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Denial 101: What It Is, How It Can Harm You, and How to Deal with It

by A Hospidales
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lady ruminating in sunset

“Denial is like a cloud that obscures the sky. It blocks the truth. It reduces clarity.”

Gloria Excelsior

Most people think of denial as a simple refusal to accept something that is true.

But in psychology, denial is much more complex.

It can be harmful both mentally and emotionally, and it can keep people stuck in unhealthy and destructive patterns of behavior.

In essence, denial is a powerful psychological state that can prevent people from seeing the truth and accepting difficult realities.

In this blog post, we will discuss the definition of denial, how it can harm you, and how to deal with it.

We will also look at denialism, which is a subcategory of denial.

Finally, we will look at instances when denial can be beneficial.

“To live in denial is allowing the fear to dictate our lack of living life to the fullest. There is a purpose for you, and this fear keeps you from realizing and living out that purpose.”

Justin Thompson

What is denial?

In psychology, denial refers to a coping or defense mechanism that allows people to avoid thinking about or confronting difficult issues.

People use denial as a means of protecting themselves from emotional pain and overwhelm by denying the truth.

Basically, a person who is in denial refuses to accept responsibility for their own actions or refuses to believe that something is going on.

When we are overwhelmed by feelings of fear, rage, or grief, we resort to emotional defense mechanisms.

A person may deny difficult issues or emotions in order to avoid thinking about them or dealing with them.

In certain circumstances, a small amount of denial can prove helpful. This is because it allows you to push something incredibly painful or tricky to the side and reevaluate it when the time is right.

However, if it is never addressed or acknowledged, it can be very damaging.

Additionally, it can prevent people from getting the help they need and lead to them making poor decisions.

As a general rule, the quicker someone accepts their reality, the closer they can be to reaching a conclusion.

There are three main types of denial:

  • Denial of fact: refusing to accept that something is true
  • Denial of responsibility: refusing to accept that you are responsible for your own actions
  • Denial of reality: refusing to acknowledge the existence or severity of a problem

Denialism  

“Living in denial is the main hindrance for anyone wanting to break free, but you never will because you don’t see a problem.”

Amanda Hope

According to Wikipedia, denialism is a person’s choice to deny reality as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth.

It is a coping mechanism for people dealing with overwhelming or distressing information.

Denialism is a way of avoiding or blocking out difficult thoughts, feelings, or realities.

Most often, it is used as a means of protection against overwhelming stress, anxiety, or pain.

While denialism is a type of subcategory of denial, it is interesting since being in denial is generally focused on one’s being.

On the other hand, denialism is a broader form of denial.

Basically, one refuses to accept information that contradicts their existing beliefs or perceptions, instead choosing to cling to those beliefs or perceptions.

The concept is denying things that have happened and making it seem as if they didn’t happen.

In essence, denialism is often used as a way to avoid difficult truths, or as a way of rationalizing away contradictory evidence.

“Accept that you want what you want, and stop living in denial of your true desires.”

Steve Pavlina

One can use it effectively to preserve their worldview, but it can also cause distortions in reality, thereby hindering their ability to make informed decisions.

It is particularly dangerous because, as firsthand accounts die, false information takes their place, making it difficult for readers to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Scientists refer to denialism as pseudo-scientific postings.

For example, anti-vaxxers are considered denialists.

When it comes to climate change denialism, it is a way to cope with the anxiety and fear that come with knowing that human activity is causing climate change and global warming.

This is a method of avoiding feeling overwhelmed and powerless by denying the reality of the situation.

A media presentation of denialism creates a crack in the foundation, leading to an increase in doubt among the public. This leads to distorted views of the world.

“Until we face the truth and stop living in denial, we will never be free inside. If we are not free inside we will not be free on the outside.”

Pastor Tony Mavrakos

How does denialism differ from scepticism?

Denialism is a form of pseudoscience which denies the established scientific evidence or studies in a particular field.

Denialists often cherry-pick or misinterpret data to suit their own agenda.

Sceptics, on the other hand, are those who question and examine new theories and evidence.

They may not believe in the theory but they do not deny it either.

Sceptics are more open to accepting new theories as they come up and are more willing to accept scientific evidence than denialists.

“All the time you live in denial, nothing will change for you.”

Lily Foyster

Getting Stuck in Denial

It is easy to get stuck in denial when you continually push aside events that will eventually happen.

Maybe you’re dwelling on it, or maybe you’re ignoring it.

As time passes, this burden accumulates without being dealt with.

Eventually, it becomes harmful.

By denying painful thoughts, emotions, and memories, people are able to cope with their pain.

In this way, people can protect themselves against overwhelming stress and anxiety

When people are in denial, they can’t or won’t face the reality of what is happening.

They may be in denial about their own problems or the problems of others.

