Power of Denial

Father of Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, identified three main parts of the human psyche: id, ego, and superego. The id is our wishes and desires, the ego is the mediator, and the superego is our disciplinarian. Here is an example of how the personality structure can work:

Id-“I want ice cream”

Ego- “You can have one scoop of butter pecan”

Superego- “You’re on a diet, put that spoon down!”

These three parts interact and can create internal conflicts. As humans, we do not like to feel pain, especially psychic pain; so Freud uncovered and identified different mechanisms to combat the conflict that ensues when our psychological structure is at odds. Denial is a powerful defense mechanism employed by people to avoid perceived pain.

Denial noun

            the action of declaring something to be untrue

            synonyms: contradiction, refusal, refutation, repudiation, lie

It can be hard to believe the capacity for the human psyche to engage with this powerful defense mechanism, but it happens all the time. On an individual level, denial helps us avoid potentially distressing truths about ourselves. It can be healthy, we have all engaged in denial at one point or another. (I did need to buy another pair of shoes that look exactly like the ones I’m wearing) Denial gets us through the day, and helps create consistency in distressing situations.

But what happens when denial becomes our status quo when going through life? People can live in denial for days, weeks, months, years, and even lifetimes. And depending on the depth, denial creates psychological dysfunction like depression, anxiety, dissociation, personality disorders, and can lead to premature death.

So this leads me to my next point, what happens when there is denial on a greater scale, like in a community or even a nation? Where the contradictions of facts or deception, on a national scale from governments, can lead to mass confusion and apathy, at best. Long-term denial of the reasons why a country may go to war, commit genocide, ignore famine and illness is bewildering to the individuals who are subjects in these atrocities or to those who bear witness to them. So what happens? Over time, people become enraged. This is different than day-to-day anger, and typically the longer the denial, the more intense the rage and desire for retribution.

Essentially, entire populations can experience symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; including but not limited to: flashbacks, emotional numbness, persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world, persistent feelings of fear, horror, guilt, shame, and extreme irritability.

When discussing how entire races can be effected by governmental decisions, people can be more divisive, less tolerant of other, fearful and distrusting, and vengeful. As individuals, we [frequently] lie to ourselves about a multitude of things in order to protect ourselves from painful truths.

Systemic invalidation of a population or race’s historical experience breeds rage, distrust, and intolerance. None of which promote health. Acknowledgement is the antidote to invalidation. People and populations need to feel heard, seen, and understood. And only through the un-denial can there be a hope for peace of mind or peace of nation.