Why do so many people avoid treatment?
A man will think nothing about asking his doctor for a prescription for Viagra, but will often turn to alcohol or denial to deal with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
A woman will go in for her annual pap smear to guard against cancer, but refuses to acknowledge that her Social Anxiety Disorder is gradually shrinking her life into utter misery.
What is denial?
Denial is a concept introduced by Sigmund Freud. A person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it. Instead of dealing with it, they insist that it is not true despite what might be overwhelming evidence.
Denial is a common human failing, seen in everything from procrastination to alcohol addiction to the first reaction to a death. A person can deny a fact, a responsibility, the impact of their Anxiety on themselves and others, or even deny they are stuck in denial at all!
You can’t get help until you want help
It may seem obvious that a person can’t always be helped until they admit the need for help. But many people are self-imprisoned in a denial that they have problems that need to be addressed.
A person may say, “I didn’t want to go to that party anyway, ” when they know they are terrified of crowds and close spaces, symptoms of Agoraphobia.
“Oh, I was just daydreaming and let my thoughts return to that rape. It’s nothing,” even though this flashback took more than a minute and caused them anguish, anger and fear.
Denial of a problem is a common reason people don’t seek treatment for it, even though they are suffering. Without accepting that a problem even exists, they can’t get help for it. Just as we are often our own worst critics, people are also sometimes the opposite — the last to admit their own shortcomings or failings.
Why is it that others can see your denial but you can’t?
There are many reasons why denial is a common coping mechanism:
- Denial does work to some degree, despite its not being beneficial. It allows the person to continue to function, even though they are not functioning well.
- A person may have been brought up to believe that denial was the way people deal with irrational feelings or bad behaviors. Society reinforces this attitude with comments such as, “Just snap out of it,” “Get a grip on yourself,” or “You’re not really sick, you just need to do …”
- One can’t always see things objectively when it comes to their own behaviors and feelings. Their self-image and the facts of their lives do not match, so they hide behind denial.
- A person believes that they’re just going through a rough spot and things will get better, even though they have suffered for years with anxiety and fear.
- An individual believes that life is full of suffering, and their pain is just another example of it. It is a fatalist view of life.
How can a person overcome denial and get help?
There’s no single, easy method for helping a person overcome their denial of a problem like Panic Disorder or General Anxiety Disorder. The roots of denial are often buried deep within a person’s sense of who they are and how they were brought up to view themselves and the world. It can take a life-changing event to shake up a person’s denial. Or it can take the pressure exerted by friends and family to force them to seek treatment despite their denial.
Such an event can happen when a person’s spouse leaves them due to their Anxiety Disorder. It can happen when a person they know dies because they themselves denied their condition and committed suicide. It could be when one sees the depths of despair and emotional turmoil a friend or family member suffers, and resolve that they are not going to walk that same difficult, painful path.
Or it could just be that a person finally gets so fed up with their Anxiety hurting meaningful parts of their lives that they decide they’re going to get treatment.
Denial can be overcome
Denial is something humans learn as a coping mechanism to deal with the problems of life, however ineffective it is. It becomes a habit, whether conscious or unconscious. But like other habits, it can be unlearned as well.
It is obvious that the best way to unlearn a behavior is to admit you are doing it and seek to change it. The best way to overcome denial is to admit that you have a problem and seek help. It takes both courage and humility to do so.
A mental health professional will help you learn better, more effective and healthier ways of coping with the issues and problems that arise in your life. You will learn how to deal with the object of your denial, not only in the near term, but for the rest of your life. It’s a simple process that can be done in just a few months’ time for most people who give it a try.
What do you think?
- Has denial caused you or someone you know to delay treatment for a problem like Anxiety or a medical condition?
- How has denial played a role in your life?
Please let me know! As always, your comments are welcome!
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Resources used in this post:
ChangingMinds. Denial. Retrieved June 28, 2007 from ChangingMinds.org Web site: http://changingminds.org/explanations/behaviors/coping/denial.htm
Grohol, John. (2006, November 14). Denial is a Powerful Impediment to Treatment. Retrieved June 27, 2008 from Psych Central Web site: http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/denial-is-a-powerful-impediment-to-treatment/
Juan, Stephen. (2006, September 29). Why Are People So Often in Denial? Retrieved December 27, 2006 from The Register Web site: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/09/29/the_odd_body_denial/