My work with Denial & the movie American Hustle

denial, american hustle, illusions, self-deception, david russell director, denial, defensiveness

Denial is illusions. Illusions are denial. They are comforting & seductive. Throughout the movie there is the refrain “Everybody believes what they want to believe”. We all love to pretend to ourselves & others……we all love our self-deception.

My work involves interrupting belief systems with inconvenient truths: It’s stupid to have unprotected sex in a one night stand. Not only is your husband disappointing but you also are easily disappointed. You must learn to live within your means. You are an alcoholic & you need to stop drinking. You are living with a very difficult person who lacks empathy. You have not stepped up enough to change your life, go to a sex addiction meeting.

After wading through the initial defensiveness & anger; people usually feel some relief that someone has called them on it. Inside they know it’s time to be serious & do something different, not just talk about it.

The movie is a standout, absolutely terrific and you smile throughout as people believe what they want to believe. Even as we watch in the audience, we get surprised in our beliefs which is a pure delight. We laugh out loud at the tangled webs they weave on the screen.

I go to movies for the directors & David Russell recently moved to the top of my list. He directed Silver Linings Playbook & The Fighter. His movies have great moments of authenticity. I wrote a blog about the codependence in The Fighter because it captured that relationship problem so well.

David Russell takes you on a ride that is pure pleasure. The previews did not enchant me. The ABSCAM scheme in the 70’s, who cares? Then I realized it was David Russell & hit most top 10 lists for the year. I’m so glad I reconsidered.

Therapy is about the art of support & challenge. Many therapists find it too easy to simply be in agreement, nodding their head as if that’s enough. It takes a lot of work to support someone in their humanity, while helping them to see the darker side of themselves. Then they must take ownership of that in order to become a better version of themselves.

Part of my enjoyment in the movie was in a voiceover by Christian Bale’s character, where he recognizes he betrayed a friend. It is the 70’s so betraying his wife really isn’t on his radar because he provided her a nice financial life.

If you don’t leave therapy sessions with a bit of sweat on your brow maybe you need to be more honest with yourself that you are there for validation, not change. Comfortable is an obstacle to change.

I teach a couples workshop to other therapists & in it, I say if you are unwilling to talk to couples about sex you are doing them a disservice. A therapist in the audience said he never has & never would & I told him he was deceiving himself. A therapist has to model that talking about it matters, even if it’s uncomfortable, because they must learn to talk to each other.

No one can grow unless they are willing to be uncomfortable.

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