Dealing With Denial

This week, we’re talking about dealing with denial. What is denial?

It may sound familiar to some of us as the first stage from American-Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ grief cycle model, which most of us have now come to know as the 5 stages of grief:

        • Denial
        • Anger
        • Bargaining
        • Depression
        • Acceptance

Who Is Affected

Does denial really only affect people who have experienced a loss, or are in mourning? Actually, it applies to anyone who refuses to believe a reality or fact and continues to exist as if an event, thought or feeling did or does not exist. It is a defense mechanism developed unconsciously during a person’s early life to help protect themselves. So, whether it was due to a personal loss, or some type of negative experience, then a person can fall into denial.

Defense mechanisms tend to kick in when a person does not want to experience more emotional stress or trauma because they feel that if they do, they would get pushed over the edge. It could also be that they are scared of admitting to something they might be doing wrong because it means having to stop doing it and going through a total and complete change — which could prove difficult for anybody. And sometimes, it’s completely possible they don’t even know that they’re in denial.

Despite being a type of defense mechanism though, denial is considered the most primitive type of defense mechanism, which means that the more a person defaults to it as a defense mechanism, the more harmful it could be for that person in the long run.

How Long Denial Can Affect You

This is because choosing to stay in denial is choosing to stay in limbo. There is no forward motion. We do not grow or progress emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually. Although it may seem to make us happy on the surface, is it really happiness we feel or are we just choosing to believe so because we think that choosing the opposite would be too painful? By choosing to stay in denial, we choose not only to keep ourselves in the pain of the situation we are running away from but also to keep our friends and family in the same pain.

It’s very difficult to begin the conversation when it comes to denial. The issues from which a person’s denial can stem from can be very private, like a deep personal loss. Which sometimes we may not totally be able to relate to, because we haven’t gone through a similar situation ourselves. It’s important that we keep trying to initiate.

So, how to deal with denial in a relationship? Or even better, how is dealing with denial in any area of life helpful?  We’ll need to continually remind ourselves that it’s not healthy to be stuck, and while change may prove to be difficult for a lot of us, it always leads to something better. If we take another look at Kübler-Ross’ model and try to apply it, then we can change our perception of denial as simply a part of a process. Processes are meant to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The goal is to start the process and work through it and aim to reach the end, which could optimistically, hold the promise of healing.


This week try to look at your life and see if there are any areas where you could be experiencing it, or feel like you know someone who could be in denial. You can write it down or journal about it, and then we’ll figure out together:

      • What denial looks like in different circumstances.
      • If you or someone close to you could be in denial.
      • What you can do when you realize you or someone you are close to is in denial.
      • How to speak your truth to someone who is in denial.
      • Ways to help yourself or your loved one work their way out of it.
      • How to make sure you don’t default to denial as a defense mechanism anymore in the future.

For more tips on how to deal with those in denial, listen to this podcast episode!


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