If you ask a room full of people for their definition of denial you’ll get a roomful of definitions. In fact I do ask both patient groups and my clinical training groups to share their own personal definitions—not dictionary definitions—of denial. I’ll list some of the most common responses I receive below.
- Honest dishonesty
- I don’t have a problem—no not me!
- A coping tool
- Being stuck in a problem and not knowing I’m stuck
- Lying to myself
- Not seeing a problem
- Believing I don’t have a problem
- A defense mechanism
- Don’t even know I am lying (D.E.N.I.A.L.)
- Clueless to danger
I could go on for a lot longer but I’m sure you get the idea. So what I want to do here is to share my working definition of denial so you’ll know what I mean when I use this term. The first part of this definition is that denial is an automatic and unconscious reaction. A person doesn’t say “I think I’ll use denial now.” It’s a reaction that has an important purpose—to protect us. Denial is a psychological defense system that we learn all through our life-span starting in early childhood. Denial protects us from what I call Painful Reality. What I mean by this is when situations seem too overwhelming and we believe we can’t handle a situation our defenses come on line to help protect us. Another general definition of denial I also find helpful is: Denial is the natural tendency to avoid the pain that is caused by recognizing the presence, severity and responsibility for dealing with serious problems.
Denial is a set of automatic and unconscious reactions
It is a psychological self-protection defense system
Its purpose is to protects us from painful reality
In fact, denial can sometimes become a very important coping tool for us. Imagine what would happen if you had to always be consciously aware of all the painful situations that you experienced throughout your life. What condition do you think you would be in? I think I’d be in a padded cell somewhere. Sometimes denial helps us cope with life.
Unfortunately, unrecognized denial can lead to severe consequences. For example the population I work with is people with chronic pain and many of them have coexisting additive disorders but are in denial about what the addiction is doing to them and those they love.
To learn more about chronic pain management and denial please check out my article From Denial to Effective Pain Management that you can download for free on our Article page. To learn about two skill trainings coming up in Sacramento California designed to teach treatment strategies for people living with chronic pain and coexisting disorders including addiction and prescription drug abuse please Click Here.
You can learn more about the Addiction-Free Pain Management® System at our website www.addiction-free.com. If you are working with people in chronic pain or are living with chronic pain and have any resistance or denial and want to learn how to develop a plan for helping to identify and manage denial please go to our Publications page and check out my book the Denial Management Counseling for Effective Pain Management Workbook. To purchase this book please Click Here.
To listen to a radio interview I did conducted by Mary Woods for her program One Hour at a Time please Click Here to go to this interview.
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