A Coaching Power Tool created by Shelley Breakell
(Alcoholism Recovery Coach, UNITED KINGDOM)
Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate, or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for those who have the vision to recognize it as such. Henry Miller
What is denial, how does it show up in our lives, how can we recognise it and move forward?
Denial (also called abnegation) is a defence mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.
The subject may use:
- simple denial: deny the reality of the unpleasant fact altogether
- minimisation: admit the fact but deny its seriousness (a combination of denial and rationalization)
- Projection: admit both the fact and seriousness but deny responsibility.
Denial is resistance, resistance to the truth and it manifests in everyone at some point in their lives, for some it may be a lifelong habit, denying what is true, burying their head in the sand, not looking at themselves, their lives or the situations they find themselves in from a perspective of truth. For others it may manifest only at certain times, maybe the death of a loved one, the credit card bills that fall through the letterbox or an addiction that they just can’t face.
Whilst denial seems like a completely negative word, often it is not. There are times when denial is necessary for self-protection, giving us time to face something slowly rather than be completely overwhelmed by the incredible force of emotions that may come with it. To give an example of this we can look at the death of a loved one. On receiving the shock we may completely reject it, putting our hands over our ears consciously or unconsciously shouting “I am not listening to this, this is not real, this is not happening, everything is okay, if I don’t listen to it, it is not real!”
Denial is an emotional anaesthetic against trauma, numbing the reality so that the shock may be absorbed slowly.
Denial can be found in many different guises. There may be the partner in a physically violent or emotionally abusive relationship living with the belief that “s/he will change, it’s not that bad, this will be the last time”, this belief and the strength of the denial in this case may be because they have been brainwashed to believe they will never find anyone better, that somehow they are indebted to the abusive partner or maybe they feel they did something to deserve such treatment. They may also be in denial about the severity of the situation because they are trying to prove people wrong if they have disapproved of the relationship from the beginning, maybe they are too proud to admit they have ‘failed’.
There may be the wife who cannot face the truth that her husband is having an affair, the man who vehemently denies a relationship is over, the woman, the family man married with two children in denial about his sexuality, the mother who mourns the death of her child, the business owner who will not accept his business is falling apart, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the family of a loved one suffering with addiction, the woman with cancer. There may be less obvious ways that denial creeps into our lives such as the denial of our own needs with preference given to the needs of others around us, the denial of our own personal goals and dreams, following theirs instead in order to make them proud or happy…..the list of how denial can show up in our lives in inexhaustible.
Here is a case study of denial in alcoholism:
George is a 30 year old junior marketing executive. He shares an apartment with his brother and is not in a relationship. George has a very active social life. Almost every night of the week, George can be found at some sort of festivity that is at a bar, club or restaurant. At all of these occasions, liquor is present. George often jokes about how he must look like an alcoholic because in most pictures he is holding a drink. In addition, the woman he has begun a flirtation with finds that every time she calls him he is drinking. She thinks nothing of it, since this man must just enjoy one or two social drinks. The fact that he drinks every night does not flag him as an alcoholic in her eyes. They have spoken on the phone scores of times, spent time together and been in constant communication for a two month period. In addition, he really is such a nice guy. He casually mentions that his mother has asked him to promise not to drink. They laugh about how parents often refuse to view their children as adults.