Why we should stop saying people are “in denial”

“Well,” she said over a cup of coffee. “She’s just in denial about him.”

When someone uses a buzzword, I tend to stop listening. People say someone’s “in denial” all too frequently, especially when it comes to any kind of sickness. The woman who said it was referring to a woman who doesn’t seem to understand the severity of her cancer. “What do you mean by that?” I asked.

“She doesn’t want to see that she’s sick.”

Ah, the common understanding of what it means to be “in denial” rears its ignorant head. I really don’t think anyone can’t see that they’re sick. The reality is that people know that they’re sick, but the pain of knowing is so great that allowing themselves to feel it threatens them to their soul. Denials are, effectively, masks that a person uses to hide from facing the despair that has welled up inside of the core of his or her being. The greatest danger of these masks is that they often become projected onto those unfortunate to be around the person affected with despair. These projections then lead to further isolation, which then leads to hell on earth: the immutable and permanent life without love. Life for those who live from the fetters of their denials are living through masks that prevent life. It’s not that they can’t see, it’s that they see all too clearly.

What I propose is that we all stop using the phrase “in denial.” What we should do is allow a person room to process their pain in their own way. See, someone may not be handling their situation in a way that we would like, and maybe they never will. But, as I’ve said a million times, I can’t tell poeple what’s right for them. Only they know what’s best for them. Now, people do act in unhealthy ways, but until they’re willing to strip away the masks that prevent them from understanding their truth.

That’s the challenge for clinicians: To provide tools without prescribing the ways clients apply them. It’s not easy as most clinicians believe they offer good solutions. But really, no one can fix anyone else. Poeple do, however, have what they need inside of themselves, they just sometimes don’t see them. Only when they’re ready to confront their abyss do people find their truth. Still, they aren’t “in denial.”


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