Denial: believing or imagining that some painful or traumatic circumstance, event or memory does not exist or did not happen.

Denial (in psychology): failure to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion or to admit into consciousness, used as a defense mechanism.

“So, does denial really exist? And if it does, how does it work?”

This question was asked to Dr. Carl Alasko, a family therapist and expert writer for Psychology Today. Dr. Alasko nailed his point home: “Yes, denial (of reality) exists.”

The more important questions, which Dr. Alasko answers, are How and Why denial exists.

After all, we humans are gifted with a powerful brain; along with a remarkable ability to analyze information. Certainly, we could comprehend basic facts, right?

Apparently, it’s not that easy. Here’s why:

  • “It’s an oversimplification to believe something is either true or false,” says. Dr. Alasko. Our ability to produce complex emotions can interfere with something basic as seeing the truth.
  • “Ideology, inertia, momentum, impulsiveness, and stubbornness (can) easily relegate facts to a far corner.” Dr. Alasko uses how we spend money as an example of these emotions.
  • Reality is often interpreted as constricting.
  • Sometimes the truth is too painful to admit – an unfortunate psychological event that is often the consequence of trauma.

In wrapping up his response, Dr. Alasko makes a powerful statement:

“There is an immutable fact about denial: it does not work – long term. Reality always wins.” 

Cognitive Dissonance and Denial


‘Cognitive Dissonance’…99 percent of us do it

Some of the things we need to hear are either disregarded or substituted for things we want to hear.

Re-read that sentence. Go ahead.

Why would we substitute or disregard truth?


Denial! Denial, denial, denial.

A quick word…

Many spiritual leaders, past and present, speak on the importance of abstaining from hypocrisy. Why? Because it’s both disingenuous and immoral – and potentially dangerous (e.g., someone experiencing trauma.)

Specific topics, such as the one we’re discussing, require us to take a non-judgmental and delicate approach. Let us be tolerant and leave hypocrisy at the door.

The five behaviors of being in denial:

So far, we’ve discussed the mystery that is denial and the inherent emotional bias that most of us possess, the latter being the most common reason we engage in the act in the first place.

Now we’re going to talk about how denial looks. More specifically, the behaviors and thought processes someone exhibits when in a denial phase.

Let’s go!

1. Stress

Denial, especially that which results from cognitive dissonance, often appears as anxiety. Anger is another way that people cope with stress. This behavior could manifest as emotional outbursts, snapping at someone, or displaying unusually volatile mood swings.

All of these behaviors are the result of your subconscious mind’s attempt to bring the problem to the surface. The issue, of course, is that the parts of the mind are resisting such efforts.

2. Making excuses

Denial and excuse-making are two peas in a pod. When you routinely hear someone say “I didn’t, because …” “Here’s what happened…” “Sorry I’m irresponsib- LATE!” there’s a problem.

Okay, so the third is a bit of a stretch. But you get the idea.

We’ve all had a tough stretch, and we’ve all made dumb mistakes. We’ve all made excuses for both. The problem is when a person remains in denial about their poor decisions and “solves” them by making excuses. Spoiler: it doesn’t work.

3. Playing the victim (sometimes)

Why ‘sometimes?’ Unfortunately, as we’ve discussed, some people in denial have been victimized; a fact that continues to wear on their psyche. In turn, the conscious and subconscious are engaged in a seemingly unending battle.

Here’s a sentence dedicated to people out there facing such difficult circumstances – we dearly hope you find peace and acceptance.

Playing the victim most strongly correlates with cognitive dissonance. A person is aware of an uncomfortable truth; yet childishly acts as if they have no control. This is playing victim – something that’s irresponsible and self-defeating.

4. Regret

Regret sucks­ – that’s the lesson here. Here’s why regret sucks:

  • It is useless (thanks, Marlon Brando!)
  • Regret is pointless
  • It is self-defeating
  • Regret can rob you of a better future
  • It does rob you of the present

In short, regret can weigh heavily on a person’s heart and mind. Saying “I wish I would’ve done this…” solves nothing. The person must learn acceptance, or they’ll be dealing with regret – and its consequences – for a while.


5. Low self-confidence

No matter the extent to which denial becomes part of our behavior, self-image is inevitably affected. It’s affected because we’re intelligent!

The mind and brain recognize the pattern of denial; it innately knows that we’re engaging in the act of self-deception.

Our mind will only regain equilibrium once we see denial for what it truly is:

An illusion.