The Psychology of Denial

Robert J. Burrowes

Despite conclusive evidence, some people deny the ongoing climate catastrophe. Why do they do this?

If you terrorize a child out of taking action to change their circumstances for the better (for example, to get out of a situation in which they are suffering the violence of a parent), then that same terror that stopped the child changing their behaviour will also cause the child to now unconsciously delude themself that there is nothing wrong. Why?

The child must do this because the human organism is genetically programmed to be an integrated whole in which mental functions (including sensing, thinking, feeling and conscience) are intended to work together to generate the appropriate behaviour in each circumstance. If you prevent the logical behavioural outcome, you force the child’s mind to deal with this.

Initially, the child will simply repeat the original process of mental assessment and try again, one way or another, to escape the violence. But if they are repeatedly stopped from carrying out the logical behaviour, the child must find another way of dealing with the problem to restore a sense of consistency (or integration). Unfortunately, of course, this response must be dysfunctional simply because the functional response, and any functional alternatives, was repeatedly blocked.

After the child’s functional responses have been routinely blocked for some time, the child unconsciously ‘learns’ that functional behavioural responses ‘don’t work’, so they increasingly resort to deluding themself that ‘really there is nothing wrong’ (which means that they must suppress their awareness of all of the feelings – the fear, pain, anger and sadness, among others – that are telling them that there is something wrong). Once the child has suppressed awareness of these feelings, mental assessment (‘really there is nothing wrong’) and behaviour (not allowed to act for change) are consistent but, of course, only in a dysfunctional/delusional way.

If in response to every negative, dysfunctional and/or violent experience the child is thwarted from taking remedial action that leads to clearcut improvement, they become progressively more dysfunctional in their responses and increasingly deluded about the circumstances of their life. As the child grows into adulthood, their mind now routinely deludes themself that violence is not happening because, unconsciously, they feel utterly powerless to do anything about it.

One outcome of this is that many individuals are completely unable to acknowledge, in any way, the prevalence of violence in its many forms or, therefore, take action to resist it. These individuals must maintain, for their own sake, the delusion that, on the whole, violence does not happen. Why? Because to acknowledge their failure to find a way to defend themself from the violence of their own childhood will require them to feel the monumental, unconscious fear, pain, anger and sadness (among other ‘unpleasant’ feelings) that they were originally terrorized into suppressing. Clearly it is far less frightening to delude themself that the violence never happened and still isn’t happening, and to even take action to prevent the courageous efforts of others to both tell the truth about the violence and to resist it.

To summarize in simpler language: The individual pretends that everything is okay so that they can avoid feeling their fear of taking action to fix things. This is why they do not act: they are too scared. It is easier to pretend that things are okay, that is, ‘under control’, and then the fear of taking action can be ignored.

There are, of course, many other adverse outcomes of this denial process including a phenomenal variety of dysfunctionalities that adversely impact on the individual themselves, on others and on the environment. For example, many people refer to ‘climate change’ (which sounds almost benign) and some even argue that it is a natural phenomenon; some of these people accept that we will experience ongoing disasters of many kinds as a result of this ‘change’. These people are so frightened of acknowledging the genuinely catastrophic state of affairs and its human cause, as well as the visionary and powerful action that must be taken in response, that they ‘normalize’ what is taking place in a powerless way: their ‘reasonable’ manner masks their deeply suppressed terror of taking action.

What I have discussed above is the process that leads to what the literature on psychology refers to as ‘denial’ or ‘the denial of reality’. This problem has enormous implications. One fundamental outcome is that once you have terrorized a human being into ‘thinking’, ‘feeling’ and behaving in a delusional/dysfunctional way, it is extraordinarily difficult to get them to think, feel and behave functionally, because they are now unconsciously terrified of doing so. What they are ‘thinking’, ‘feeling’ and doing now is what got them approval as a child and that is terrifiedly but unconsciously locked in their mind. And the fear of even becoming aware of this, let alone feeling all of the feelings so that things might change, is overwhelming.

What can we do? Fundamentally, we must stop terrorizing children to do as we want. See ’Why Violence?’ And if you want to join the worldwide movement to end human violence in all of its guises, you are welcome to consider signing (online) ’The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’.

This article ‘The Psychology of Denial’ was originally published in various progressive news outlets in May 2013.

Source of this document: https://feelingsfirstblog.wordpress.com/key-articles/psychology-of-denial/

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