How to help someone get over denial

Coping with loss is traumatic.  Within our brains, bereavement is the identical to coming to terms with an addiction.  Or to any unwanted change.  Like the reality of climate change.  I am writing down here my thoughts on how to help someone accept the reality of climate change, so they can get over their denial and move on.

This is important, as while someone is in denial they will continue their destructive behaviour.  When they are over it, which will be a traumatic experience, they can then start to make positive plans.

I draw on an article on how to help a loved one come to terms with a loss or addiction.  The lessons come from helping someone with depression or other mental illness or a drinking problem.  They are equally valid for climate change denial.

I invite you to think of someone you know who is currently in denial about climate change, and then read on.

The article starts by emphasising that everyone is different.  It may be that the person you have in your mind hasn’t really thought about climate change, they just read the Daily Mail.  Or it may be that they have thought long and hard about it and have convinced themselves there isn’t a problem.  The depth of the denial, and the potential for conflict, will be different in both cases.

First off, the article recommends gathering information.  On the one hand, you need to be sure of your own ground about climate change and the denial arguments.  On the other, you need to observe your loved one to understand where they are with climate change.  You might want to ask them some non-leading questions, such as what they read.  Give yourself time to gather this information; there is no sense in rushing.

Then make a plan.  Are you going to gather a few friends round and confront them?  Or bring things up casually over a few conversations?  It will depend on the information you have gathered, the person and your relationship with them.

When the conversation or confrontation is underway, the article recommends stating the facts.  I’m not thinking facts about climate change, necessarily – more facts about the person and their denial.  Importantly, they need to be facts that cannot be denied.  Such as them getting angry whenever climate change is mentioned, or that they only read right-wing papers.Dismissive

During the conversation, the article recommends that we are sincere and have sensible expectations.  “If the intention of our confrontation is to make our friend get help for her disorder, we may very well come away shattered. However, if we voice our concern simply as an act of love, we will be at peace knowing we have spoken the truth and tried, even if she continues to deny the problem.”

Say “I” at the start of the sentences, which changes your mindset and theirs.  Rather than “you just can’t accept the truth, and it’s damaging the environment”, you might say “I feel sad when I see you leave the car running”.

Asking questions, and giving time for the answers, is recommended.  “Do you think you might be in denial about climate change?”

Have some resources ready for them to take away and read, such as links to information about denial or climate change.

And make sure you allow them the chance to talk to you again when they are ready.

Finally, it is important to protect yourself.  Set boundaries, such as being unwilling to argue about wind turbines yet again.  And recognise that helping someone come to terms with climate change is a long and draining task – make sure you are replenished with friendship and advice from others.

If you want to think about this conversation further, you do a lot worse than watch this video from George Marshall.

John Bell,

Ordinary bloke


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