Denial is a common defense mechanism that everyone uses to some degree. It is an automatic response to avoid something uncomfortable. The kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar will say, when confronted, something like “I was just seeing if any cookies were left” or “No, my hand wasn’t in the cookie jar.”
Avoiding Uncomfortable Realities
Snap answers are a way to avoid admitting an uncomfortable reality. We don’t consciously have to think about what to say. The denial comes from the unconscious as an immediate statement, said in a truthful, innocent or irritated voice. It comes from a fear of looking bad or of having to give up a dependency we don’t feel we can do without.
In addiction, denial gets stronger and more rigid. Alcoholics and addicts consciously believe their own denial to avoid the painful reality that addiction controls their life. We can think of denial as a way of telling the truth about a small part of reality as if it were all of reality. For example, the person who has not had a drink in two hours might focus on those two hours and assert, “I haven’t been drinking” — leaving out “for the last two hours.”
Denial blinds addicts to the cause of their problem — their dependence on drugs or alcohol. It allows them to pretend that their using is not destructive. Denial is so powerful that addicts are often the last to recognize their disease. Some pursue their addiction as their life and health deteriorate, continuing their denial until they die.
Even during recovery, denial can occur. An example is the addict who says “I know I have to quit drinking, but I never had a problem with weed, so I can use a little of that.” After a period of sobriety, denial often recurs with the thoughts, “I’ve been good for 6 months. I can drink normally again.”
Effects on Others
Denial is painful and causes frustration for those who care about the addict. The destructive progression of the addiction is obvious to everyone except the addict. Sometimes when family members release the addict (with love, if possible) and tell the addict they no longer want a relationship, the addict accepts the need for help. In other situations, the addict uses that rejection as another excuse to justify using more.
Reference Source: eGetGoing
Denial of Denial
Denial example – “My occasional drinking is not affecting anyone”
Anger: Example – “This program is ridiculous and for losers only”
Bargaining: Example – “1 feel too safe in Primary and would do much better in Secondary”
Depression: Example – “1′m going to fail as usual anyway so what is the point in trying”
Acceptance: Example – “1 really do have a serious problem and cannot make necessary changes on my own”
Types of Denial
- Denial of fact: This form of denial is where someone avoids a fact by lying. This lying can take the form of an outright falsehood, leaving out certain details in order to tailor a story, or by falsely agreeing to something( people pleasing). Someone who is in denial of fact is typically using lies in order to avoid facts that they think may be potentially painful to themselves or others.
- Denial of responsibility: This form of denial involves avoiding personal responsibility by blaming, minimizing or justifying. Blaming is a direct statement shifting culpability and may overlap with denial of fact. Minimizing is attempts to make the effects or results of an action appear to be less harmful than they actually are. Justifying is when someone takes a choice and attempts to make that choice look okay due to their perception of what is “right” in a situation. Someone using denial of responsibility is usually attempting to avoid potential harm or pain by shifting attention away from themselves.
- Denial of impact: Denial of impact involves a person avoiding thinking about or understanding the harms their behavior have caused to themselves or others (powerlessness and consequences). By doing this, that person is able to avoid feeling a sense of guilt and it can prevent that person from developing remorse or empathy for others. Denial of impact reduces or eliminates a sense of pain or harm from poor decisions made.
- Denial of awareness: People using this type of denial will avoid pain and harm by stating they were in a different state of awareness “l didn’t know what I was doing” (such as alcohol or drug intoxication or on occasion mental health related). This type of denial often overlaps with denial of responsibility.
- Denial of cycle: Many who use this type of denial will say things such as, “it just happened, so what”. Denial of cycle is where a person avoids looking at their decisions leading up to an event or does not consider their pattern of decision making and how harmful behaviour is repeated( doing the same thing each day expecting a different result). The pain and harm being avoided by this type of denial is more of the effort needed to change the focus from a singular event to looking at preceding events. It can also serve as a way to blame or justify behavior.
- Denial of denial: This can be a difficult concept for many people to identify in themselves, but is a major barrier to changing hurtful behaviors. Denial of denial involves thoughts, actions and behaviors which bolster confidence that nothing needs to be changed in one’s personal behavior. This form of denial typically overlaps with all of the other forms of denial, but involves more self-delusion.
- Hostility: in psychological terms hostility can be defined as the willful refusal to accept evidence that one’s perceptions of the world are wrong. Instead of reconsidering, the hostile person attempts to force or coerce the world to fit their view, even if this is a forlorn hope, and however harmful the cost.
Smokers tend to experience cognitive dissonance because it is widely accepted that cigarettes cause lung cancer, yet virtually everyone wants to live a long and healthy life. ln terms of the theory, the desire to live a long life is dissonant with the activity of doing something that will most likely shorten one’s life. The tension produced by these contradictory ideas can be reduced by quitting smoking, denying the evidence of lung cancer, or justifying one’s smoking. For example, a smoker could rationalize his or her behavior by concluding that everyone dies and so cigarettes do not actually change anything. Or a person could believe that smoking keeps one from gaining weight, which would also be unhealthy.
This case of dissonance could also be interpreted in terms of a threat to the self-concept. The thought, “l am increasing my risk of lung cancer” is dissonant with the self-related belief, “l am a smart, reasonable human being.” It is often easier to make excuses than it is to change behavior!
Reference Source: Twin Rivers Recovery Centre