In the psychological sense, denial is a defense mechanism in which a person, faced with a painful fact, rejects the reality of that fact. They will insist that the fact is not true despite what may be overwhelming and irrefutable evidence.
There are three forms of denial:
- Simple denial is when the painful fact is denied altogether.
- Minimization denial is when the painful fact is admitted but its seriousness is downplayed.
- Transference denial is when the painful fact is admitted, the seriousness also admitted, but one’s moral responsibility in the situation involving the painful fact is downplayed.
When a person is in denial, they engage in distractive or escapist strategies to reduce stress and help them cope. The effect on their psychological well-being is unclear.
The concept of denial was formulated by Sigmund Freud and greatly elaborated on by his daughter Anna Freud in the second volume of her eight-volume Writings of Anna Freud. The concept has been around for many decades.
Denial is an important factor in public health. Based on a study of cancer patients, researchers report that up to 47% of patients deny the fact that they have been diagnosed with cancer; up to 70% deny the impact of the diagnosis upon their lives; and up to 42% deny that it has any effect upon their feelings. The researchers noted that from a psychoanalytical viewpoint, denial is a pathological, ineffective defense mechanism. On the other hand, according to the stress and coping model, denial can be seen as an adaptive strategy to protect against overwhelming events and feelings. Therein lies the appeal of denial to humans.
Denial allows someone to keep going unchanged despite reality. Denial is the path of psychological and moral least resistance. In such a psychological state, people are not at their reasoning best – easily confused, manipulated and fooled.