It Won’t Hap­pen to Me

The Dis­as­ter of Deny­ing Dis­as­ter

RECOIL OFFGRID - - Contents - By Hakim Isler

The Dis­as­ter of Deny­ing Dis­as­ter

The An­nual Dis­as­ter Sta­tis­ti­cal Re­view of 2016 ranked the United States sec­ond on the list of coun­tries most fre­quently hit by nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. A 2016 FBI re­port found that there was a 4.1-per­cent rise in vi­o­lent crime in the U.S., to­tal­ing over 1.2 mil­lion in­ci­dents.

Ac­cord­ing to a Wash­ing­ton Post ar­ti­cle, “a Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (FEMA) sur­vey found that nearly 60 per­cent of Amer­i­can adults have not prac­ticed what to do in a dis­as­ter by par­tic­i­pat­ing in a dis­as­ter drill or pre­pared­ness ex­er­cise at work, school, or home in the past year. Fur­ther, only 39 per­cent of re­spon­dents have de­vel­oped an emer­gency plan and dis­cussed it with their house­hold. This is de­spite the fact that 80 per­cent of Amer­i­cans live in coun­ties that have been hit with a weath­er­re­lated dis­as­ter since 2007.”

FEMA’s find­ings high­light that peo­ple still choose to be obliv­i­ous, non­cha­lant, or just plain ir­ra­tional about the im­por­tance of pre­pared­ness, even when faced with the se­ri­ous risk of a life-al­ter­ing dis­as­ter. This be­hav­ior is often re­ferred to as nor­malcy bias, a psy­cho­log­i­cal state that causes us to ig­nore the like­li­hood of dis­as­ter and as­sume our lives will al­ways re­main nor­mal. A more com­mon name for this type of be­hav­ior is de­nial. Ac­cord­ing to 19th cen­tury neu­rol­o­gist Sig­mund Freud, de­nial is clas­si­fied as a de­fense mech­a­nism. He cat­e­go­rizes it in three ways: Sim­ple De­nial: Com­pletely deny­ing that some­thing un­pleas­ant is hap­pen­ing.

Min­i­miza­tion: Ad­mit­ting an un­pleas­ant fact, but deny­ing its se­ri­ous­ness.

Pro­jec­tion: Ad­mit­ting an un­pleas­ant fact and the se­ri­ous­ness of it, but choos­ing not to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for it or blam­ing some­one else for it.

Sim­ple De­nial

Often when we hear about trau­matic or stress­ful sit­u­a­tions, the peo­ple who lived through them say some­thing like, “I can’t be­lieve this is hap­pen­ing to me.” The un­for­tu­nate re­al­ity is that bad things hap­pen to good peo­ple ev­ery day. Whether we do it con­sciously or sub­con­sciously, hu­mans have a ten­dency to avoid neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences. Our lives slowly be­come one-sided, al­low­ing us to ex­pe­ri­ence only the things we feel are pleas­ant.

When we feel some­thing may be un­pleas­ant, we avoid or re­move our­selves from it. This cre­ates the il­lu­sion that we’re

safe from the things that we don’t want to hap­pen — that some­how we’re in com­plete con­trol of our ex­pe­ri­ences in the world. How­ever, when the un­avoid­able truth of an un­for­tu­nate event in­ter­rupts our lives, we can’t be­lieve it’s hap­pen­ing be­cause it’s not some­thing we chose.

At mar­tial arts sem­i­nars, we some­times use ag­gres­sive lan­guage with peo­ple who aren’t used to hear­ing it. In re­sponse, stu­dents often freeze or need a break be­cause they sim­ply aren’t used to the pro­jec­tion of en­ergy given off by ag­gres­sive lan­guage. Many peo­ple aren’t able to process it, be­cause it’s ab­nor­mal and jar­ring. So, they deny it, usu­ally lead­ing to in­ac­tion. This hap­pens in sur­vival and dis­as­ter preparation as well. Peo­ple are so far re­moved from the idea of a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence that they be­lieve it’s im­pos­si­ble and choose not to pre­pare.


Peo­ple with mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence have al­most cer­tainly en­coun­tered this type of de­nial. In or­der to keep up with the group an in­jured sol­dier will often min­i­mize his or her in­juries. The in­di­vid­ual may say, “I hit the ground re­ally hard and landed on my hip weird; it hurts, but I’m OK,” even as they’re barely able to walk. In the con­text of dis­as­ter, this hap­pens when peo­ple re­press sit­u­a­tions they’ve lived through.

