Denial helps us pace ourselves through the process of adjusting to catastrophic loss. Without denial many of the survivors would not have been able to live through their traumatic experiences.
In recovery from trauma, denial or a sense of unreality or numbness, a feeling of dread combined with a feeling of being afraid to know, can alternate with emotional overload (Horowitz, 1983). This cycle is aimed at restoring the self and accepting new realities.
Ronnie Janoff-Bulman (1985) similarly argues that adjusting to a new reality is a gradual process. Denial provides us with stability and coherence while we rebuild our basic ideas about life and incorporate them into our internal world. Before we have the resources to accept radical change, denial divides it into manageable doses.
When people are frightened by overwhelming feelings which disturb a fragile equilibrium, denial is a scramble to ward off panic. Panic is an extreme form of anxiety which comes from not knowing the world one is in (Rollo May, 1969). Trauma destroys our sense of security in the world, but in adjusting to the experience, denial allows us to let in only as much pain as we can tolerate at one time.
The people whose story this film tells forged hopeful images of the future which served as a holding environment, gave them a model to strive for in their imagination, and, as they attempted to make their dreams a reality, gave them a respite from their present difficulties.
Robert Lifton (1988), however, makes the point that survivors must look backward as well as forward in time, in order to assemble images and feelings that assert, however tenuously, the continuity of life.
Survivors of trauma need to learn to accept those things which they cannot change; more importantly, they need to learn how to work a change where they can.
In dealing with the crisis, the men became more skillful at intimacy or communication, the women realized their own agency more fully and became more independent.
The intense struggle of learning to function gave her a kind of self-assurance that she had never known before.
Just as women seemed to gain confidence during their crises, men learned how to love and connect in new ways.