Denial: a destructive type of defense mechanism

Denial: a destructive type of defense mechanism

Through the symbol of denial, thinking is freed from the restrictions of repression and enriched with essential contents for its operation" Sigmund Freud


  • 1 Frame of denial in Psychoanalysis
  • 2 Thanatos and denial
  • 3 Intellectual function of the trial
  • 4 Toxic dependencies and denial
  • 5 Sexual abuse against minors and denial of conflict
  • 6 Helping personality and denial
  • 7 Denial as disabling of change

Frame of denial in Psychoanalysis

Defense mechanisms are unconscious psychological strategies in an attempt by the Self to maintain balance. The denial consists in the possibility of affirming something in the trial and / or the speech, on condition that said affirmation can be challenged, putting a negative expression. The ability to affirm or deny something comes from thought as a judgment, it develops in the context of free association.

Melanie Klein says that in this mechanism, the self identifies itself with the idealized internal objects, thus counteracting the persecutory threat, thus describing a defense by the self, which results primitive and even violent, because the impulses and fantasies of psychic reality are denied, as well as the objects that disturb external reality, which are considered non-existent.

Thanatos and denial

When a person lacks acceptance about a problem, partially disables its own power to make the necessary adjustments and that a favorable change is generated. However, accepting a problem, "recognizing that things are being done badly," would require immense effort, perhaps even involving pain and suffering, "letting go. certain pleasures, people, objects or even situations that are being destructive.

Denial belongs to Thanatos waves death drives that tend toward self-destruction. The statement, however, corresponds to Eros, that human tendency towards union and the conservation of life.

Intellectual Function of the Judgment

Sigmund Freud affirmed that “denying something in the trial means in the end: this is something that I would rather repress. The function of the intellectually speaking judgment is to affirm or deny the ideological contents. The prosecution is an intellectual substitute for repression, and its refusal represents its distinctive judgment.

By denying something you avoid and then affirm, in the trial or speech, it means that the person would prefer to repress, so It is a symbolic operation.

Jean Hyppolite: “Denation”

In the seminar of Jacques Lacan (1954), Jean Hyppolite includes the term “denation ” or denial. Freud later describes it as: a verbal mechanism through which the repressed is recognized negatively. It is recognized without accepting it in an attempt to suppress what is repressed. It implies denying something by affirming another argument that continues to hold what was denied at the same time.

"Not at all. I was not the one who ate the cookies, I don't know how those daddy crumbs came to my room ”, the denial represents the rejection of a statement made or attributed to the person, Cognitively it can be a rejection of perception before an event that is imposed in the outside world.

Toxic dependencies and denial

It can also be observed in serious personality disorders and dependencies, the use of denial, is a defense of the very rescued I, because together with others, such as rationalization, the subject Although he can sometimes identify the repressed, he continues to defend himself by denying that what is attributed to him belongs:

  • “You are going out with Paty again, my friends saw you in the cafe the other afternoon, hand in hand with her. You promised last week you wouldn't do it anymore. ”
  • Do not! How do you think, I'm going to break the promise I made to you again, they probably confused me.

Denial is a kind of cancellation, to avoid internal conflict and with others, as in the case mentioned above. In substance dependencies, something similar happens, because the person who has an addiction may be rejecting reality for the same reasons, thus avoiding a “more problem” with people who care about him; it can be justified by saying that “he denies it for them; so they don't worry, because in reality: it is not so much”, thus minimizing the consequences of his actions, in himself and in others.

Mainly, this occurs in the early stages of the dependencies, the same patient “believes” that he is not dependent on said substance or person and that he can leave it when he wishes, a typical argument of the dependents. This defense mechanism It implies a vicious circle that goes from blame to denial and vice versa.

Parents who have the disease of alcoholism or with dependencies on substances, behaviors or people, and who are in denial, can do much harm to those who live with them, by the very nature of their disease. However, the dependents they tend to underestimate the effects of their behavior, thus making their condition more chronic, since there is no surrender to itBecause they don't even perceive it as a threat to their health, this is an example of phrases that we can hear in these people:

  • "I'm not an alcoholic, I take too much at times, but I can quit whenever I want, I just don't want to because I don't affect anyone with what I do and it's my body."

