Hopefully, you will never be in a crisis where you find yourself needing the services of Olivia Popes' gladiators to protect you from the spotlight of the national press, shield you from the threat of impending arrest or manage the pressures brought on by being unexpectedly thrust into the public spotlight. The truth is though that a crisis doesn't have to be as scandalous as the ones on the show in order for them to yield consequences that affect our relationships, jobs and personal wellbeing. We all experience crisis, to different degrees, at some point in our lives and we could all benefit from a little help to guide us through those difficult times.
The best way, of course, for managing any crisis is to avoid it in the first place. Over the next seven weeks, I want to show how the drama you see unfolding in each episode is actually representative of problems we all face everyday. The same behaviors and circumstances that lead to the extreme predicaments Olivia Pope's clients find themselves in are also responsible for the real life crisis situations we find ourselves in from time to time. My goal is to help you apply these onscreen scenarios to your own circumstances so that you can become your own gladiator armed with the tools to warn and shield you from trouble ahead.
In this episode, we have two characters both living partially in a state of denial. For Lieutenant Colonel Sully St. James it manifests itself in his refusal to admit the truth to others- that he is gay—in order to attempt to protect his fabricated public image. And for Olivia being in denial affects her most prized possessions—trusting her gut and her ability to make sound judgments and decisions.
Denial is not always bad. On one hand, it allows us to ignore uncomfortable realities. Good denial allows us to take risks and helps us push forward even when the odds are not in our favor. It allows us to say to ourselves "even though I know it probably won't happen, I'm going to try for it anyway". We apply to a school even though we know our chances are slim, we ask a person out on a date even though we know we probably won't have a chance. In other words, denial helps us take risks by moving our focus away from the probabilities and allowing us to focus on the possibilities.
But as I discuss in my book, Good Self, Bad Self, too much denial often spells trouble. As most of my clients have found, denial is seductive. It offers a quick fix to anxiety producing situations. But at some point, we need to come back to reality. Life is hard sometimes, after all. We're all going to have to face situations we'd rather not, explain our actions, own up to our inadequacies or cop up to an embarrassing mistake. The longer we wade in a sea of denial so that we avoid dealing with the truth, the more temping it is to stay there. Denial feeds on itself until what matters most is not defending what is true, but protecting what has been fabricated; we resort to telling lies, ignoring the warning signs of catastrophe, and manipulating others to validate our choices and behaviors.
Most of us, at some point will choose to live with the proverbial elephant in the room and pretend it's not there. But it has been my experience that this strategy only works for so long. How are you using denial in your life? Ask yourself what you are really achieving when you avoid the truth. Even if the truth is hard to swallow, are the consequences of not facing them worse? While the denial roller-coaster can be a fun ride at times, at some point, it's going to end and you're going to have to face what you've been avoiding. Are you going to be prepared?
Judy A. Smith is the founder and President of Smith and Company, a leading strategic and crisis communications firm with offices in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles as well as a Co-Executive Producer of ABC's Scandal. You can follow her on Twitter (@JudySmith_) or "Like" her on Facebook, and you can get more information about managing personal and professional crisis situations by visiting her site, judysmith.com.