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How Denial Affects Your Life

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 14, 2021

Denial is a method of self-protection. If you are in denial, you are trying to protect yourself from a truth that is too painful for you to accept at the moment. Sometimes short-term denial is essential. It can give you time to organize yourself and accept a significant change in your life. However, denial can have a darker side and become unhealthy.

What Happens When You Are In Denial?

Denial is a result of someone not identifying or expressing their emotions, especially when their feelings are difficult. Often, people fear that their emotional security will be threatened or that they will lose control over their lives if they express their emotions. Yet, what happens is the opposite, and their suppressed feelings can slowly take over their life.

Being in denial can look like:

  • Withdrawal. When a person doesn’t want to be around others or participate in activities, this can be called withdrawal. For example, they might say that being around others is too overwhelming. Perhaps they think other people don’t like them or want them involved in a particular social circle. While it may feel better in some ways, it can bring about its own problems such as loneliness, anger, misunderstanding, and distorted thinking.
  • Bullying. This is when you use threats, force, or ridicule to exercise power over another person. The person who does this is trying to make other people feel as bad as they do to feel less lonely. If you are in denial, you deny that you feel bad to begin with, so this strategy will subconsciously and negatively impact you.
  • Self-harm. Unfortunately, denying that you are experiencing difficult emotions does not make them go away. The intensity and pain of whatever it is you are working through will always come back. Often, people in denial experience this in the form of cutting, eating disorders, or generally engaging in risky or dangerous behaviors. These behaviors may seem like they will bring relief from the intensity of your emotions but they instead lead you down a darker and more painful path.
  • Substance use. Similarly, if you are in denial, you might engage in substance use. Many people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol use denial as a way to continue with their addiction, which can also impact their relationships. This can cause your loved ones to obsessively try and convince you of the reality of your addiction, which may only push you further away from them.

These are just some of the ways that denial can affect your life. Depending on who you are, your situation, and what you are in denial about, you can be affected by it differently.

Additionally, sometimes denial can be helpful. When a traumatic or significant life event happens, it is sometimes too much to fully accept what has happened. You may need some time to have peace of mind to unconsciously absorb what has happened so that you do not emotionally spin out.

This is especially true if you need to make decisions and plan around an event. As long as you promptly begin to accept what happened, this type of denial can be helpful.

How to Get Through Denial

Of course, when something heavy or upsetting in your life happens, you will most likely wish that it wasn’t happening. It can be difficult not to go into denial in these situations. However, if you notice that you are in denial or if someone you trust points it out to you, there are ways that you can work through it, such as.

  • Take a moment to think about what you may be afraid to see candidly.
  • Think about what may happen if you keep living in denial, both in positive and negative ways.
  • Give yourself the room to understand your feelings and fears.
  • Attempt to discover whether or not you have any irrational beliefs surrounding your denial.
  • Write down your thoughts and feelings.
  • Talk it through with someone you trust or a loved one.
  • Join a support group.
  • Seek a therapist or counselor.

Denial is a difficult thing to work through, and often you will need the help of your loved ones. Sometimes, you may need to seek the help of a mental health provider to understand and work through your denial.

WebMD Feature

Sources

SOURCES:

Addiction Prevention Coalition: “Denial: Why It Happens And How To Overcome It.”

Mayo Clinic: Denial: “When it helps, when it hurts.”

Mental Health America: “Helpful Vs Harmful: Ways to Manage Emotions.”

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