6 Common Types of Denial - How to Identify and Deal With Them

By Georgia


Last Updated: September 10, 2021

Living in denial is a way of life for some and unimaginable for others.

To live in a fantasy or in a life full of lies seems like an outlier and uncommon thing to do. But in some ways, at some point in our lives, all of us live in denial to a degree.

The difference is, these short periods of avoiding the truth serve a purpose to help better a situation, while honesty remains the preferred way to approach life.

Living in a fabricated reality on purpose as a priority is something else altogether, and can be quite dangerous emotionally and physically.

What is Denial?

Denial is a pattern of dismissing, discrediting or omitting facts or feelings that can be demonstratively proven, are corroborated by other people, or were experienced by, witnessed by, or expressed to the person in denial.

Denial and Lies

Lies are heavily associated with denial.

But while some denial is a conscious choice, many people in denial don't know they are, even when confronted with irrefutable evidence. It can be considered an unhealthy psychological state someone may need professional help to recover from.

Denial is essentially lying to oneself and others about a situation, or several, but this may not be a conscious choice. On the other hand, standard lies are a choice and come from a desire to manipulate and control other people more often than to protect oneself from the truth.

Read this next: 6 Rejection Responses and How to Make Sure Yours is Healthy

Living in Denial

Living in denial is hard for some, usually those struggling with trauma, shame and guilt.

Others find it easy as they practice and it becomes a pattern. Eventually, these people may even become delusional and believe the lies they tell themselves, building a life in their imagination that does not exist, making it feel real.

Some people are psychologically structured to have an easier time lying to themselves and others, as lying generally makes most people feel quite uncomfortable.

A Life of Lies

Lying becomes easier for almost anyone over long periods of time telling the same lies, and as the stakes rise for the truth to remain hidden.

When it is critical to one's life or livelihood, even the most honest person can succumb to denial.

Be aware of these diversion and manipulation tactics. They are typical of people in denial and should be expected.

  • Lying to someone's face when asked or confronted
  • Dismissing the situation as ridiculous or silly
  • Becoming angry and aggressive
  • Diverting the conversation to another topic
  • Reversing the accusation (real or false) back onto the person
  • Casting doubt on the person's memory or evidence (gaslighting)
  • Questioning the person's motives
  • Making personal attacks
  • Making threats

Don't take this personally, but do take it seriously. Desperation can make people dangerous.

Why Denial?

Why do people choose denial? What purpose does it serve? Denial can help people:

  • survive their current circumstances
  • avoid dealing with past trauma
  • build the life and future they want
  • protect other's feelings, relationships, assets, safety and freedom

Many people in abusive relationships are in denial, both the perpetrators and victims. As are people who were abused by loved ones, or knew about the abuse and did nothing or couldn't do anything to stop it.

Denial can also have a financial incentive, essentially buying one's silence and protection.

Beyond keeping people out of prison, denial can also protect someone from persecution and violence. For instance, remaining closeted and hiding one's sexual preference or gender identity from a bigoted or fundamentalist culture or family.

It can protect parents from having to expend the time and energy needed to deal with a child's illness or disorder. This may allow them to feel like they can't make a “sick” or “broken” child.

It keeps people from putting in the hard work to change their lifestyle if they are at risk for or diagnosed with a disease or disorder.

Denial can buy someone's way into a higher class or social sphere, affording them experiences, respect, people and accommodations they could otherwise not afford or would be denied. It also eases feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment, and bolsters feelings of superiority or equity with others.

There are many examples of denial. 


6 Common Forms of Denial

1. Subconscious Blockage

The abuse and neglect a person inflicted on another conflicts with their perception of themselves. Or the abuse and neglect that was inflicted on a person by another conflicts with their perception of that person.

2. Genuine Forgetfulness

Memory loss due to aging, medication, disease, illicit drug use, excessive alcohol use, or head trauma.

3. Protecting the Narrative

Intentionally lying to protect oneself or another from the consequences of the truth.

4. Denying Trauma

Protecting oneself from dealing with the realities and consequences of surviving trauma.

This usually entails:

  • guilt and shame over experiencing the trauma
  • the judgment, questions and accusations of lying about the trauma
  • the emotional work needed to heal from the trauma
  • mental and physical illnesses that may stem from the trauma
  • the process of seeking justice
  • and frequently, the lack of justice and accountability on the part of the authorities and perpetrator of the trauma

5. Survival Denial

Compartmentalizing trauma away from one's daily needs to survive and continue with life, work, bills, socializing, education, etc. Dealing with the truth would at best disrupt and at worst combust or potentially threaten one's life.

6. Proactive Denial

Letting another know you don't want to know if they have done something or know something that would change how you view them and force you to deal with an uncomfortable truth. “Don't tell me.” “I don't want to know.” “Ignorance is bliss.”


Overcoming Denial

The truth can hurt, but it can also set you free.

There is no need to be angry at or afraid of the truth. Knowledge is power, but with power comes responsibility. Understand where denial comes from and how it happens, then do your best to identify and resolve it.

It may not feel like honesty is always in your best interest, but no one can make good decisions with bad information. Make the best choices you can, and help others do the same.

Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels


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