Denial is the root of all problems in any group of people, big or small, in any kind of relationship; it is avoidance to see problems—and problems unseen are always problems unsolved, and thus problems ever bigger.
The biggest problem with denial is that it self-replicates. People deny stuff, that’s bad enough; but when they begin denying that they are denying stuff, it gets really messy. And it doesn’t end there. Denial of denial of denial of denial … is a catch-22, a vicious circle—hardly anyone is immune to it. No wonder our society is as fucked up as it is.
Every denial comes with rationalizations, explanations, power games, with trying to convince others of a particular perspective or perception, or “truth.” Every denial is based on “knowing” and therefore it comes with deep inner contradictions that aren’t far from schizophrenia. Denial ends in extrovert emotions, in pushing away the imaginary causes of distress, it doesn’t allow introversion and facing the hurtful reality.
When a neutral person comes to face somebody who lives in denial and stands up for a different view than what the other person perceives to be the single acceptable option, they will end up in a clash.
There is no way of reaching people who “know” that they are not in denial. All you can do is see them as who they really are and avoid them for your own good. The bad news is that avoiding people in denial is impossible, they are everyone you know …
People in denial …
- … say “I know” a lot (often in a reflexive/defensive kind of way)
- … are strongly focused on themselves, unaware of other people’s personal space, needs, and manner of communication
- … avoid seeing causes of problems in themselves
- … tend to interrupt you when you speak—particularly if you say something unpleasant, something that they disagree with
- … exhibit various strategies of avoiding discussions of unpleasant topics
- … are unwilling to show a face to the public that might be seen as negative—they dread “gossip” about themselves (even if gossip is the actual truth about a mistake or mishap they committed)
- … are judgemental and partial—they put people into circles of those they favor and those they don’t; when they catch themselves being judgemental they say: “… and I am not being judgemental …“
- … avoid being open and vulnerable in front of other people (especially in front of wise, discerning, impartial witnesses) and then listening and taking in what the witnesses have to say about them
- … look for your agreement and acceptance and if they don’t get it they coerce you with emotional pressure
- … make you feel cornered; they are unaware of the inequality they create between them and you—they project problems to the world, to others
- … are emotionally incongruent and inconsistent: they move quickly from smiling and laughing when you treat them well (when they feel safe with you)—to crying and anger when you don’t treat them well (when they feel unsafe); they project the inconsistency on others, making them the cause of their emotional swings
- … they leave in you a feeling of discomfortž
- … pull you into (mutual) emotional dependency
- … are afraid to lose their positive self-image—from this fear comes fascinating energy which can light up the room in one moment and then burn it to ashes in the next moment
- … are hard to confront (or solace) because of emotional explosiveness that vibrates under the smooth surface
- … end up in exhaustion; it takes an immense amount of energy to keep up the pretense and denial
And now the most important point—the person in denial will read all this nodding in consent, recognizing all the listed characteristics in other people. Probably starting with the person that pointed them out in the first place: the writer of this text.
If you catch yourself reading the list and recognizing the items in others, ask someone to give you a fine slap in the face and then reread it, starting each point with “I …“. First acknowledge all of this in your own life, then only dig for it in the lives of others.
You can’t see the truth about others without allowing yourself to see what you are denying. Check with scrutiny all your involuntary behaviors, uncontrolled reactions, and “provoked” emotions … and stop denying them before you bring other people’s denials to their attention.
Did I do it? Yes.
Am I free of denials? No.
I dare to point them out because I am pointing them out, first and foremost, to myself. What I learned about denial is that the only way to get rid of it is by first receiving it, seeing it—and that without judgment!
“Denial is in me, how beautiful!”
“I am a terrible person, awesome!”
Grades and shades of denial
“I don’t deny that I deny,” is the beginning of maturity.
That’s when a question invariably pops up: “Is denial still denial when I accept it? Doesn’t it then turn to choice, to preference? What if this preference is still harming me? Doesn’t that mean there is somewhere in me still some kind of denial?”
Here we need to draw a line between ignorance and denial. Denial means you are faced with facts and figures, with proofs and explanations, with experience of your own or of others, but you still avoid accepting them. Ignorance is doing things without having a clue. So, actually, people are more often ignorant or deluded than in denial.
From here on things gets shady … I can see my own denial of this and that, and as far as it is pertinent to me only, that doesn’t necessarily cause harm to others, at least not directly. In each one of us, there is always a complex mixture of ignorance, delusion, and denial. When I see the denial and embrace it – be it smoking, drinking, overeating, etc.—that’s perfectly OK, if I also embrace the responsibility for the consequences.
If, however, my denial relates directly to other people, such as in the case of collective denials and delusions, particularly in cultural, lifestyle, and broad social denials, then such denial can lead to catastrophic proportions.
As I said, denial self-replicates. When the entire society is in denial and bases its existence on denial, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to get out of it. As denial becomes more and more complex, intertwined with hundreds of other denials, undoing the huge tight knot becomes absolutely impossible.
The end of the denier(s) is the only possible outcome.
Is there any alternative to denial?
When we deeply acknowledge the fact that our single possible outcome is collapse and start looking for solutions, we are forced to “choose” more and more voluntary denial and to embrace inner contradictions as individual ignorance dissipates and we face dreadful realities which we can’t change.
Because I can’t change reality, and I don’t want to choose denial, I decided to accept all the shit that I see around me and to live (and suffer and die) with all the consequences that I cannot influence. In the scope of my influence, I choose to be a cell in the young eco-social organism that is emerging parallel to the existing demon-cratic monster’s imminent dwindling. This monster is the personification of self-denial and thus de facto cannibalistic—it is “eating itself up.”
The most important “organs” in the new social organism are sensors that detect even the tiniest harmful effects on the ecosystem that we are a part of, and “nerves” that bring all the collected data to the attention of human society as a whole. The “brain” of the new organism is the collective intelligence that directs the best course of action with the least possible level of denial and delusion.
I am an optimist. Humanity will go on even after shit hits the fan. There is no need to panic. Panic is denial, too.
Accept what is. Especially accept yourself for who and what you are right now. Without doing this first everything you do to change the world or yourself will be an act of violence. Then let what you accept guide your actions and do it with self-confidence! Do it even if everybody else is doing otherwise …
And don’t forget to celebrate the unleashing of every single denial! Releasing society from the grip of denials is probably the most important thing we can “do” right now to make the next step in the evolution of humanity.