Thursday Thought — Denial vs. Lying

A phenomenon traditionally labeled denial is in essence an unconscious ego defense mechanism.  It’s the psyche’s natural way of protecting a person’s conscious mind from the experience of unbearable emotional pain  It’s a “this just can’t be happening” kind of reaction to an event or circumstance that occurred too suddenly, with such intensity, or was of such an unusually emotionally painful character that the person simply cannot accept its reality without going to pieces. Generally, denial is a temporary psychological state that breaks down with time and acceptance.  And true denial can happen with respect to a person’s behavior patterns, also.  This is especially true when the behavior is so unusual or so “out of character” that the person simply can’t believe he or she did it.

Unfortunately, many times both professionals and lay persons alike misuse the term denial.  I frequently hear people say that someone is “in denial,” implying that subject is in some sort of altered psychological state with the conscious mind being unconsciously prevented from seeing the reality of a circumstance.  In fact, the person purportedly in denial is simply lying.

Lying to avoid punishment is not denial.  Neither is lying to control the impression another has of you.  Lying to oneself is also not the same as denial.  Lying is lying. Denial is something else.  Sometimes, habitual liars even begin to believe their lies.  Still, this is not the same as denial.

[excerpt from Dr. George Simon’s book, Character Disturbance [Affiliate link], p204-205]

Additionally, in his post Misunderstood and Misused Psychology Terms Part 4 Dr. Simon says:

A person in a true state of denial is dealing with an emotional reality so painful that primitive unconscious mechanisms kick in to prevent their conscious mind from experiencing it.  Denial is not the same as stubbornly refusing to admit the obvious.  It’s also not the same as kidding yourself about the truth of things.  In short, denial is not conscious lying but rather unconscious protection against unbearable pain.

Now a person can make a habit of deceiving and distorting.  But that doesn’t mean they’re in denial or can’t readily recognize the truth.  It just means they’re not of a mind to acknowledge what they know to be true unless someone holds their feet to the fire.

28 thoughts on “Thursday Thought — Denial vs. Lying”

  1. Thanks TWBTC- an interesting thing, denial, it is both friend and friend denial has helped me survive 34 years in an abusive marriage, as enemy it has prevented me from ‘seeing’ the real issues… I find it is a fine line between denial and lying to oneself… it is interesting that dealing with denial is the first step of 12 step programs for recovery.. my healing has only just begun as I let go of denial and admit that I am powerless.. it is scary to move out of denial, full of uncertainty, for me it has rewritten my story, it impacts how I perceive myself and others, it’s very unsettling ..but it’s also a place from which I can truly ‘see’, from which I can truly let go and reach out to God and trust Him to rescue me.. so here I am, separated from my husband, no idea where we go from here – yes -it’s a place of great pain but I have found it is a healthier place because it is real…I feel like I can breathe, it is better for me than the years spent in denial.

  2. I’m right now, at this very moment in my life…dealing with this. Denial. One word that has huge impact.
    I just finished Dr. Simon’s book “In Sheep’s Clothing” and it was eye opening.
    I have struggled with seeing my husband as purposely doing the things he does, because for many years, I made excuses for him…he had a bad family life….his father was abusive and an alcoholic…his mother was verbally and emotionally abusive because she was trapped in a bad marriage, etc.
    I now know that my husband acts this way because he is CHOOSING to act this way!!
    He is most comfortable acting like this, so why bother to change? His lack of empathy doesn’t bother him at all…my pain, my feelings of betrayal after his two affairs…it’s no big deal!!
    His lying…over things both big and small, that’s who he truly is, and he really doesn’t see that it’s that big of a deal. He’s not in denial over his actions….he’s accepting of his actions. How scary.

    1. Lonelywife, this is all so true. It IS a CHOICE. And that lack of empathy…I have lived a long time with no understanding or compassion or empathy from him for my health situation, which is dire – something I could undoubtedly track over time as a consequence of the years in this relationship. Recently, he revealed what he really thinks about it. I mentioned my health limitations, and he sneered and scoffed at me. He was borderline laughing at me. All those years I assumed he cared at least a little even if he didn’t show it because he was a “Christian.”

