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  • Help for Anxiety in Major Life Transitions: Denial

    Denial is one of the more characteristic reactions to major life transitions; a key part of help for anxiety is enabling people to gradually move beyond denial into acceptance.

    help for anxiety

    Denial has been defined as “the refusal to acknowledge the existence or severity of  unpleasant external  realities or internal thoughts and feelings.”  How can it manifest in our lives when we are undergoing major life transitions?

    “It Just Doesn’t Exist”

    Denial may take the form of a plain and simple lack of acknowledgement that a given situation or set of facts exists.  Sometimes the extent of this lack of acknowledgement can be absolutely breathtaking.  Individuals in the midst of major life transitions may deny the type of plain and straightforward facts, that at any other time they would never dream of denying.  They may even forget important facts that they have been told.

    “It Just Doesn’t Matter”

    Denial can also involve denying the emotional significance or impact of a state of affairs.  We may acknowledge intellectually the facts of the major change in our life, but still deny its emotional impact.  For example, a spouse may tell us that they are divorcing, or we may learn of the disability of a child, and even though we understand what we have been told, we go on acting as if nothing has changed, and we didn’t know.  An important part of the help for anxiety that individuals need at a time like this is help with facing this emotional impact.

    The Gift of Denial

    The ability to deny serves an important role in protecting the psyche.  It is a mechanism in the psyche that protects us from the overwhelming pain and anxiety that might otherwise crush us.  In Jung’s terms, we effectively dissociate from what we otherwise know to be the truth.  In this way, our capacity to deny may serve the Self, for a time.

    Denial and Individuation

    Denial manifests those parts of the psyche that seek to keep us in a good place, and safely away from psychological harm.  The broader Self is at work here, as is the unconscious mind.  However difficult it may be, when the time comes that we are ready to accept the denied into our conscious minds, we become more conscious, more aware …more ourselves.

    Meaningful help for anxiety works with denial, supporting us in the pain of that which is denied, and helping us to move into the acceptance we need to move into life.

    Next post: Loss.


    PHOTO:  © Bortn66 |
    1. Patrick McCurry
      October 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm -

      Hi Brian, I think you raise a really interesting theme of how denial may manifest itself in life transitions. I’ve noticed that, in therapy, I can be very tempted to forcefully challenge someone’s denial but the risk in this is that the individual is not yet ready to let go of this defence. I’ve learned to be a bit more cautious when challenging, so that I make space both for appropriate challenge and for acknowledging the value of this defence and what protective role it serves.

      1. Brian C
        October 16, 2012 at 3:22 pm -

        Thanks for you comment, Patrick. You’ve further opened up this whole issue of the psychological function of denial, and its role in the process of psychotherapy, in a very useful way. Your acknowledgement of the big question of the psychological role that the denial is serving, and its meaning, seems to me to be very important indeed. There is an important part of the art of psychotherapy which is involved here: the part that has to do with feeling and intuiting what the particular denial is doing on behalf of the client, and when the appropriate moment comes for the invitation from the therapist to move beyond it. I think that this is something to which we all need to carefully attend.

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