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Denial

by Dr. Sidney W. Langston

We often hear a great deal about the importance of family values. However, little is said about those who want to have healthy families but have not had the opportunity to do so. Those who grew up in chaotic conditions in dysfunctional homes have developed behaviors that assault, even sabotage, the successful management of their lives as adults. Often, they do not have the emotional resources to provide a healthy environment for their own children. Because they grew up emotionally repressed, accustomed to denying their pain and discomfort, they have shut down their feelings and are keeping everything locked inside. From childhood they have learned that the expression of their wants and needs will only lead to rejection and intense feelings of inadequacy.  

 

As adults, they find it is very difficult to accept the reality that they are victims of dysfunctional family systems. This non-acceptance, or denial, keeps them from seeing the disabling behaviors they have developed. Denial is a learned pattern of behavior which protects people from the reality of their feelings and helps to repress emotional pain.

 

For many denial has been a major tool for survival.  As such it can be extremely deceptive, because it has the potential of blocking the truth from their minds. It cleverly protects them from realizing the consequences of their actions, because they simply do not acknowledge any responsibility for them. Another form of denial is manifested when people prefer to continue behavior that "saves face," rather than accept accountability for their choices. Or it may seem easier to hide from their true feelings by being overly attentive to their families, churches or jobs. Staying busy allows them to ignore their pain, thereby denying it.

 

Forms of Denial

Denial has many faces and can be easily masked. Some recognizable forms are:

 

•Simple Denial:  Pretending that something does not exist when it really does (e. g., discounting physical symptoms that may indicate medical problems).

 

•Minimizing:  Being willing to acknowledge a problem, but unwilling to see its severity (e.g., admitting merely to estrangement in a relationship when, in fact, there is infidelity).

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