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  • Tony Georgiadis

Acknowledging The Defence Mechanism of Denial to tackle anxiety and depression

Before discussing how one might acknowledge being in denial, let's unpack the terminology. "Acknowledging" refers to the idea of becoming conscious of a situation, thought, or feeling and confronting it, rather than consciously or unconsciously ignoring it, which is described as being in denial. Denial is a passive behaviour and a psychological defence mechanism that can be harmful in the long run if not addressed.

On a quest to find the root cause of denial, navigating away from depression and anxiety

You might be wondering, why would I ignore a situation, thought, or feeling? Why would I be in denial? The answer most probably lies in what it means to acknowledge things. For example, one may be experiencing a physical health issue and symptoms but choose - consciously or unconsciously - to ignore them out of fear of facing a serious health problem, which feels too scary and unbearable; or it may stem from fear that they won't receive the support they need or that they will upset others around them. In such cases, being in denial may be detrimental to one's life. Similarly, this may occur with mental health difficulties. One may be experiencing troubling feelings or difficult thoughts and choose to ignore them and just carry on with life. In such cases, confronting the emotions arising from acknowledgment of our issues is often preferable to addressing the underlying issues directly. In the long run, using denial as a defence mechanism may lead to more serious issues, such as depression, panic or anxiety attacks and further disconnect with the self and life. Acknowledging being in denial is a crucial first step towards breaking the potentially harmful habit of ignoring what needs our attention. However, this requires the development of a new habit: feeling comfortable with sitting with our own thoughts and feelings without distraction.

Sitting with our own thoughts and feelings

In today's fast-paced life, several sources of distraction may present themselves and in various forms. We might choose to spend large parts of our days at work, attempting to escape from a dysfunctional relationship, for instance. We might isolate ourselves by scrolling on our phones for hours or simply watching TV. None of the above is necessarily harmful; however, it is important to understand the intent behind the behavior, particularly whether we unconsciously introduce distractions into our lives to avoid dealing with physical and mental health difficulties and confronting our own truth. Therapy models the idea of carving out personal time to think with the help of a therapist who is trained to facilitate introspection and deep reflection. Having uninterrupted time to sit with our own thoughts and feelings is crucial in dealing with the psychological defence mechanism of denial. It can be very challenging, especially when we are not accustomed to being alone with ourselves, to observe how we feel and what we think. Establishing this new relationship with ourselves is a unique process for each individual; one might choose to introduce walks, journaling, meditation, or start therapy. Such activities can enable and develop a thinking process that allows us to transition from "doing" to just "being", connect us with our creative minds and further develop our empathy and ability to connect with others around us.

Regardless of the method chosen, it is important to become aware of this potentially harmful psychological defence mechanism, which may manifest in various forms and lead to an inability to address what troubles us. This post may serve as a starting point for reflection: when was the last time you spoke openly to yourself about your worries, concerns, and dissatisfaction with your life?

Tony Georgiadis Psychotherapist and Counsellor


Tony Georgiadis - Psychodynamic Psychotherapist and Counsellor (MBACP)


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