Are you in a denial mode?

Denial in psychiatry is defined as a defence mechanism in which the existence of unpleasant internal or external realities such as illness, troublesome impulses, events or actions are denied and kept out of conscious awareness.

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Neerav’s family was troubled with his drinking habit. What started as a social drinking has turned into compulsive one. He cannot do without alcohol. It is affecting his health, work and social life but Neerav doesn’t believe it to be so. He says I am not addicted, I don’t binge drinking, and alcohol in small quantity is good for health. And Neerav is not alone; most people suffering from addictions go through denial or non acceptance of reality.

Where else do we see this pattern of non acceptance in our life and why do we do that? Denial in psychiatry is defined as a defence mechanism in which the existence of unpleasant internal or external realities such as illness, troublesome impulses, events or actions are denied and kept out of conscious awareness. By keeping the stressors out of consciousness, they are prevented from causing anxiety. Denying those facts allows one to keep moving rather than stopping and facing the painful restrictions and demands of reality.

For example, when people are told that they have a terminal illness and are going to die in a short period of time, the news can be so overwhelming that they enter into a state of denial–they refuse to accept that they are going to die soon because it is much too painful to handle. Most defence mechanisms are fairly unconscious – that means most of us don’t realize we’re using them in the moment. It is considered one of the most primitive of the defence mechanisms because it is characteristic of early childhood development. Many people use denial in their everyday lives to avoid dealing with painful feelings or areas of their life they don’t wish to admit.

The theory of denial was first researched seriously by Anna Freud. She classified denial as a mechanism of the immature mind, because it conflicts with the ability to learn from and cope with reality. Where denial occurs in mature minds, it is most often associated with death, dying and rape. Many contemporary psychoanalysts treat denial as the first stage of a coping cycle. When an unwelcome change occurs, a trauma of some sort, the first impulse to disbelieve begins the process of coping. That denial, in a healthy mind, slowly rises to greater consciousness. As this cycle progresses acceptance or understanding comes and the person starts dealing with the trauma .They believe eventually after dealing with stage fairly the trauma should sink away from total conscious awareness.

Denial here refers to an unhealthy, dysfunctional cycle of unresolved coping, particularly with regard to addiction and compulsion.

TYPES OF DENIAL

Simple denial: deny the reality of the unpleasant fact altogether

Minimisation: admit the fact but deny its seriousness

Projection: admit both the fact and seriousness but deny responsibility by blaming somebody or something else

CONSEQUENCE OF DENIAL

There is an immutable fact about denial: it does not work—long term. Reality always wins. And when it does, the next step in the process is blame, which shifts responsibility onto someone or something else. “I only did it because of you! If you hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have done this.” So where there’s denial, blame is always available to ease the pain when reality bites.

WHAT TO DO?

Defence mechanisms are most often learned behaviours, most of which we learned during childhood so the good thing about it is that as an adult, you can choose to learn some new behaviour and new defence mechanisms that may be more beneficial to you in your life.

Psychotherapy or counselling can help you work on these things and make you more aware of when you’re using one of the less primitive types of defence mechanisms and can be helpful in identifying behaviours you’d like to reduce or change. The very fabric of life is unending challenges day after day, a small denial may be a temporary measure taken by the body and mind as a crisis management measure but if one does not later come to acceptance of reality which is the base on which difficulties can be confronted, solved, resolved, we will miss the joy of life and living.

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