Being in denial is a common phrase but what does it really mean? It relates to a phase our brains resort to in order to try and hide harmful information so that we will no longer have access to it for a given period of time. This mechanism plunges us into a scenario where we unconsciously wait for reality to catch up with us when we’re in a better mind frame to accept it. In the meantime, we typically continue the course of our lives as if nothing had happened and do what’s known as bury our heads in the sand.
Denial is a two-way street
Denial is one of our brain's most common defense responses and we all use it without even realizing it. This phase helps us feel better yet it can be difficult to even realize we’re going through it. For example, if you question someone going through it, they may not even see what it's all about because they feel so out of the loop.
🧠 It’s a totally unconscious defense device, which serves to refute reality by making information completely inaccessible. The state of denial makes it possible to overcome the insurmountable and to compartmentalize the horrible facts and situations that you are faced with. Here’s when it is often used:
- To block out words you don't want to hear: The death of a loved one, illness...
- Situations that you do not want to acknowledge: Addiction, breakups, psychological or physical violence (domestic violence, sexual abuse, etc.), harassment, burn-outs, etc.
➡ Denial is the refusal to acknowledge the reality of a traumatic event. It’s the inability to accept what is happening in our real life, which directs us to a second path on the basis that everything is fine and that nothing bad has happened. It’s perhaps a necessary protection in the management of our emotions which temporarily shields us from psychological pain.
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What are the downsides to being in denial?
Although it looks great, this form of defense has its flaws because it is only temporary. During this period of blocking out the reality, a person will use their energy to follow the course of their life without taking into account the reality of the situation. No matter how much time passed, the hurtful facts have been locked away, yet the key used to lock them away will suddenly appear and confront them with what they have been running from.
So, does this phase help us, or, on the contrary, does it encourage us to run from the truth and the consequences? In the moment, denial will reduce tension and anxiety of difficult situations, but it is also important to know that even if it’s unconscious, this state is not without risk because it can have the opposite effect and create neuroses, phobias and obsessions.
The denial mechanism can take on such an overwhelming proportion that we only perceive this reality and ignore everything surrounding us. This is a lure that protects us in the face of a difficult reality, but to what extent and at what cost? Denial in the context of pathologies such as alcoholism, for example. This syndrome allows the alcoholic to ignore their condition while maintaining good self-esteem, but it continues to put their health at risk. In the case of pregnancy denial, both the child and the mother suffer from appropriate medical care, not to mention the psychological shock of the announcement and the resulting anxiety.
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What’s the solution to dealing with this? Awareness is required to move forward...
A person going through this experience will not be able to solve their issues as long as they are immersed in this unreal world, this is why it is very difficult to get out of it. This process is unconscious, so neither family nor close friends can successfully convince someone to come out of it.
Only the person concerned can get themselves out of this phase, but they will need to take things at their own pace and avoid being rushed. It is this awareness that will allow us to treat the pain, to analyze it and to heal it.
Editor’s opinion: Don't hesitate to consult
When you become aware that something is not going to cause unexplained discomfort, you should not hesitate to consult a therapist. Taking up sophrology can allow you to begin reconstruction work through breathing and relaxation exercises. Working on the "here and now" will allow to work on the harmony of body and mind.
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