The Role of Denial – It’s Not All Bad

When I was growing up, I was pretty good at denial. If it looked like I could postpone some chore or task, I would. I learned denial often went hand in hand with procrastination and avoidance. Denial had a negative connotation throughout my life.

I’ve come lately to the possibility that denial can be beneficial, and it doesn’t have to define me as a slouch or as an avoider of things. In fact, denial can be an excellent coping tool, especially in our later years when comfort from loss and grief can taint our days in retirement and our peaceful old age.

Denial can also help us stay in the moment. By not focusing on uncomfortable things that have happened or might happen to us around any particular situation, we’re able to experience the other parts of what is going on and enjoy ourselves to the fullest.

There are both negative and positive forms of denial. The kind of denial in my younger years involved ignoring good advice that might have kept me safer and heathier. But, that was then and this is now. Healthy denial involves doing what we need to do to stay as happy and healthy as possible and ignoring that which does not serve that goal. Denial can encourage us to live our lives in the midst of daily news that is awful and even a devastating piece of health news for ourselves. Denial allows us to survive new and frightening information when it becomes overwhelming.

How does denial work to our benefit?

Let’s say you or someone you love has received an upsetting diagnosis that will greatly impact your life. Healthy denial can help you stay focused on what is important for treatment and for adjusting to living a different set of circumstances to continue with the best life possible. So, I’m not proposing to deny the diagnosis but deny as much as necessary to pretend everything is fine (as much as you can) while dealing with the next steps in treatment, etc. In this way, denial is seen as a normal reaction to a stressful situation. It’s good to allow yourself time to process distressing information. Two caveats include remembering we each process stress at our own pace and, secondly, be careful not to reside in the denial to the exclusion of helpful information and support.

Grief is also a place where denial can be used to taper the upset of another devastating situation. We do this by still being able to find and experience joy and laughter even when we’ve experienced loss.

Even though denial and avoidance can be solid mechanisms to cope with upset, it’s a good idea to never completely let go of the possibility that it can be misused to blame others, minimize, or convince ourselves of an altered reality. In spite of these problems that can crop up, denial can help us cope, and I want to remember that in dealing with problems … at my own pace. I’m adding it to my basket of coping tools to consider should the need arise.

How do you feel about denial?