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Title: Denial  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Psychological manipulation, Minimisation (psychology), Defence mechanisms, Narcissistic defences, Abuse
Collection: Belief, Cognitive Biases, Deception, Defence Mechanisms, Denialism, Dissent
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


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Denial, in ordinary English usage, is asserting that a statement or allegation is not true.[1] The same word, and also abnegation (German: Verneinung), is used for a psychological defense mechanism postulated by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.[1][2][3] An individual that exhibits such behaviour is described as a denialist[4] or true believer.

The subject may use:


  • In psychoanalysis 1
    • Denial and disavowal 1.1
  • Other uses 2
  • Types 3
    • Denial of fact 3.1
    • Denial of responsibility 3.2
    • Denial of impact 3.3
    • Denial of cycle 3.4
    • Denial of awareness 3.5
    • Denial of denial 3.6
    • DARVO 3.7
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7

In psychoanalysis

The concept of denial is particularly important to the study of addiction.

The theory of denial was first researched seriously by Anna Freud. She classified denial as a mechanism of the immature mind, because it conflicts with the ability to learn from and cope with reality. Where denial occurs in mature minds, it is most often associated with death, dying and rape. More recent research has significantly expanded the scope and utility of the concept. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross used denial as the first of five stages in the psychology of a dying patient, and the idea has been extended to include the reactions of survivors to news of a death.[5]

Many contemporary psychoanalysts treat denial as the first stage of a

  • Sharot, T.; Korn, C. W.; Dolan, R. J. (2011). "How unrealistic optimism is maintained in the face of reality".  
  • Izuma, K.; Adolphs, R. (2011). "The brain's rose-colored glasses".  
  • Travis, A. C.; Pawa, S.; LeBlanc, J. K.; Rogers, A. I. (2011). "Denial: What is it, how do we recognize it, and what should we do about it?".  
  • Vos, M. S.; de Haes, H. J. C. M. (2011). "Denial indeed is a process".  

Further reading

  • Ogden, Sofia, K.; Biebers, Ashley D., eds. (2011). Psychology of Denial (1st ed.).  
  • Gray, Peter O. (2011). Psychology (6th ed.).  
  • Davidhizar, R.; Poole, V.; Giger, J.N.; Henderson, M. (June 1998). "When your patient uses denial". The Journal of Practical Nursing 48 (2): 10–4.  


  1. ^ a b "denial". Oxford English Dictionary (Online, U.S. English ed.).  
  2. ^ Niolon, Richard (April 8, 2011). "Defenses". Richard Niolon. Retrieved 2014-05-24. 
  3. ^ Freud, Sigmund (1925). "Die Verneinung".
  4. ^ 2005, The Cape Times 2005-03-11
  5. ^ Bonanno, George A. (2009). The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us about Life After Loss. Basic Books.  
  6. ^ Dorpat, T.L. (1983). "The cognitive arrest hypothesis of denial".  
  7. ^ London, K.; Bruck, M.; Ceci, S.J.; Shuman, D.W. (2005). "Disclosure of child sexual abuse: What does the research tell us about the ways that children tell?".  
  8. ^ Salomon Resnik, The Delusional Person: Bodily Feelings in Psychosis, Karnac Books, 2001, p. 46.
  9. ^ Freud uses the term verleugnen in "The Loss of Reality in Neurosis and Psychosis" (1924).
  10. ^ Alain de Mijolla (ed.). International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, 1st vol.: "Disavowal", Macmillan Reference Books, ISBN 0-02-865924-4
  11. ^ a b Sirri, L.; Fava, G.A. (2013). "Diagnostic criteria for psychosomatic research and somatic symptom disorders". International Review of Psychiatry 25 (1): 19–30.  
  12. ^ Ino, A.; Tatsuki, S.; Nishikawa, K. (June 2001). "The Denial and Awareness Scale (DAS)". Nihon Arukoru Yakubutsu Igakkai Zasshi [Japanese Journal of Alcohol Studies and Drug Dependence] (in 日本語) 36 (3): 216–34.  
  13. ^  
  14. ^ Rayson, D. (2013). "On denying denial".  
  15. ^ Freyd, J.J. (February 1997). "II. Violations of power, adaptive blindness, and betrayal trauma theory" (PDF).  


See also

...I have observed that actual abusers threaten, bully and make a nightmare for anyone who holds them accountable or asks them to change their abusive behavior. This attack, intended to chill and terrify, typically includes threats of law suits, overt and covert attacks on the whistle-blower's credibility, and so on. The attack will often take the form of focusing on ridiculing the person who attempts to hold the offender accountable. [...] [T]he offender rapidly creates the impression that the abuser is the wronged one, while the victim or concerned observer is the offender. Figure and ground are completely reversed. [...] The offender is on the offense and the person attempting to hold the offender accountable is put on the defense.[15]

Psychologist Jennifer Freyd writes:

DARVO is an acronym to describe a common strategy of abusers: Deny the abuse, then Attack the victim for attempting to make them accountable for their offense, thereby Reversing Victim and Offender. This may involve gaslighting and victim blaming.

Harassment covers a wide range of offensive behaviour. It is commonly understood as behaviour intended to disturb or upset. In the legal sense, it is behaviour which is found threatening or disturbing.


