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.