For ex­am­ple, think of some­one who lost ev­ery­thing in a flood, or lost heat and power dur­ing a storm. Im­me­di­ately af­ter the event, they tell ev­ery­one how hor­ri­ble it was and how they were on the precipice of not mak­ing it.

The difficulty is made clear, but af­ter a few months have passed, it just becomes a cool story. Grad­u­ally, the event fades into a dis­tant fairy­tale, rather than a real and last­ing mem­ory that in­vokes ac­tion to min­i­mize fu­ture risk. The sur­vivor may make state­ments such as, “That was a lit­tle scary, but I was fine.” How­ever, those who spoke with them im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the event may re­call a much more dra­matic and dire story.

Re­pres­sion is tempt­ing be­cause few want to dwell on their hard­ships, es­pe­cially those that were made sig­nif­i­cantly worse based on their own lack of ac­tion and preparation.

This then leads to a cy­cle of avoid­ing the truth in or­der to avoid ac­knowl­edg­ing per­sonal fail­ures.


We’ve all seen it hap­pen — a storm is re­ported mov­ing to­ward an area, and res­i­dents are warned to leave that area. How­ever, rather than evac­u­at­ing, many choose to stay. Seg­ments on the news fea­ture lo­cals stat­ing, “I don’t think it will be that bad” or “I’ll just ride it out.” Then the storm comes, those ar­eas are dec­i­mated, and some of those same peo­ple end up on the news com­plain­ing about the slow re­sponse time of res­cuers and the lack of ad­e­quate med­i­cal care, food, and shel­ter.

Those of us watch­ing are em­pa­thetic, but often won­der why they didn’t pre­pare or evac­u­ate when the warn­ings went out. The an­swer is summed up in a word: pro­jec­tion. This is a state of de­nial where some­one ac­knowl­edges the se­ri­ous­ness of a sit­u­a­tion, re­fuses to take ac­tion, and then blames some­one else for the re­sult­ing con­se­quences. Pro­jec­tion can man­i­fest it­self in sev­eral ways:

Pro­cras­ti­na­tion: A sim­ple ex­am­ple of this in­ac­tion is in the field of in­vest­ing and fi­nan­cial plan­ning. A study done by North­west­ern Mu­tual showed that 58 per­cent of Amer­i­cans feel their fi­nan­cial ef­forts need im­prove­ment and that 34 per­cent have done noth­ing to plan for their fi­nan­cial fu­ture. Rather than at­tempt­ing to ad­just our pri­or­i­ties and plan for the fu­ture, we often choose to wal­low in de­spair.

Shift­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity: Peo­ple some­times don’t take ac­tion be­cause the task is so over­whelm­ing that they have a hard time imag­in­ing an out­come and thus a so­lu­tion. In­stead, they often push the re­spon­si­bil­ity off on a per­ceived author­ity. Vic­tims often make state­ments like, “That’s why I pay taxes, so emer­gency re­spon­ders can be equipped to help in a dis­as­ter.”

Peer pres­sure: Often a re­sponse to an is­sue can be tem­pered by our de­sire for so­cial ac­cep­tance from our peers. If a friend or a neigh­bor feels like it’s not a con­cern, we may con­form our own be­liefs. Hu­mans nat­u­rally re­sort to pack men­tal­ity when the go­ing gets tough. For ex­am­ple, when a storm warn­ing is is­sued, milk and bread are often sold out at gro­cery stores. De­spite the fact that shelf-sta­ble items and canned food would be bet­ter op­tions dur­ing a dis­as­ter, shop­pers fol­low the crowds and fight over items that ap­pear most de­sir­able, re­gard­less of their ac­tual value.

Sim­ple So­lu­tions

As you can see, failure to pre­pare is often a re­sult of de­nial. It’s OK to be skep­ti­cal about what could and will hap­pen, but to stick your head in the sand and deny the pos­si­bil­ity of dan­ger is un­healthy and fool­ish. You don’t have to be­come a dis­as­ter guru or a dooms­day prep­per to be pre­pared for a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter; all you need is a slight change in mind­set and to take some small ac­tions that’ll lead to big re­sults if some­thing does hap­pen. Here are four sim­ple steps to de­fend against dis­as­ter de­nial and pre­pare for the in­evitable storm:

