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Denial is Incredibly Powerful (Updated)

Current affairs in our country have reminded me of a post I wrote nearly 5 years ago about denial. I think about the psychology of denial quite often. It’s both powerful and protective but also incredibly dangerous. A definition for denialism is a person’s choice to deny reality as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth. Denialism is an essentially irrational action that withholds the validation of a historical experience or event, when a person refuses to accept an empirically verifiable reality.

It’s normal human nature to deny a harsh truth or a bitter reality. Denial is a protective mechanism to our psyche. I saw denial in dramatic fashion with my ex-wife as our marriage ended, and we’re seeing it today from many who deny we’re in a scary pandemic that will take a large number of human lives.

Fascinating Reddit Thread

Back in 2015, I read a thread on Reddit about denial that was truly shocking. The post asked readers, “What’s the most denial you’ve ever seen someone in?

Holy bananas Batman! I was truly surprised by the stories. They included:

  • A mother who insisted that her son’s wife got pregnant before they married. The mother also believed that her daughter-in-law was even pregnant at the wedding. Even though they were married in 1973 and their daughter was born in 1978 (5 YEARS LATER), this mother insisted on her version of reality. She routinely referred to his son’s wife as a Catholic whore.
  • There was a story of a grandmother who was a raging alcoholic. She sincerely believed that mixing cranberry juice with vodka magically rendered the drink as no longer intoxicating. She also insisted that wine wasn’t alcohol since it’s made from grapes. I suspect there are many in the world who have embraced this version of reality.
  • A young college student tried to convince her college’s records’ department that she really did take 5 courses that she didn’t. To convince the college, she Photo-shopped some fake transcripts (with all A’s) for her missing classes. Unfortunately for her, she did a bad job with Photoshop and she also forgot to properly re-calculate her GPA. She told her parents that the college was mistaken. The denial part came into play because her parents couldn’t believe their daughter would ever lie about such a thing. [Sarcasm mode: on] I mean, no son or daughter would ever lie to their parents or cause them to waste money.
  • A similar story had a young girl (whose email address was SweetLittlePrincess316) telling her rich father that the college refused to issue receipts for the tuition that daddy’s money paid for. The father got angry at the college after they informed him that his daughter did not take the courses she claimed, and that they never received funds for classes she never signed up for. The college Dean agreed to discuss it in person but only if the daughter came along. Naturally SweetLittlePrincess316 refused and said the college had been abusive to her and that she was afraid for her safety (even though her father would be there).
  • There’s the funny story of a girl with a boyfriend. The girl kept asking her guy friends for advice because her boyfriend wouldn’t have sex with her unless he could watch videos of male models working out. She wanted to know how to get her boyfriend to stop that. Meanwhile, her boyfriend also insisted that he only “do her” from behind. The girl insisted that “he’s not gay… he just has this weird hangup“.
  • The saddest tale regarded an EMT who was called to an apartment complex due to complaints of a very foul smell. The EMT was welcomed by a lovely elderly man who seemed quite lucid, but he indicated he hadn’t called for any help. To his horror, the EMT discovered a shriveled up dead woman in the back bedroom. The husband insisted that they were deluded and that his wife was still alive and well. He even had a conversation with his dead wife while the EMT’s were processing paperwork for the case. Truly a sad story.

Denial can be incredibly powerful, can’t it? When I originally wrote this post in 2015, I concluded by sharing thoughts about my spiritual journey and the power of denial that’s at play for anyone who wrestles with compelling information that contradicts strongly held beliefs.

Here in 2020, we’re witnessing denial for coronavirus. I have witnessed friends and family who are still referring to this pandemic as “no worse than the flu”. It’s been seriously downplayed. We can partly thank our friends at Fox News and talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones. And of course, Donald Trump.

I wonder how our country would be faring right now, if we had a president like Obama at the helm during this pandemic? No doubt there would be vocal critics no matter who was at the top. But still, I think even Pee Wee Herman would have done a better job.



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