This can be a difficult concept for many people to identify with in themselves, but is a major barrier to changing hurtful behaviors. Denial of denial involves thoughts, actions and behaviors which bolster confidence that nothing needs to be changed in one's personal behavior. This form of denial typically overlaps with all of the other forms of denial, but involves more self-delusion. Denial at this level can have significant consequences both personally and at a societal level.[13][14]

Denial of denial

This form of denial attempts to divert pain by claiming that the level of awareness was inhibited by some mitigating variable. This is most typically seen in addiction situations where drug or alcohol abuse is a factor, though it also occasionally manifests itself in relation to mental health issues or the pharmaceutical substances used to treat mental health issues. This form of denial may also overlap with denial of responsibility.[12]

Denial of awareness

Many who use this type of denial will say things such as, "it just happened". Denial of cycle is where a person avoids looking at their decisions leading up to an event or does not consider their pattern of decision making and how harmful behavior is repeated. The pain and harm being avoided by this type of denial is more of the effort needed to change the focus from a singular event to looking at preceding events. It can also serve as a way to blame or justify behavior (see above).

Denial of cycle

Denial of impact involves a person's avoiding thinking about or understanding the harms of his or her behavior has caused to self or others, i.e. denial of the consequences. Doing this enables that person to avoid feeling a sense of guilt and it can prevent him or her from developing remorse or empathy for others. Denial of impact reduces or eliminates a sense of pain or harm from poor decisions.[11]

Denial of impact

Troy breaks up with his girlfriend because he is unable to control his anger, and then blames her for everything that ever happened.

For example:

Someone using denial of responsibility is usually attempting to avoid potential harm or pain by shifting attention away from themselves.

  • blaming: a direct statement shifting culpability and may overlap with denial of fact
  • minimizing: an attempt to make the effects or results of an action appear to be less harmful than they may actually be, or
  • justifying: when someone takes a choice and attempts to make that choice look okay due to their perception of what is "right" in a situation.
  • regression: when someone acts in a way unbecoming of their age (e.g. whining, temper tantrum, etc.)[11]

This form of denial involves avoiding personal responsibility by:

Denial of responsibility

In this form of denial, someone avoids a fact by utilizing deception. This lying can take the form of an outright falsehood (commission), leaving out certain details to tailor a story (omission), or by falsely agreeing to something (assent, also referred to as "yessing" behavior). Someone who is in denial of fact is typically using lies to avoid facts they think may be painful to themselves or others.

Denial of fact


Understanding and avoiding denial is also important in the treatment of various diseases. The American Heart Association cites denial as a principal reason that treatment of a heart attack is delayed. Because the symptoms are so varied, and often have other potential explanations, the opportunity exists for the patient to deny the emergency, often with fatal consequences. It is common for patients to delay mammograms or other tests because of a fear of cancer, even though this is clearly maladaptive. It is the responsibility of the care team, and of the nursing staff in particular, to train at-risk patients to avoid this behavior.

The concept of denial is important in twelve-step programs, where the abandonment or reversal of denial forms the basis of the first, fourth, fifth, eighth and tenth steps. The ability to deny or minimize is an essential part of what enables an addict to continue his or her behavior despite evidence that—to an outsider—appears overwhelming. This is cited as one of the reasons that compulsion is seldom effective in treating addiction—the habit of denial remains.

Other uses

Freud employs the term Verleugnung (usually translated either as "disavowal" or as "denial") as distinct from Verneinung (usually translated as "denial" or as "abnegation"). In Verleugnung, the defense consists in denying something that affects the individual and is a way of affirming what he or she is apparently denying. For Freud, Verleugnung is related to psychoses, whereas Verdrängung is a neurotic defense mechanism.[8][9] Freud broadened his clinical work on disavowal beyond the realm of psychosis. In "Fetishism" (1927), he reported a case of two young men each of whom denied the death of his father. Freud notes that neither of them developed a psychosis, even though "a piece of reality which was undoubtedly important has been disavowed [verleugnet], just as the unwelcome fact of women's castration is disavowed in fetishists."[10]

Denial and disavowal

It is important to note what makes denial denial and not just refusal to admit to or accept a truth or fact rests in the degree of individual's awareness of the existence of the truth or fact. In denial, an individual does not see or is mostly unconscious of existence of the truth or fact. The choice to refuse reality, then, is unconscious as well. Refusal to admit to or accept a truth or fact differs from denial in that the individual recognizes or is conscious of the existence of the truth or fact but consciously refuses to accept it as such.

Unlike some other defense mechanisms postulated by psychoanalytic theory (for instance, repression), the general existence of denial is fairly easy to verify, even for non-specialists. On the other hand, denial is one of the most controversial defense mechanisms, since it can be easily used to create unfalsifiable theories: anything the subject says or does that appears to disprove the interpreter's theory is explained, not as evidence that the interpreter's theory is wrong, but as the subject's being "in denial". However, researchers note that in some cases of corroborated child sexual abuse, the victims sometimes make a series of partial confessions and recantations as they struggle with their own denial and the denial of abusers or family members. Use of denial theory in a legal setting therefore must be carefully regulated and experts' credentials verified. "Formulaic guilt" simply by "being a denier" has been castigated by English judges and academics. The main objection is that denial theory is founded on the premise that that which the supposed denier is denying is truth. This usurps the judge (and/or jury) as triers of fact.[7]

As well, to further muddy discourse, the term denial or cycle of denial sometimes gets used to refer to an unhealthy, dysfunctional cycle of unresolved coping, particularly with regard to addiction and compulsion. [6]

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