      My husband is like yours with the lying, too. I think they believe they are the arbiters of when it is okay to lie, when others deserve to be told the truth and when they don’t, and so on. It then becomes as natural as breathing as there is no guilt in it. So very scary. It’s like we have to keep having this shocking thing presented to us again and again and realize over and over – is that really who he is? Can someone really be like that? It’s so surreal. May God continue to give you wisdom in your journey, Lonelywife.

      1. I’m sorry Seeing The Light. It’s a hard road we are on, isn’t it? Will be praying for you and your health problems 🙂 BTW, are you the same woman on PJs blog? Or maybe it’s DJs blog? LOL! Just wondering! 🙂

  3. It’s interesting, for a long time I described my h as being in self-denial regarding the truth of his/our reality: the marriage is over, there is no “us”, the covenant is broken, he isn’t trying his hardest, he is lying/keeping the truth from me, he isn’t changed, he isn’t doing his level-best, his behavior is abusive/manipulative. All of these things – and more – are touted as opposite both to me and his allies. He sounds really, really good to those looking in from the outside. He bandies about a checklist of “all the things he is doing” and “how deep his walk with God is now” as proof of transformation. It is really confusing for those who wish to see our marriage renewed and believe I am the fallen angel being led astray.

    Now I describe him as self-deceived, which – according to this post – is much closer to the truth. He lies. He deceives even himself. He may very well believe his own lies regarding his behavior (I don’t know – I don’t live inside his head). As hard as it is some days not to swallow his baited hook, he is not fooling me! He has a “form” of “godliness” that is devoid of True Power. It is sad that no one else recognizes that.

    “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” 2 Timothy 3:2-5

    1. Charis, somewhere in Lundy Bancroft’s book Why Does He Do That? [Affiliate link], he talks a bit about how some abusers seem to believe (or almost believe) their own lies; but whether or not they believe their own lies or are fully conscious that they are telling lies, is not important. And it’s fruitless to try to figure out how much an abuser believes his own lies.

      In my experience, trying to figure out whether or to what extent my abusers believed their own lies, was a labrynthine hall of mirrors. Trying to figure it out was a fruitless exercise. It made me feel like I was going crazy. So I gave up trying. What a relief it was to give up trying to figure out all the curlicues and double-backing convolutions of the abuser’s inner mind!

  4. So how do we deal with others that deny most everything and blame problems on everyone else? It almost “bends” your mind trying to deal with their antics. I now he is choosing to act this way toward me because he doesn’t act like this to others. I am learning more from the scriptures, this site and Leslie Vernicks’. I am also in counseling separately but with the same counselor that husband sees. I see no change in husband except he has changed how he is verbal, emotionally, financially abusive. This is so exhausting mentally and physically.

    1. Carol, in my experience, when others deny most everything and blame problems on everyone else, the safest and most effective way to deal with it is to cut contact with such people:– to avoid them.

      That’s certainly the best way to deal with abusers. And it’s often the best way to deal with allies of the abuser and with the bystanders who are ignorant and choose to remain ignorant of the dynamics of domestic abuse. That kind of bystander is very hard or next to impossible to educate. And if the victim is under a lot of stress already, as she will be if she is living with the abuser or has recently separated from him and is still wading thru all the difficulties of post separation abuse, financial entaglements with the abuser, police, family court, spiritual abuse from the church, homelessness, health problems, etc, she will almost certainly not have the energy to educate this kind of bystander.

      That kind of bystander education is now available for anyone who wants it: at this blog. So if you are in the throes of all that struggle and exhaustion, don’t burden yourself with feeling obligated that you have to educate the bystanders. If they want education, it’s now available here.

      1. I am still living with my husband who is verbally, emotionally and financially abusive. He is the one who is always denying any wrong doing of his words or actions. He wants control of “all” money and know where all money is going. There are 8 children that are minors and several older children that leave here because of economy where we live. So just leaving is not easy to do and i will not the children with him. In the State i am in I can only ask him to leave. I just feel stuck and exhausted by always having to been on alert for his antics.