Sexual abuse against minors and denial of conflict

In the clinic, it can be observed that in cases of child sexual abuse, it is very common for the aggressor to use this archaic resource, since recognizing it would be to admit his crime even and would have to assume the consequences of it, so they deny it, when They try to confront them, they can justify it: “I don't know what happened to me, the boy was trying to provoke me sexually, of course”, “I didn't do that, he's lying, I'm going to punish him and I'm going to hit him so he can take away Liar, let's see if he comes back with those stories. Just try to get attention. ”

The intellectual substitute for repression is adverse judgment, It functions as an exhaust valve of what is being repressed. Denial arises in two areas: discordance and foreclosure. According to Jacques Lacan, the forclusion “it is a specific mechanism that operates in psychosis, by means of which the rejection of a fundamental signifier, expelled from the symbolic universe of the subject occurs ”.

Denial goes beyond the direct aggressor, in these cases of abuse, because it is very frequent that when the child is armed with courage to tell his mother, for example, that the father is constantly assaulting him sexually; the mother, unable to deal with this great conflict, can cognitively reject what is happening: "It can't be what you're telling me, your father would be incapable of something like that," thus becoming another aggressor for the child.

In cases of sexual abuse in children, the statistics are disturbing. However, it is even more alarming, than because of the nature of this, and precisely because of the confabulated denial, in so many events of this type, the crime is not reported by the victims, which also they may fall into denial to make their reality more tolerable and not collapse, thus aggravating the situation.

The content of a repressed image or thought may, therefore, make way for consciousness, under the condition of being denied. Denial is a way of realizing the repressed" Sigmund Freud

There is then a dissociation between affection and intellect. The individual or the child, in the example I set out: knows that he has a problem, through repression and denial, dampens the feelings, thoughts and emotions that are linked to the content of the conflict.

Denial can go very far, in cases of sexual abuse among relatives, it is common for aggressors to minimize the consequences of what they do. As well as among other members of society who take advantage of their status of authority or their popularity for the same purposes.

Helping personality and denial

"Together with other defense mechanisms, within denial, fantasies can be built, such as castles in the air, in order to make existence bearable."

The excessively helping personality usually uses this defense; Therefore, we find in clinical work that many times people who usually try to fix the lives of others, many of them they do it because they cannot resolve their own conflicts, and by helping others they feel some relief in their anguish.

The extremes can be harmful, especially when "the helper" tries to control and manage the lives of others under the pretext of helping someone, when he puts himself at risk or sacrifices his well-being and his health too much and constantly, the person is usually unaware of this. It is positive to help others and be kind; However, in order to help others, it is important first to help oneself, the right medium is balance.

It is common for people who are in denial of their own conflict, who decide to start a psychological treatment "to help someone who cares", because they live under the denial of their own problems, which acts in defense of the self.

Denial as disabling of change

Conflicts and gaps can be very challenging, as well as difficult to face. Nevertheless, when there is acceptance, you can extract the best of experiences. It requires sustained will, a constant effort, which sometimes involves falling and rising many times.

By using this defense mechanism, the person's power to make changes is partially disabled, recognition of character defects is necessary, in order to modify them, for example. How could something be changed to improve if there is no awareness that there is "something wrong?"

To parents with children who have different abilities or a serious physical, psychological or psychiatric condition, also they have to cross the denial barrier, accept the condition in order to begin to treat it properly and in a timely manner, according to the treatment proposed by health professionals, thus providing a better quality of life and containment for the children.

It also happens, when they report to the tutors, some inappropriate behavior or manifestation of symptoms of other conditions that their children might have: "I do not believe what he tells me, my son is very well." In this way, the person faces a emotional conflict, threatening, painful reality or stress, refusing or "refusing" to recognize a conflicting aspect of the situation, which it could be very obvious to others. This type of yoic defense can attribute or undo property to a person, situation or object.

This is only possible by accepting the obvious, how could a person who lacks the discernment that has it be treated? The same goes for dependencies on people, behaviors and substances.


The intellectual substitute for repression is adverse judgment, it belongs to the instinct of destruction, with its implications. In complex processes, where you have to let go to a person, either because it is harmful to interact with them, to overcome the arduous course of mourning, when there is a serious condition, either of a loved one or of the individual himself; one of the first frontiers to be torn down is precisely denial, to give way to acceptance, and thus begin to work on the changes required to have biopsychosocial health.

You may be interested:
The Repression and his masks
The Projection as a defense of the I

Bibliographic references

  • Roudinesco, E. (1999). The battle of one hundred years. History of Psychoanalysis in France (1885-1939). Volume I. Spain: Editorial Fundamentals.
  • Freud, Sigmund (1981). Complete works of Sigmund Freud. Volume III. 4th. Edition. Spain: New Library Editorial.
  • Bleichmar, N. M .; Lieberman, C. and Cols. (1989). Psychoanalysis after Freud. Mexico: Eleia Editores.
  • Hall, Calvin, S. (1990). Compendium of Freudian psychology. Mexico: Paidós.
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