Accept that it’s a good idea to have some bare es­sen­tials around the house just in case you need them. This

forms a gen­eral foun­da­tion of pre­pared­ness, even if the pos­si­bil­ity of a dis­as­ter seems un­likely. Bet­ter to have it and not need it …

Accept the fact that dis­as­ters are in­evitable. Turn on the news, and you’ll see dis­as­ters hap­pen­ing ev­ery­where. It may not be to­day or to­mor­row, but some­thing may hap­pen close to you at some point. If you accept this truth, it’ll make fac­ing the shock of a dis­as­ter a lot eas­ier to over­come, po­ten­tially im­prov­ing your re­sponse time. Study the type of dis­as­ters that have hap­pened in your area, even if they’re not re­cent. A few decades ago, you’d have to go to a li­brary to fig­ure this out, but now the an­swer is one Google search away. Once you’ve done some re­search, com­pile a list of prepa­ra­tions to im­prove your sit­u­a­tion dur­ing an event like this.

Don’t al­low your­self to get over­whelmed or burned out. Think of train­ing to be fit or study­ing for a de­gree — none of this hap­pens overnight. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so grad­u­ally get to a point you feel com­fort­able. As is often the case with New Year’s res­o­lu­tions, bit­ing off more than you can chew tends to lead to failure.

So rather than try­ing to be­come a full-on dis­as­ter prep­per to­mor­row and wip­ing out your bank ac­count to buy a bunker, start slowly. Buy an ex­tra case of wa­ter or canned food once a month. Find room in your bud­get to grad­u­ally ac­cu­mu­late sup­plies. Soon you’ll find that

you’ve built a strong emer­gency kit. En­roll in ba­sic firstaid classes to learn CPR and skills that could po­ten­tially save some­one’s life. Spend a week­end tak­ing an ur­ban or wilder­ness sur­vival course. Once you take that initial step, things be­come eas­ier, and you find ways to in­cor­po­rate fur­ther prepara­tory mea­sures into your life.

As far as oth­ers you know who have a his­tory of avoid­ance prob­lems, you might not be able to con­vince ev­ery­one to also be­come more in­ter­ested in prep­ping, but you have noth­ing to lose by try­ing. In­vite friends or col­leagues to at­tend those same classes with you. That first en­counter may be enough to get them think­ing about their think­ing more. You’ve planted that seed, and that may be all it takes for them to see the im­por­tance of chang­ing some bad be­hav­iors and be­com­ing more proac­tive. What’s the worst that can hap­pen? They might say no, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep try­ing.


As we be­come more tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced and wrapped up in our dig­i­tal re­al­ity, our phys­i­cal re­al­ity becomes much less press­ing. We don’t ex­pe­ri­ence dan­ger or fear the same way our an­ces­tors did. We’re quick to re­move our­selves from en­vi­ron­ments we don’t en­joy or that make us un­com­fort­able, sur­round­ing our­selves with our so­cial me­dia echo cham­bers. Our new be­lief is that re­al­ity is only what we want to be real, and facts are only what we choose to be­lieve. Un­for­tu­nately, when life and na­ture prove us wrong, we find our­selves grossly un­der­pre­pared. This isn’t be­cause we weren’t warned, but be­cause we chose not to act.

What will you do with this knowl­edge? Will you shrug this off as an in­ter­est­ing read, or will you share your pas­sion for pre­pared­ness with your fam­ily, friends, and neigh­bors, en­cour­ag­ing them to take some small steps to pre­pare them­selves for what will come? Make to­day the day you accept de­nial for what it is, in your­self and in those around you, and work to defy it. Be as ready as you can be with the knowl­edge and re­sources at your dis­posal.


ManuelVe­lasco/is­tock­ Un­like many nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, man­made dis­as­ters have a ten­dency to be un­pre­dictable and vi­o­lent. Would you know where to go and what to do if you found your­self in the mid­dle of a riot or coups d’état? Ig­nor­ing it won’t ab­solve you of the con­se­quences.

Even with ad­vanced no­tice about cer­tain dis­as­ters, many mis­tak­enly as­sume that res­cue work­ers will be there to save them. Ed­u­ca­tion, self-reliance, and prac­tic­ing re­sponse plans is the best way to avoid be­com­ing another statis­tic that chose to ig­nore the

Marc Brux­elle/is­tock­

Although you may never need it, you’ll cer­tainly wish you’d taken the time to as­sem­ble some dis­as­ter pro­vi­sions should you find your­self in­def­i­nitely dis­placed. A lit­tle preparation now may mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death.


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