Living in Denial

Denial is a dangerous beast. The inability to admit that you have a problem can be hazardous, debilitating or even deadly. Denial usually starts simply; you choose to downplay or deny that you need help regarding a particular issue. Then, it can grow as your problem gets worse, making it impossible to seek help. Denial […]

Denial is a dangerous beast. The inability to admit that you have a problem can be hazardous, debilitating or even deadly. Denial usually starts simply; you choose to downplay or deny that you need help regarding a particular issue. Then, it can grow as your problem gets worse, making it impossible to seek help. Denial can stem from addiction, stress, physical ailments, or a need for control. Typically, the root cause for denial is fear. It may be the fear of letting your friends or family down, the fear of being perceived as weak, or the fear that giving up an addiction will be painful and difficult. No matter the cause for denial or the stage of denial you’re in, there’s a way to get the help you need and conquer the complicated feelings of denial. Keep reading to learn more and understand how to move past this challenging emotion.

Psychologically, denial is used as a defense mechanism that can help someone avoid a potentially distressing truth. No matter what the truth may be, the act of denying it is a way to protect yourself from emotional harm. You may want to deny the fact that you have a drinking problem, that a family member is on their death bed, or for couples that your marriage is falling apart. The feelings of denial can manifest in different ways and in varying degrees of severity. Depending on the problem that you’re in denial about, these symptoms may come quickly or progress over a matter of years. Despite usually being a detrimental emotion, denial can be helpful in the event of a temporary stressor or as a way to protect yourself until you have the ability to deal with a problem. It becomes an issue when it’s persistent and interferes with your daily living.

Denial usually is characterized by the following stages. Better understanding where you lie in this continuum, the easier it will be to get the help you need.

First degree: Denial that a problem, symptom, feeling or need exists.
Second degree: Minimization or rationalization of your problem.
Third degree: Admitting the fact that you have a problem, but denying the consequences of it, or the consequences of not seeking help.
Fourth degree: Unwilling to seek help for it, or denial that the condition is getting worse.

Other ways to tell you’re in denial:
You always have an excuse for a behavior or an indiscretion.
Nothing you do or say is wrong; it’s always someone else’s fault.
You’re the only one that can get a job done right, or you can’t trust anyone to help you complete a task.
You’re above failure; if something is going wrong in your life, there’s nothing that you did to cause it.

Working through denial:
Once you’re realized you’re living in denial, you can the take the steps to work past it. Conquering your fears and learning what’s standing in your way can be a powerful way to learn and grow. As always, consult your therapist as their expertise can help you understand why you’re feeling a certain way and how to work past it.

Christy Weller, Psy.D., Couples Counseling Boulder. I bring a genuine curiosity, a kind appreciation of where you have been, and a non-judgmental stance so that you feel comfortable exploring your story and making sense of it. I tailor my work to each client and I’m trained in both short-term and long-term therapies.