This article is part three of a seven part series on unplugging from the cubicle.  Read the full introduction here.

It’s Not Goodbye, We’re On a Break

12 hours.  That’s how long I worked one fateful day.  Not my normal hours, but 8 + extra adds up to 12.  Exhausted, annoyed, and angry to sink so much of my day into this.  The worst?  I hadn’t even noticed the sun setting.  My eyes blinked away from the monitor towards darkness.  A fully lit office tower amidst the black of night always strikes me as wrong.  A strange scene of forced production in a serene setting.  That night I cried.

The next day I woke to a new day of work.  A fresh slate.  I chalked up the previous night’s reaction to tiredness.  After all, I need this job.  It’s important to meet critical deadlines.  I mustn’t turn such trivial worries inward.  The luxury of my neighborhood are the delightful shops devoted to my two loves: shoes and fashion.  After work, I found myself at a store trying on a few items.  My black dress slacks are getting frayed, should replace those.  And the office is bloody cold all the time, a wool sweater is in order.  I really should replace those lost earrings.  Those were my favorite baubles.

As the salesperson rang up my purchases, contentment suffused through me, a heady rush of joy filling the spaces of anxiety.  Any thoughts of those 12 hours dissipated, my mind occupied with these new finds.  Even though my love affair with the job turned sour, probably eons ago, somehow I resolved to keep it coasting, because yeah, I need this job.

Codependent relationships always dance the line between disaster and bliss.

Deny Much?

How Denial Keeps that Crap Relationship Alive

I’m betting you can relate to multiple days of breaking points, ones you gleefully ignored, because the past is the past – time to move on.  What I fought, what you’re ignoring now is the inevitable.  And we do so with denial tactics.

What are denial tactics?  What is the point of them?  Sigmund Freud split human behavior into three modes: id, ego, and superego.

The id - consists of the basic survival instincts that drive humans: sex and aggression (oh my).  If id were captain, humans would be dancing naked around a bonfire to the pipes of Pan.  Oodles of food and orgies to follow.

The ego -  logic and rational thinking.  The ego moderates risks or benefits with a situation in a realistic fashion – the yin to impulse-driven id.

The superego – a big ball of our moralistic standards, essentially our conscience.  Though the superego dictates our sense of right or wrong, some of those run the gamut of extreme, unrealistic notions of moral fiber.

All three combat gladiator style for dominance. The ego acts as the child in between battling parents the id and the superego by adopting a common method – defense mechanisms.  Defense mechanisms are roundabout ways of tackling anxiety, such as rationalizing a crying session to exhaustion or blaming the client for a lousy day in the cube.  There’s a laundry list of mechanisms, the one we’re after is denial.

The chief goal of denial is to ignore or bury an unpleasant reality.  If I purchase 50 TVs, all my bad feelings will melt away.

I'll Take Em' All!

Denial Tactics in the Cubicle

  • A series of days deemed normal at work cause massive hemorrhaging in the stress areas of your brain, but you decide it’s just super busy at the moment.
  • Always on the verge of tears or so gnarly you bark at innocent people, you convince yourself it’s general moodiness.
  • Puttering in the early morning hours on items that have zero to do with getting ready for work, or dawdling, coming in later than usual.  Hey, you’re just a busy person with lots on the go at the home front, and you validly missed a transit connection.
  • After working late several weeks in a row, your contentment level plummets, because spending more than an allotted 8 hours forces a stark conclusion – it’s time for a change.  Oh, but you push those feelings down by going for the big guns – self reward.  I had a vicious week at work, a nice meal out on Friday night will ease the pain.  How about those TVs?  We so need that new iPad honey, what’s the harm?

Cutting the Fat of Denial

The Skinny

Defense mechanisms are vital for dealing with childhood trauma or tense situations, but denial won’t solve your cubicle misery, only hasten it, sometimes for years.  Instead of facing the anxiety-producing source head on, we hide.  Rationalize, dismiss, purchase, binge, smoke, drink, ignore… anything to not man up.

My best advice for combating this pervasive stage is waking up to your situation with honesty and clarity.  The honesty will hurt, and the clarity fine tunes it.

What hurt for me was accepting that I made terrible choices, grasped at ideas that I never believed in, and face that time was literally gone.  I couldn’t tap myself on the shoulder at eighteen to say do A, B, C, and you’ll be happy.  And honey, ditch that bad cowlick and perm at the same time.

Clarity is that moment of pinpointing the actual source of distress – what you’re doing everyday.  Even who you’re doing it for can be a factor.

A crucial question to ask as you reach for that next pacifier to ignore the obvious, when you’re eighty swaying back and forth in that rocking chair, how many regrets are you willing to live with?  Regrets sting, leaving a job that gives no pleasure won’t.  Trust me.

Source: Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders

Photos: catskillgrrl and A30_Tsitika under Creative Commons.