When Living in Denial is Healthy

by Tor Constantino

Take_up_your_CrossIf you’ve ever used the phrase, or been accused of “living in denial,” you know that those three words tend to have a particularly negative connotation. Within the field of mental health and psychological counseling, the concept of denial is a tactic the mind uses to detach from painful external or internal circumstances by refusing to accept reality.

It’s widely believed that this avoidance approach to life is most often used when individuals lack the necessary coping skills to face situations that might produce trauma, conflict or anxiety.

Denial is frequently associated with the death of a loved one, when the survivor refuses to accept the finality of their loss as well as the corresponding shock and pain. Other times, denial may accompany a chronic or acute health diagnosis that the patient rejects to avoid the possible pain of treatment and uncertain outcome.

Additionally, the denial defense mechanism is virtually a cliché when it’s used to describe alcoholics, smokers, substance abusers, gamblers or other addictive practitioners who tell themselves they can quit their destructive behavior of choice “anytime” they want. 

Furthermore, examples of group denial include those who claim that the Holocaust never occurred, astronauts never landed on the moon or that schoolchildren hiding under their desks during “Cold War” bombing drills could survive a nuclear attack.

In almost all areas of life, “living in denial” is associated with a weakness and is generally considered a  bad thing—except for one area, and that’s when someone chooses to live in denial of themselves.

One of the most powerful statements attributed to Jesus can be found in the New Testament book of Matthew, chapter 16, verse 24: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

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