkable’? Is it a particular grimace they have or does their body language tell us their aggression has escalated beyond restraint? Maybe there’s a quota on how often someone can spew verbal insults before they start using their fists? How many secretive emails can a married person send to a paramour before their marriage is threatened?

The problem is what may be a red flag to one person is not to another. Every relationship is unique which makes it difficult to universalize about dangerous personality traits or predictable behavior. Truth is, lists are far less effective in predicting violence than trusting your own intuition.

When something out-of-ordinary happens and you feel it in your gut like an electrical shock propelling your legs to safety, trust your gut. Pay Attention. Don’t debate with fear: Act.

I found a series of short programs featuring Gavin De Becker on Prime Time Live. The sound quality lacks a lot to be desired, especially parts 5 and 6. Nonetheless, the information on this series is worth the added ear strain.

Prime Time Live on Gavin De Becker: Gift of Fear (each segment is about six minutes long) 

"The conscious or unconscious decision to use violence, or to do most anything, involves many mental and emotional processes, but they usually boil down to how a person perceives four fairly simple issues: justification, alternatives, consequences, and ability." ~Gavin De Becker, page 110, The Gift of Fear

Be Safe,


Gavin De Becker, The Gift of Fear

Gale Warning, Pattern Recognition 


  1. Another astutely reasoned, well presented post.

    I'm a great fan of yours, CZ. Not to pressure you or anything, but I hope you'll be posting again here before too long - it's always well worth reading what you have to say.

    Meanwhile, happy belated Thanksgiving - and yeah, your blog is something for which I definitely give thanks! :-)

  2. Thank you, Storm! I've been preoccupied with a family situation but will be posting again soon.

    I appreciate your support and validation so much, I hope you know that.

    If I don't write for a long time, I can be extra-ordinarily before you read my next post, you'd best pack a lunch. ha!


  3. I've been educating myself for 10 months since I started my recovery and am still surprised that I find new blogs each time I have the need to do reading and remind myself of what happened. Intuition, yes the red flags are there, but I think it boils down to not believing that your own opinion is validated enough by the fact that it exists. To trust your own feelings and opinions as valid and a good enough reason takes constant focus. And I suppose we hang around in bad situations simply because we need the proof, somewhere you said we are people that believe in being fair, so naturally, at least for me, a feeling without proof felt unfair to act on, till I nearly lost my life. So, now I am practicing being a good enough reason for myself and sticking to what I feel is right not allowing second guessing to rule my mind. But it remains a learning curve and a work in progress. BTW, I like the no contact flipped on you thing and the refreshing approach to low contact and no contact - it's the closest to realistic I've seen the topic to be written about.

    1. Hello Guinivere,

      It's a pleasure to meet another person who's found answers in psychological literature about narcissism. Valuing our own opinions and trusting our feelings seems to be part of the healing process. Narcissistic relationships undermine our sense of self, our sense of reality and it's pretty normal, I think, to start doubting ourselves. We usually over-explain ourselves, justify and defend ourselves and even so, the narcissist is unconvinced that our thought processes (or feelings) have merit equal to their own.

      It's wonderful that you are educating yourself and returning to people's blogs/websites to continue learning about narcissism. Knowledge is imperative because we can't base our healing on what we know about "normal" relationships.

      It sounds like you had a dangerous experience with someone who had a pathological personality (which is much worse and much more dangerous than "benign" narcissism). I'm glad you're out and I'm glad you're okay!

      Thank you for reading my take on No Contact. I wasn't sure how well-received it would be and the response has been, so far at least, somewhat mixed. I thought about writing it after watching narcissistic people use No Contact to "punish" perceived offenders---and no one questioned their self-righteous behavior because hey, No Contact. Thanks again for your comment!



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