Sigmund Freud Quote
Sigmund Freud Quote (Photo credit: Psychology Pictures)

Denial is a Freudian defense mechanism in which a harmful or painful aspect of the self (or the subjective content of a distressing experience) is denied. A very broad concept, denial can involve feelings of depression, worthlessness, crankiness and anxiety. According to Melanie Klein, denial can be followed by splitting and projection.

The concept is valuable in helping others overcome traumatic experiences, such as child abuse or, for that matter, in redirecting individuals away from damaging addictions. But the idea can be egregiously misused by non-specialists.

In everyday usage we often hear people saying that someone else is “in denial.” The criticism could refer to some problem that the denying person apparently is not addressing. But those making that judgement often don’t know the whole story behind the (allegedly) denying person’s attitudinal and behavioral choices. So a deeply spiritual person, for instance, might be accused of “being in denial” by a materialistic person who cannot understand why the spiritual person believes and behaves in a certain way.

A word of caution then. Those who say others are in denial might in some instances be telling us more about their own ignorance of the spiritual life than of the slighted person’s avoidance of things they supposedly don’t want to deal with.

Freud himself would not have seen it this way because he was a materialist who didn’t believe in God. And this was, despite all of Freud’s pioneering genius, his greatest flaw and limitation. For any psychological theory that omits the healing power of God’s love is bound to fall short, somewhere along the line.


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