There’s denial and then there’s denial. There’s also denial, denial, and denial.
I count five kinds of denial. There may be more, but, after five, why quibble?
We hear the term every day. We use it every day. It is a member in good standing of the English language, but it also belongs to psycho-jargon.
In most modern conversations, the term is an accusation. When you tell someone that he is “in denial,“ you are not just saying that he is wrong or that you disagree with him.
You are saying that he is refusing to accept an obvious truth. And you are saying that his character or his judgment are defective.
Using the term as psycho-jargon means that you refuse to address another point of view. Either he accepts your perspective or he is suffering from a mental disease or defect.
I am puzzled by the fact that when we use the term as psycho-jargon we always preface it with a preposition. We say that people are “in denial” as though it were a place.
Off the top of my head I cannot tell you where you are when you are in denial. It’s not quite the same thing as being in the soup, or being in error, or being in a funk, or being in Dubuque.
The denial you get yourself into began with therapy. Psychoanalysts called it a defense. They trotted it out when their recalcitrant patients refused to accept the validity of their interpretations.
Denial did not just mean that the therapist was right. It taken as proof that the patient unconsciously accepted that the therapist was right. If you agreed with the analyst, he was right. If you disagreed, you were said to be in denial-- with your denial proving that the analyst was right.
Why? Because if the interpretation was wrong you would not have had to deny it. There’s a piece of thought that has never seen the light of reason.
In Freud’s time, if you didn’t think you had an Oedipus complex you were in denial. If you didn’t accept that your heart’s desire was to copulate with your mother you were in denial. If you didn’t believe that you bore hostile intentions toward your father you were in denial.
The strange part of Freudian therapy, the part that makes it an exercise in disguised brainwashing, is that it never considered the possibility that these interpretations were wrong.
Yet, all of them are demeaning, degrading, and insulting. Why should you be expected to embrace them with a fervor that transcends doubt?
And, why was your mental health and emotional well-being dependent on your ability to convince yourself of the validity of dogmatic truths?
The second denial does not involve motivation; it refers to something that therapists claimed really happened. If your therapist said that you had been molested and if you had no recollection of the event, then, you were in denial.
Therapists use this version of denial when they want to persuade children that they were molested. Once they do that, they can railroad innocent people into prison.
Accusing people of being in denial is an innocent enterprise.
Like the first denial, this one is a form of mind control. From its inception psychotherapy has had no use for human freedom.
There is still more to denial. People use the term more constructively when they say that an alcoholic who refuses to accept that he is addicted is in denial.
Often, but not always, we are dealing with a diagnosis, not a matter of opinion.
Instead of assuming that a child’s failure to remember an incident of molestation is proof that it happened, here the alcoholic's denial is not taken to be proof that he is drinking too much. His liver and brain functions contain that evidence.
If you ignore the evidence, you will be denying something that is real. Here, as with any medical diagnosis that one chooses to ignore, denial leads to consequences.
The same applies to someone who has heart disease or high blood pressure and who chooses to deny the reality of his illness.
Of course, it is also possible for someone to acknowledge that he has an illness and choose not to submit to treatment.
I would tend toward saying that a person can accept that he is ill and still refuse treatment without being in denial. His decision about treatment is not proof of his mental state.
He may feel, as sometimes happens, that the treatment is worse than the disease. Or he may be a Christian Scientist.
A choice about treatment does not necessarily reveal a state of mind. In more normal conversation, denial does not necessarily mean that the person is refusing to face an inconvenient or painful truth.
Here's another form of denial, a more normal usage.If you deny responsibility for an action, that does not, ipso facto, mean that you are responsible. People are falsely accused all the time. It is devilishly difficult to determine culpability or responsibility on the basis of the strength of a denial.
As opposed to the therapy world, in the criminal justice system the failure to deny accusations vigorously is taken to be proof of guilt or responsibility.
The fact that someone denies responsibility does not, by my lights, mean that he is responsible. He might deny responsibility because he bears none.
Finally, some people deny objective reality. Many of them belong to the Flat Earth Society.
Than again, one person's objective reality can be another person's opinion. Are those who disagree with the supposedly settle science of global warming in denial? Or, are they accused of being in denial in order to shut down debate? If we wait long enough, the earth's climate will offer something of an answer to that question.
Some realities cannot be determined by physics. Take the issue of whether or not certain countries in the world are currently bankrupt.
Last week anarchists were plying their trade in central London. Fearless commentator Mark Steyn found himself among them, and bothered to engage one of the more anodyne protesters in a conversation. Link here.
The elderly woman had come out to protest because she was sorely offended at the possibility that, under the new government budget, her grandson would have to pay more to go to university.
After listening to her plaint, Steyn replied: “You can protest all you like….But this country’s broke, so all you’re doing is postponing its reacquaintanceship with reality, and ensuring that your grandson and his contemporaries are going to be stuck with the tab because you guys spent their future.”
Steyn is assuming that the country is broke. Of course, other people disagree. Some believe that, while there might not always be an England, there will always be enough pounds to pay for education, health care, and the like.
You might say that the protester is right or that Steyn is right. Is either one in denial? Steyn said, and I agree with him, that people who refuse to recognize the current state of government balance sheets are in denial.
But, we are dealing with reality, not with opinion or state of mind. And when it comes to reality, then the facts of the marketplace will ultimately decide who was really in denial.