Denial: Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages
I always say that there’s a place for denial. It has its uses. Denial is a very powerful defence, it protects us from feeling painful emotions and from addressing difficult issues.

Many of us go through life blissfully unaware of our ‘issues’. A friend of mine jokes about using DENIAL as an acronym for ‘Don’t Even kNow I Am Lieing’. “I don’t have a problem with anger”, “No, Im very happy in my relationship”, “I’m not worried about my job”.

There are many stages in our life that being fully aware of our difficulties would seem too much to face. Perhaps we don’t have the necessary time or personal resources to deal with, for example, our alcohol dependence. We may neglect to question our relationship as we fear that addressing the issue would result in a break up. Maybe we avoid looking at a childhood situation that may trigger deep emotions, which we feel might overwhelm us. During periods in our life where we just need to keep getting through one day at a time, denial gives us the space to do that. As the word itself suggests, we are unaware of the choice to keep our awareness at bay.

Disadvantages
Not addressing our feelings, unresolved past, or our current difficulties can leave us stuck. If we are not aware of something how can we take responsibility for our feelings and behaviour? How can we make positive change? Denial of a difficulty in our relationship, for example, can give it space to escalate and robs us of the opportunity to take some control, or get some support, (professional or otherwise), regarding the matter. Denial involving an unaddressed issue from the past can mean that we are unaware of how it shaped our behaviour: maybe we are bringing distrust into current friendships, perhaps we are falling into similar scenarios in an unconscious compulsion to re-experience an unresolved similar situation from out past (regardless of how unhealthy it might be). Denial can keep us repeating the same self-destructive pattern and inadvertently push away opportunities or close friendships, due to our blinkered awareness.

Lack of self awareness and of what shaped us as a person can cause difficulties in the realm of denial too. An unaddressed difficulty with authority could manifest as repeated problems with employers where the person sees themselves a victimised rather than acknowledging their own part in the replayed theme; “It’s them, not me”, “Why does this keep happening to me”, “Im ok, I don’t need help”.

Pride can fuel denial, sometimes it takes humility as well as courage to say, “I have to take responsibility for what is happening here”. Pride is a defense that can cover up our shame due to feeling ‘not good enough’, or lacking in confidence, and acknowledging being less that perfect can feel like an enormous risk.

Everyone needs support to get through difficult times or emotions, denial of this can lead to isolation, depression or in extreme situations, suicide. Denial halts personal growth and it can be argued that if we are not aware then we are unable to fully experience living.

Author: Liz Wright MIAHIP

Accredited member of the Irish Association of Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy I have been working as a counsellor and psychotherapist since 1999. My experience and training covers a wide range of areas, allowing me to provide the right therapy for you.

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