Denial is a coping mechanism that many people go through subconsciously after a shocking or traumatic event takes place. If you have ever refused to look at a bill or your bank account, you have experienced denial. On a more serious note, if a friend or family member has died suddenly, you might deny that they are dead for a while. While this may sound unhealthy, it actually helps to absorb the shock experienced from a traumatic event. Gradually taking in what happened and processing it at a slow pace is helpful towards recovery. However, long-term denial can be very unhealthy and lead to bigger problems. Fortunately, there is a way to get you out of the denial phase of an incident and move on if you can’t seem to do it on your own.

Denial tends to be the first phase people experience after a highly stressful incident or a series of smaller incidents that build up, but it comes both naturally and subconsciously. It is normal for distressful events to take weeks or months to process just as it is normal for an event to take even years to recover from. People are in denial about an array of things from conflicts in their relationships, to addictions, or even to a terminal or chronic illness they may have. By experiencing denial, we are usually able to approach a solution later in a rational, reasonable manner, thereby preventing an action caused by despair or panic.

When Denial Becomes Unhealthy

When the denial fails to cease and you never seek a solution to your problem, continuing to deny that you have a problem can have dangerous, long-term effects. It is especially unhealthy if the denial itself is what is preventing you from seeking help in the first place. Problems need to be confronted for our wellbeing, because these problems can worsen over time and snowball into even bigger problems. The longer we hang on to our problems, the longer they will continue to affect us. For example, a drug addict who denies their addiction will continue to become addicted to drugs until something traumatic or life-changing eventually occurs—addicts unfortunately have the tendency to let things get too far before they realize the consequences of their actions.

While not everybody is affected by seemingly traumatic events, many people who claim to be unaffected could be in denial about what happened. Common examples include victims of rape or assault, and witnesses of shootings and other violent crimes. You tend to believe that if you ignore a problem or pretend the event never happened, it doesn’t really exist and therefore can’t hurt you. If you stop looking at your bank account and your bills, however, they’re going to pile up and you’ll end up in debt. This is similar to what other forms of denial do you in the long run. If you deny that a family member is sick and refuse to take them to a doctor, they might die suddenly from an illness and you won’t know how to handle it. If you drink before or during work regularly but insist that you’re a “functioning alcoholic” because you still work hard and get the job done, you might eventually get injured at work and fail an alcohol test, thus losing your job. Denial can have many different consequences, most of them unexpected and severe.

Effects of Denial On Other Relationships

If what you are in denial about is obvious, the people close to you are going to notice. Although they could choose to stay quiet, they might also become frustrated with you for it. They may want you to open up to them although you’re not sure how, or you might legitimately not realize that you have a problem.

Your denial and lack of action might also be directly affecting people around you. If you share your finances with other housemates and you aren’t keeping track of your income, you are putting them at risk. If you go to work drunk, your judgment is being impaired and even simple mistakes could affect your co-workers. If you don’t take a sick family member to a hospital, that family member will get sicker.

How Therapy Can Help

Therapy can help you solve these repressed problems in alternative ways that don’t involve ignoring them. This will likely involve facing the issue head-on and admitting you have a problem, sharing your thoughts and feelings about the issue, and coming up with new ways to adapt to the situation. You might need to express yourself more often, join a support group, write about your problems, share your thoughts with a friend, identify your beliefs, or ask yourself what you’re afraid of. There are many different ways you can learn to move on, and some might work better than others, but there is always a solution.

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