      2. Hi Carol,
        Welcome to the blog. I hope you don’t mind, but because we already have a “carol” who comments on the blog I changed your screen name to Carol2. Feel free to contact me at if you have any questions about this.
        And again, welcome!
        (the woman behind the curtain)

      3. Amen, Barbara….”to cut contact with such people:-to avoid them.” The season of needing justification and people to understand my view point and agree with me was a difficult time. I almost got trapped into going crazy when he began to play the victim to me, denying things ever even happened, and with a really weird look in his eyes as he spoke. I freaked out. I was dead set against taking antidepressants and ending up in a mental ward because of him. But, thank God for this source of information and another reliable source I was able to be prepared for it and then able to back out of it. Going forward, I don’t care who agrees with me or sees it as I know it to be. I removed myself from the church after telling the pastor such. I am slowly grieving, mourning, and letting go of relationships of the past that don’t seem to be healthy for me…another feeling I am learning to discern and trust more and more.

  5. Denial vs. Lying … Now wouldn’t this be a great topic for a church to STUDY vs Discuss My Opinion? Seriously? How refreshing and healthy it would be for anyone to really feed on this. I know this short article has me thinking of how I might get others to reflect on this issue as it has helped me evaluate present and past encounters.

  6. My friend is still in denial of the facts. The most recent “facts” are that her husband is now holding his gun to his head, and yelling at her saying, “You don’t think I’ll do it, do you”. This is his new control tactic. Then when she says she will leave if indeed she is the source of his misery, he says he will kill himself if she leaves. Go figure.
    She emailed me tonight and said she doesn’t want to be responsible for him hurting himself. I told her she is not responsible for his actions in any case, and that if he really hated her that bad, he’d be glad she left.
    She then said, “What’s wrong with me?” I told her there was nothing wrong with her except she was being manipulated and traumatized by her abusive husband. Then I told her I loved her but couldn’t make her choices for her, but if I could I would urge her to leave the house surreptitiously, and seek legal and counseling advise, planning for a very long term separation, and then informing her abuser that he was going to have to understand that his behavior was not acceptable and that she wouldn’t even entertain the thought of returning to the home until he showed long term evidence of real change in his behavior.
    I am hopeful that perhaps now that she is having the bejeebers scared out of her, she may come out of her delusion and face facts.

    1. That’s what I believe as well. He’s not going to change with her there. She needs to leave, first of all for her own safety and sanity, and secondly, so her abusive husband can get his focus off her, his perceived cause of his misery, and finally so that the Lord can deal with him without distraction.
      By the way, did your husband finally shoot himself? Probably not.

    2. As someone who has experienced the threats and the reality of suicide, I can tell you most assuredly these people are not kidding! The best thing that anyone can possibly do is to remove themselves from the situation and let the chips fall where they may. It’s not your fault, you’d do not hold the keys to help and healing for these folks. There is some survivor guilt for anyone is a conscience, but it is not the victim’s job to fix the problem. There are suicide hotlines the perps can call. Our own safety must come first!

    3. So glad to hear you left for good! And yes, you can leave even when there is not a blow up happening. Sometimes it is safer to leave when things are ‘calm’. Especially if you can organise it when he is not at home, or about to come home. Then at least you may get away in safety and he may have less chance of tracking you down, depending on where you go to. High security refuges are the safest place to go. They can take you away to another town, if need be, and give you tips as to how to you cover your tracks. A victim can leave whenever she wishes to leave. There are no ‘rules’.

  7. This dialog on a talk show was really helpful to me so I wrote it down and read it over and over again when I was trying to get out of that denial fog:

    Host: “Are you worried about losing your husband OR are you worried about losing who you wish your husband was? They are 2 different things. Are you worried about losing the guy that calls you names and demeans you in front of your children OR are you worried about losing who you wish he had been when you married him?”

    Female Guest: “I am worried about losing who I want him to be.”

