Denial - Believing or imagining that some painful or traumatic circumstance, event or memory does not exist or did not happen.
When logic leaves the building:
Denial is a space most people will visit sometime, especially when handling threatening situations, grief or loss. Not facing reality - or pretending it does not exist - is a common response when struggling to cope with difficult circumstances.
Denial can also result from experiences, memories or information which contradicts our world view, resulting in cognitive dissonance. With Personality Disorders however, there can be more pervasive, destructive forms of denial. A Personality Disordered individual may not merely disregard, neglect or avoid the truth, they may actually form a conviction or belief with no basis in reality which they attempt to impose, force or project onto others.
- A family member calls you on the telephone and five minutes later insists they didn’t.
- A partner with a spending addiction refuses to acknowledge it.
- A spouse commits an act of violence and later denies it.
- A child cannot recall an incident of parental abuse.
- A divorced woman acts as though the marriage never ended.
What it feels like:
When you are living with somebody who is in denial about the truth, you can start to feel hopeless. There is no way to have a meaningful conversation and achieve conflict resolution when you can't even agree on what the facts are. You may start to feel frustrated and powerless. Over time, you may begin to question your own recollections and your ability to discern truth from fiction. Your self-confidence may wane and you may begin to accept a distorted version of reality just to find your footing or avoid conflict.
Nons can sometimes be stunned to discover the Personality Disordered individual in their lives may completely believe their own false version of reality. It is common for Nons to spend a great deal of effort fruitlessly trying to reason, cajole or argue the Personality Disordered individual into “snapping out of it” or “facing the facts”. It can be hard for Nons to accept that some Personality Disordered individuals who have dissociated can believe the denials they are expressing are the facts - at least at that time - for them.
Under these circumstances, normal communication or negotiation techniques don’t work, since they rely on both parties agreeing on the facts, using their ability to reason, and working towards a common interest or compromise.
What NOT to Do:
- Don't assume that someone in denial is completely aware of the contradictions in their thinking.
- Don't condemn or shame a person who is in denial. Leave them alone to believe what they want to.
- Don't use logic to try to dismantle the beliefs of someone who is in denial.
- Don't become a victim of someone else's denial or feel compelled to agree with them. Agree to disagree.
- Don't allow yourself to become isolated with someone who is ind denial. Surround yourself with supportive friends who will give you the objective support you need.
What To Do:
- Accept that each person’s reality is their own property and everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe, think what they want to think and experience their own world without intimidation, control or persecution. That applies to Personality Disordered individuals, and it also applies to you. You may just have to “agree to disagree” on important facts, history or conclusions.
- Remind yourself that one person’s opinion of you does not define you. You are you. Seek out the counsel of wise, caring and supportive people who you can trust to help you rebuild your self-esteem.
- If someone says something which you believe isn’t true, it is appropriate to declare, “I don’t see it that way”. Once!
- If you, or any children in your care, are being exposed to abuse of any kind, take appropriate protective action.
- If there has been denial of abuse it is appropriate to walk away from any further discussion and go about living your life in an emotionally and physically safe, healthy, and productive way.