The Denial Defense Mechanism

We all use different forms of defense when we need to. Whether we’ve been through a traumatic experience, we’re arguing with someone, or we simply don’t want to deal with something negative, our minds and bodies work to create defense mechanisms to help protect us. Unfortunately, there are instances where these mechanisms can get out of hand.

One of the most popular and widely-known defense mechanisms is denial. It’s considered to be a ‘stage of grief,’ and is apparent in many different defense mechanism research.

Believe it or not, denial is actually an unconscious defense mechanism, not a ‘lie’ or falsehood someone is doing on purpose. Quite simply, denial is the refusal to admit or acknowledge than a specific event has occurred. An example could be an alcoholic to refuses to believe they have a problem, or a wife hearing her husband was in a car accident, but refusing to believe it, etc.

Denial is used to avoid thinking about painful things, and is one of the most basic and primitive defense mechanisms we have, even from childhood. It also goes hand-in-hand with repression, or the idea of not letting certain thoughts into our heads.

Denial At Work

Denial can be both helpful and harmful, in different ways. Studies have suggested that small amounts of denial can actually be beneficial for the right situation. For example, if someone experiences a traumatic event, living in a state of denial for a short period of time can actually give their mind and body more time to process what actually happened, allowing it to come as less of a shock later. In these cases of denial, it’s almost as though reality is simply sinking in more slowly, and the person is willing to get past the denial naturally over time.

However, denial becomes harmful when someone is not able to overcome it. When they are not able to rationally talk about the issue and eventually get past ignoring it, it can simply snowball into something even bigger. A common example of consistent denial might be something like a couple facing a mountain of credit card debt, but refusing to believe it, so their bills keep adding up every month, and they don’t even look at them so they don’t have to face reality.

Finding Help

If you feel as though someone you know struggles with denial to the point where it is affecting their lives, and the lives of those around them, there can be help available from mental health professionals. The best thing you can do, however, is not to make the person struggling with denial feel forced into anything. If you can offer to see a professional with them, just to talk, it can be a great first stepping stone into beating denial. It’s never an easy journey when someone who has been using a defense mechanism finally has to face what they were hiding from, but it is the healthiest way to move past something like denial.

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