The Dangerous Impact of Denial

I work in the field of addiction and as such, I am very familiar with the concept of denial. “Your dad’s not drunk, he’s just feeling happy.” “My wife can’t come, she has the flu”. “He can handle his liquor, she seems “fine” to me, maybe a tiny bit depressed” etc, etc, etc.

Denial is gaslighting to be sure, it messes with your head…but it’s more than that.It keeps you from reality and another person from getting the mental and emotional help they need.

Denial is a pathological rewrite of reality, it is a kind of deception that plays with other people’s minds and the cost to those other people is significant. They are seeing and experiencing one reality around them but told that it doesn’t exist, that they got it wrong, that what they see, sense and know isn’t true. They are invited or more usually intimidated into adopting the distorted point of view of another person whose needs to deny and distort are intensely personal. They are caught in someone else’s web (on a good day) or inside another person’s nightmare (on a bad one).

We are all going through unusual stress during this period of COVID, the election and social change.The stress can make us feel insecure, anxious and ferful. We all long for certainty. But denying what is making us anxious, denying reality, is a pathological path to certainty.

Many of us are experiencing grief, sadness, anxiety, frustration and anger. But truthfully, in a mental health sense, they are the lucky ones. They are actually experiencing reality, reacting to it, processing it and making choices as to how to see it and what to do about it, if anything.

Denial is a different story. Denial makes you doubt your own perceptions. It is gaslighting and disturbing. And the effects of it are hidden and unconscious. You are supplanting your own sense of reality, your own thinking with that of another person and as such you’re losing the ability to think for yourself, to come to your own conclusions.

In the psychology of human behavior, denialism is a person’s choice to deny reality as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth. Living inside of someone else’s need to distort reality because they find it too distressing to live with is crazy making and eventually undermines your ability to think for yourself.

We can lose our vote in many ways. One of them is to lose our ability to think for ourselves, to adopt another person’s truth as our own without questioning it. And there is a long term cost to our own, authentic self when we succumb to this kind of pressure. We need our inner world to be truthful, we need an emotional home base that we can return to, to check in with ourselves. Without it, we go from pillar to post, we let one person have dominion over us and when that’s over for whatever reason, we look for another.

COVID is really happening and when our president asks those who follow him to pretend that it isn’t, he is putting their lives at risk, the lives of those they come in contact with at risk and their mental health at risk. He is asking people to adopt his reality instead of their own.

As I say, I am familiar with this from working in the addictions field. When people are ashamed, cannot admit they have a problem or cannot tolerate the painful feelings inside of them, that living with the truth engenders, they ask you to wear their shame, insecurity and pain for them. It means they do not have to live with the truth if they can get you to live the same lie that they are living.

This comes at a significant cost to your mental health.

Senior fellow at The Meadows, psychologist, psychodramatist, author Emotional Sobreity,ACoA Trauma Syndrome, Forgiving and Moving On, Huff Post blogger, speaker