If facts contradict their beliefs, they may refuse to accept them.

Even if they cause themselves or others pain, they may be resistant to change to avoid dealing with the situation.

The short-term benefit of denial is that it prevents people from feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

Denial, on the other hand, can be harmful over the long term by preventing people from confronting and addressing their problems.

“The longer you deny something, and the more people you deny it to, the harder it is to admit your guilt.”

Matt Soper

When Denial Can Be Helpful

There are times when denial can actually be beneficial, especially when events can be viewed more objectively at a later date.

By limiting the amount of pain or hardship you experience and deal with at once, denial allows you to manage your time and emotions more effectively.

Denial can also be helpful in the early stages of grief.

It can allow people to process their feelings and slowly accept what has happened.

In some cases, it is necessary for people to deny reality in order to cope with difficult situations.

“Patience accommodates delay, and delay is the deadliest form of denial.”

David Springer

The harm that denial can cause

Many people use denial as a coping mechanism.

People use it as a means to temporarily shield themselves from emotional pain, but it can also prevent them from getting the help they need.

Denial can be harmful in the following ways:

1. It can affect not just you, but also those around you, especially when it involves another person or group of people.

2. Individually, it can impact your health, worsen problems in your life, hinder your creativity, and delay solving the problem.

3. People may end up with an inaccurate understanding of a situation and fail to take necessary action because of it.

4. It can keep people from getting the help they need. If you are in denial about a serious medical condition, for example, you may be less likely to take the necessary steps to treat it. Equally, denial about the severity of one’s addiction, for example, may lead to one not getting the help they need, ultimately resulting in negative consequences, such as relapse or overdose.

5. Denial can cause a high degree of stress and anxiety. When we refuse to accept reality, it can be very difficult to cope with life’s challenges.

6. Relationships can also suffer from denial. For instance, if someone close to you is in denial about a problem, and you attempt to speak with them about it, they may become angry or defensive. Relationships can suffer as a result of this, which makes meaningful communication difficult.

Addiction and destructive behaviors are often the results of denial. The stigma may prevent people from seeking treatment for mental health issues or life-threatening diseases like cancer. Denial may even cause death in some cases.

“Denial is a state of willful ignorance used to justify inaction at the precise time when our senses are clearly warning us to make a decisive move in our own best interest.”

Bill Kortenbach

How to Overcome Denial

Denial is used to protect oneself from the psychological pain of difficult thoughts and feelings, as well as the stress of challenging life situations.

In the short-term, this can be helpful as a way to avoid or “pretend away” difficult problems.

It’s like putting a blindfold on and pretending that what you don’t want to see doesn’t exist.

When people feel helpless or overwhelmed, they usually resort to denial.

As a result, people can avoid feelings of anxiety, sadness, or anger in the short-term.

The downside to denial is that it prevents people from getting the support they need to address and resolve their problems in the long run.

Consequently, it can prevent people from addressing and resolving issues that cause them distress over time.

When you find yourself in denial about a situation, it’s important to take some time to figure out what’s going on for you.

Maybe you should journal about your thoughts and feelings about the situation, or speak to someone who can help you.

Also, it is crucial that you understand your tendency toward denial, and that you try to be truthful with yourself as much as possible.

When facing a difficult life event, it’s normal to experience denial in the early stages, but if it persists or becomes too disruptive, professional help may be needed.

Denial can be dealt with in several ways:

  • Acknowledge that denial is a coping mechanism, and that it is normal that people use it from time to time, but that it is not reality.
  • Journalize the events as you examine the situation.
  • Understand the signs of denial, such as feeling overwhelmed, not able to focus, or feeling numb.
  • Embrace your frustration and accept that you are experiencing a difficult situation.
  • Be aware of the beliefs related to the situation
  • Analyze the positives and negatives of the situation
  • Open up to a friend 
  • Participate in a support group
  • Allow yourself to grieve what you have lost and take time for yourself.
  • Deal with life’s pain and stress in a healthy way.
  • Seek professional help if needed.

Taking care of the situation before it sneaks up on you is essential if what you are denying is time-sensitive. If you have a choice, take some time to jot down your thoughts in a journal.

If you will be keeping a journal, discuss the pros and cons of making a decision.

If you are financially able to make a decision, how much will the decision affect your life, and in what ways?

It is sometimes better to have two heads than one when it comes to tackling difficult issues.

Reach out to a friend or a support group, and see what you can come up with together.

“Life’s too short for self-denial.”

Anne Stuart

Wrapping up

Denial and its subcategory denialism affect not only you as an individual, but also those around you and even further away.

It can alter your world view through information fed to you through the media.

It is therefore crucial to take action when faced with something that feels like denial.

Consider your reasoning, and come up with an approach that works for you.

How will you control the effects of denial on you?

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