Reality is inescapable. Denying what is real only pushes us further into the problem we are trying to deny. It has often been said that insanity is the act of repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results. Denial allows one us to chase after the always non-existent “different results” and keeps us trapped in the same, inevitable results.

That should simplify things. Reading the above paragraph implies that the remedy for denial is to simply “turn it off.” Psychiatric texts discuss denial as an unconscious defense mechanism that buffers individuals from feeling anxiety. It allows us to stay steeped in that “protection” even though we are not aware that we are denying anything.

If one is we are unaware of something, then it is not possible to consciously “turn it off.” I believe the urge to avoid anxiety can cause us to use denial even if doing so were a conscious decision. Conscious or not, denial keeps us from realistically dealing with our problems. So, we are trapped between the proverbial “rock and a hard spot.”  Do we face reality and confront/experience anxiety—-or do we hang on to our denial and keep expecting different results?

Working a twelve step program gives people tools they can use to avoid the trap of denial. One woman stated in her story of recovery (Crossing the River of Denial in Alcoholics Anonymous , 4th Ed., 2001, p. 334), “For almost twenty three years I had done something nearly every day of my life to change reality to one degree or another….” .  Thus, this woman used alcohol to help her deny her reality. She continued to drink in spite of adverse consequences until she stopped denying she was an alcoholic. The rest of “her story” describes how she worked AAs steps and started experiencing reality differently:

“So, here I am, sober. Successful. Serene. just a few of the gifts of the program for surrendering, suiting up, and showing up for life every day. Good days and bad days, reality is a wild ride, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” (Alcoholics Anonymous , 4th Ed., 2001, p. 337).

These two quotes from AA’s “Big Book” illustrate how different one’s experience of reality is once denial no longer distorts it. Reading the “Book Book” has convinced me the only way I can combat the force of denial in by life is by working the 12 step program it describes. If I accept that compulsive self-destructive behaviors only worsen my problems and, choose, instead, to practice the steps of recovery, then I am living in the solution to my problems rather than in the illusion that allows my problems to escalate.

I am interested in reading your comments about the concept of denial and what part it plays in your life. Please share your comments. Thanks!