Have you ever been in an argument and denied something you know you did that was wrong?
You’re not alone. One of the most common human responses is denial. Whether we deny something knowingly or unknowingly, we try to protect ourselves by refusing to accept the truth of the situation at hand.
Why We Deny
Denial is a defense mechanism. Our natural human instinct is to protect ourselves and our security, not only from physical threats but also emotional. Thus, our ego mind uses denial as a shield from discomfort, whether it is anxiety, fear, stress, or other painful emotions. By engaging in denial, we don’t have to acknowledge the problem, and we can avoid the consequences of the problem.
The most obvious form of denial is when we refuse to accept our mistakes. For example, when your roommate asks you to pay the electricity bill and you forgot, it’s easy to avoid taking blame by accusing your roommate of not reminding you. By denying our mistakes, we cut ourselves slack.
This can also happen if you accidentally hurt someone’s feelings. In hindsight, you realize how your actions could have been hurtful. However, rather than accept your mistake and feel the uncomfortable emotion of guilt, it’s easier to shift the blame to the person who has been hurt. This is why we get into fights: so that we don’t feel guilty or feel bad.
Denying the Gravity of Situations
Another way people commonly stay in denial is by denying the seriousness of certain situations, whether it is a health condition or an addiction.
For example, many addicts live in denial, so that they don’t have to admit that they have lost control over themselves. This prevents them from getting the help they need.
A similar situation can happen when someone with a health condition refuses to believe how sick they are. This way, they can avoid the reality of being unwell. However, denial of a health condition can interfere with treatment.
By blaming situations or other people outside of us, we don’t have to take any responsibility for what is going on in our life. For example, let’s say your friend Annie is single, jobless, and living in her mom’s basement.
She can blame her parents’ divorce for why she can’t find love. She can blame not having a job on the terrible job market and how no one wants to hire her. She can blame her friends for not helping her find the man of her dreams. She can blame everything and everyone for her situation.
But does it help her? Sure. By blaming, she doesn’t have to deal with the guilt and pain of realizing that she is responsible for the life she is living. She doesn’t have to deal with the stress and the effort that it might take if she decides to take responsibility and take action to change things in her life.
Denial is one of the most common defense mechanisms that humans use, making it a very predictable response. It helps us avoid pain and hurt, and while that can be a good thing, it can also keep us stuck in phases of our lives that aren’t aligned with our highest potential. The first step of growth is facing discomfort. So, take a look at where you may be using denial as a coping mechanism and challenge yourself to accept the situation you are denying. It might feel uncomfortable, but it is worth it.