I am blessed with some friends who do the unusual. One of them is Ashwani. He was reading Dan Brown’s Inferno and came across a number of instances of “Denial”. He pieced together a collage from that book and other sources, into a fascinating and coherent narration and sent it to me. Here it is.

“A subject that fascinates me – Denial.

The human mind has a primitive ego defense mechanism that negates all realities that produce too much stress for the brain to handle. It’s called denial.

People have heard of denial but don’t think it exists. But it’s very real. Denial is a critical part of the human coping mechanism. Without it, we would all wake up terrified every morning about all the ways we could die. Instead, our minds block out our existential fears by focusing on stresses we can handle – like getting to work on time or paying our taxes. If we have wider, existential fears, we jettison them very quickly, refocusing on simple tasks and daily trivialities.

A recent web tracking study of students at some Ivy League universities revealed that even highly intellectual users displayed an instinctual tendency towards denial. According to the study, the vast majority of university students, after clicking on a depressing news article about arctic ice melt or species extinction, would quickly exit that page in favour of something trivial that purged their minds of fear; favourite choices included sports highlights and celebrity gossip.

That’s why sometimes a situation/action that seems impossible is not impossible, just unthinkable.”

Thank you Ashwani.

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34 Responses to Denial.

  1. Ursula says:

    I am a little sceptical (HA) about denial. Only joking.

    Blending out the unsettling occasionally I wouldn’t call denial. If, come Monday morning, I concentrated on the world falling apart I might lose all motivation to start the week. Just sit it out. Till starvation does get the better of me.

    The closest the concept of denial I understand is what the ostrich does. Head in the sand. And I did it once with a most unfortunate result. However, and this is maybe where I am in denial of denial, even if your head IS in the sand so is your poor mind. In other words: You may not wish to face consequences but you know full well that “it” (whatever it is) will not go away. Though should you have the misfortune (mine) of being an optimist erring on the side of being totally unrealistic then, yes, you maybe in for a nasty surprise. You hope that by the time you emerge from your sand (if only to get some air) it’ll have all blown over. When in fact, more likely, it will have blown up.

    Ursula recently posted..Laboratory

  2. shackman says:

    That exists is what I call a blinding flash of the obvious. l suppose they myriad forms of denial may be debatable. I like this one – denial is a mechanism of the immature mind, because it conflicts with the ability to learn from and cope with reality.

  3. To quote myself, “The quality of our lives depends on how we focus our energy and our attention.” It’s not denial to choose what to focus on. Yes, life is transient — there are all sorts of nasty things waiting to get us. That’s no reason to make good use of the time we have left.
    Cheerful Monk recently posted..Power and Virtue

    • You are right to the extent that you can divert your attention to something else to conserve your energy and reduce stress in situations where such a tactic works. Denial is when one completely denies that a situation exists. Say like someone who is an alcoholic but who does not believe that he is.

      • Of course. I’m curious. Why didn’t you use examples like that in your post?
        Cheerful Monk recently posted..Power and Virtue

        • It was basically a reproduction of my friend’s thoughts. Both he and I use the word ‘denial’ in that context because both of us have had to tackle denial in our own lives that in many respects have parallels. I just could not imagine there being another interpretation.

  4. nick says:

    I agree with Ursula and Jean. Denial is not the same as transferring your attention to something else. I can be well aware of some horrific tragedy unfolding somewhere in the world, but deliberately transfer my attention to something I can actually influence and improve. Or enjoy. I don’t think there’s much that I truly deny in the sense of refusing to acknowledge its existence.
    nick recently posted..Good mothers

  5. tammyj says:

    i was in complete denial when my bob was diagnosed with cancer and given only so many months to live. i kept fighting almost to the end.
    and now… looking back at my youthful (33) inability to face the reality of it … i think i robbed him of the chance to share his death with me. and possibly his own fears. yes. i know there is denial. and it’s probably not a good thing sometimes.
    another thought provoking post my friend. thank you.
    tammyj recently posted..a pontificating peanut break!

    • Ursula says:

      What a heartbreaking point you make, Tammy. I am the last person to put a faux shine on anything yet I’d say: Maybe your ‘denial’ gave Bob strength in its own way, and a realization how much you loved him. As they say, in the end we are alone. Which doesn’t mean we don’t have people right at our side.

      Ursula recently posted..Bullish

    • tammy,
      Don’t forget, Bob didn’t fall in love with someone older and more mature. He fell in love with you.
      Cheerful Monk recently posted..Power and Virtue

    • I can relate to that experience Tammy. I do not pass judgement on whether it is good or bad. I simply accept that denial is a mechanism that we all take shelter in under some conditions.

  6. wisewebwoman says:

    I agree with other commenters in that denial and deliberate avoidance are two different aspects entirely.
    For instance I am deliberately avoiding climate change reality as I feel so absolutely powerless (and old) and hope that the younger more energetic generations will protest, etc.
    wisewebwoman recently posted..Renewal

  7. Grannymar says:

    If I quote Mark Twain with “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”, is that denial of the seriousness of your topic?
    Grannymar recently posted..Thursday special ~ An Irish Funeral

  8. Anita says:

    This is a great post, and is very true. Besides existential fears that may cause utter chaos and panic attacks, this coping mechanism kicks in even in many everyday, seemingly ordinary, inconsequential events. A simple example is forgetting to take your tablets. The natural human tendency is to push back the thought of anything that causes us stress (in this particular case, having an illness or disease). Denial of ill-health causes signals to the brain to say we’re fine. The subtle message sent is: I needn’t bother to remember to take my meds because I can’t really be ill. Intelligence, rational thought and logic bear down to counteract this, and are psychological weapons that help us face our fears.

  9. tammyj says:

    thank you.
    tammyj recently posted..a pontificating peanut break!

  10. Looney says:

    I am wondering if maturity is when we embrace denial to the point that we can calmly face everything that happens around us.

  11. Not all people think it doesn’t exist. I have to work with folks on denial every day!
    Secret Agent Woman recently posted..More Avian Adventures

  12. Max Coutinho says:

    Hi Rummy,

    As part of my job, I read stressing or dramatic news (i.e. terrorism, national security issues, politics, corruption etc etc) and I don’t shy away from it – could it be said that I can’t afford to yield to denial? Don’t know; perhaps, I yield to it in other areas…but I haven’t stopped to analyse it yet.

    But I agree that denial, like the Great Creator, exists even though we may not see it 🙂

    Thank you, Ashwani and Rummy. Food for thought :D.

    Max Coutinho recently posted..Maxiavelli: Arguments of Gays Opposing Gay “Marriage”

  13. Max Coutinho says:

    Yes, it is…Looney and I can’t wait to get there :).
    Max Coutinho recently posted..Maxiavelli: Arguments of Gays Opposing Gay “Marriage”

  14. One person’s denial is another’s positive thinking. Personally, I believe that denial is a god-given right:) Can’t find the image that comes to mind…when I google “denial” it brings up a real can of worms.
    Talk to Me…I’m Your Mother recently posted..Perfection

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