Denial is a common psychological condition which people use in a number of circumstances. Often it is associated with addiction and other negative connotations and is therefore labelled as being a negative influence on our lives. This is, however, not always the case because denial is the first of the many stages of grief and it plays an important role in coping with such a traumatic event.
It is commonly observed when somebody suffers bereavement that their instinctive reaction is disbelief, they tell others that “it cannot be true” or that their loved one will walk through the door and prove them wrong. Often these rants are misinterpreted and misunderstood. It is not the case that they do not understand the issue and the notion of death, their minds simply cannot comprehend the idea that they will no longer see that person because that would mean dealing with the pain. Denial is not a case of misunderstanding the situation and lying about what has happened, it is a barrier, and a very important one at that.
Denial as an important coping mechanism.
Denial may seem like it is unhealthy, that it is a form of avoidance and no bereavement can benefit from it, but denial needs to happen before the necessary pain can be felt. Denial in no way means that the sufferer is simply ignoring the issue; it is instead a coping strategy. The person in question is not ready to feel the pain and the guilt that will come with it so denial serves its purpose for a while. What is unhealthy is being stuck there for too long and not moving on.
If you wish to help somebody who is currently going through denial, such as a recently bereaved friend or family member, this means appreciating this level of their grief and above all respecting it. If you let people wallow there for too long then yes they will have difficulty progressing to the next level and releasing their pain, however it is not advantageous to push them into this second stage before they are ready. Denial is a protective barrier than can only be lifted effectively once the sufferer is ready. Taking it away from them is like knocking down that wall with a bulldozer and letting every ounce of pain flood in. It needs to be dealt with brick by brick at your relative’s pace; that way once the pain and guilt are gradually exposed they can be coped with much more easily.
Understanding denial is the key to progression.
There is no straight acceptance of death, even when we are prepared for the event – such as with a terminal illness – it is impossible to simply state that someone is OK with the fact. To do so would in itself be a form of denial. The point that is trying to be made here is that denial should not be perceived in such a negative light and underestimated. It is a healthy part of the grieving process despite what others may say, and one that needs to be handled carefully. If you can help your loved ones do this effectively then you will be a great comfort to them and an important part of the long journey they are facing.
Dealing with the death of a loved one is extremely difficult and using denial to cope is very common, in fact denial is a very common element in society today. I recently read this article about humans living in denial and lying and it certainly got me thinking.