We all use denial as a defence mechanism and on a short term it does work. It helps us postpone different emotions, even try to bury them. It gives us a false impression that we don’t have to attend to what is going on, we can just put it aside and hopefully it will go away, disappear and we won’t have to deal with it. But it’s not that easy. While denial might help us cope with life situations when they happen, on a long term basis it affects our entire well-being which impacts the way we do things, it affects our daily routine, the way we perform at our jobs, and the way we attend to other people’s needs and our own. That’s quite a lot, I would say. It seems to be affecting our life in its entirety and in very negative ways.
Denial involves blocking external events from our own awareness. If the person feels that what’s happening is just too much to handle, they will refuse to experience it. This defence mechanism is quite a dangerous one because no one can refuse to deny reality for a long time and get away with it. As with most defence mechanisms, the existence of a conflict often motivates denial: a fact might come into conflict with our desires, or a certain feeling conflicts with our values so we deny it.
The wish to avoid pain also drives us to use denial. Feelings of guilt or anger caused by something negative that happened to us or something that was done to us, might be unbearable so we deny responsibility for it. Our mind tries to protect us from feeling, in this case, because we have the impression it will be too overwhelming and difficult to handle.
In therapy, defence mechanisms need to be addressed because it helps the clients become aware of certain patterns they use to protect themselves, but at the cost of losing relationships or being misunderstood by people around them. Denial denies us the ability to become conscious of our own fault and take responsibility in the process of growing and self-development. We get comfortable using denial because we don’t have to deal with things or, for that matter, with ourselves. It’s like using the same clothes everyday and avoiding to look in the mirror because we’re afraid we might see something is wrong and that means we’ll have to change our ways.
You need to change those clothes but, first you need to be brave and admit there’s a chance things are not the way you’re perceiving them to be. You need to allow yourself that ‘space’ to see what happened and how you’re feeling without denying anything. That’s not an easy thing to do but nothing worth having comes easy nowadays. Putting effort and energy into what you do gives you great results. It’s the same way with ourselves: allowing yourself to feel emotions shape your being and personality and gives you an insight on what’s going on. Part of the therapy process is looking at your defence mechanisms and what the purpose of them is, or why you are engaging in a certain behaviour.
Ask yourself: What am I getting out of this? It might reveal a different perspective. Most of our behaviours have something behind them, ruling them. Find out what’s behind your behaviour, become aware of it, then try to understand the reason behind it. It will help you move forward if you decide to attend to it. It’s all about choosing the right thing for yourself, which doesn’t always feel good, but on a long term basis it helps you grow, mature and become a better you.