    Host: “But that’s NOT who he is. Life is about truth. Get out of denial.”

  8. Yesyesyes! Finally someone says what is so! Lying is not denial. It is sin. Sin done on purpose. It is lying because the abuse is almost always perpetrated against only the spouse and immediate family. Most of these abusers would dream of treating anyone else they know in such horrid fashion!

  9. Years ago, after surviving 2 hard abusive years in high school and before I had asked Jesus into my life as Savior and Lord, I had learned and believed wholeheartedly that “once an abuser, always an abuser. Leave after the first incident.” I had no doubt that the person wasn’t going to change and that the receiver of the abusive behavior needed to leave after the first incident….that it would not be the last time and it would only get worse. Somewhere in there I became a Christian. And then, it happened to me again, but this time I was married (2 1/2-3 yrs) and it was a bit different. And, as I sat on the edge of my bed thinking, “That was verbal abuse. It doesn’t matter that he didn’t hit me, it’s all the same. I have to leave. They say and I know that the first time won’t be the last time and it will only get worse. The decision I make right now will decide the course of my life.” I began to think of all the reasons why I couldn’t do it and I stayed and in fact, it got worse. But, as a Christian in a Bible-based church I got so caught up in “hyper- spiritualizing” the issue that I lost sight of the truth….they don’t change. Can they? Sure, but they hardly do and in the mean time you die little by little. I held off going to the county’s women’s resource center because it wasn’t Christian based counseling, but it is there that I got the straight talk just like you wrote above, Pastor Jeff. Thanks.

  10. I have struggled with this with my husband. He says we just have different perspectives but to me it seems like he is justifing and in denial. He was a pastor when he busted my lip by smashing his finger in my face and after i made it known to the church he said it was a “dismissive gesture” and he just needed to clip his nails and accidentally scratched me. I feel like it was abusive and he basically says i can’t move on from this unless he admits to my version of the story. I’m really baffled on how to move on from something he can’t take responsibility for.

    1. Yep. I’ve heard that before. That’s blame shifting and shame dumping. Pass. Abuse isn’t about perspectives. Either he acted in a mindset of entitlement; entitled to harm you and disrespect you, or he didn’t. If he did, he should own it. It his wrong of him to ask you to lie to yourself and others in order to “heal” the relationship. It shows that he loves the approval of man instead of his Lord and instead of his wife.

  11. Thank you, I read that article and it helped to clarify some things. One thing I’m trying to figure out, and praying for God to lead me on is- if Your husband isn’t displaying the same abusive behaviors but still doesn’t admit to what they did- How do you have reconciliation?

    1. Juiness, if your husband isn’t displaying the same abusive behaviors but still doesn’t admit to what he did, it is unsafe to have reconciliation. His refraining from the abusive behaviours is not enough to demonstrate he has truly changed.

      He is most likely refraining from them for instrumental reasons only: to try to convince you (and bystanders) that he has truly changed. But true repentance involves not just putting off the old man, but putting on the new man. If there were a new man, a truly repentant heart, he would be humbly admitting to everything he has done that has hurt you, slandered you, controlled you, maligned you, deprecated you, and manipulated others so they don’t believe you when you report his abuse. And not only would he be humbly admitting those things, he would be doing whatever may be suitable to make reparation for the harm he has done.

      Reparation can involve all sorts of things: but first and foremost it is the victim’s call what kind of things she wants him to do (and NOT do) to make reparation. Many victims don’t want ANY more contact with their abuser, so reparation would have to include the abuser refraining for any contact with her. (Necessary arrangements can be made with lawyers or other mediators.)

      You might find this Checklist for Repentance helpful.

    2. If Your husband isn’t displaying the same abusive behaviors but still doesn’t admit to what they did- How do you have reconciliation?

      Don’t reconcile with him in that case. Non-admission of what they have done is a key indicator that real change hasn’t happened. So is partial-admission done for instrumental (manipulative) reasons.

      Have you read the Checklist for Repentance? if not, I think you might find it helpful.

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