Denial a destructive type of defense mechanism

Jonah Lester
Denial a destructive type of defense mechanism

"Through the symbol of denial, thinking frees itself from the restrictions of repression and enriches itself with essential content for its operation." Sigmund Freud


  • Framing of denial in Psychoanalysis
  • Thanatos and denial
  • Intellectual function of judgment
    • Jean Hyppolite: "Dénégation"
  • Toxic dependencies and denial
  • Sexual abuse of minors and denial of conflict
  • Helper personality and denial
  • Denial as disabling of change
    • Conclution
    • Bibliographic references

Framing of denial in Psychoanalysis

Defense mechanisms are unconscious psychological strategies in an attempt of the ego to maintain balance. Denial consists of the possibility of affirming something in the trial and / or speech, provided that said affirmation can be challenged, placing a negative before the 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 ego identifies itself with the idealized internal objects, thus counteracting the persecutory threat, thus describing a defensive on the part of the ego, which is primitive and even violent, since impulses and fantasies are denied. of psychic reality, as well as objects that disturb external reality, which are considered non-existent.

Thanatos and denial

When a person lacks acceptance about a problem, he partially disables his own power to make the necessary adjustments and generate a favorable change. However, accepting a problem, “recognizing that things are being done wrong”, would require an immense effort, perhaps it would even imply pain and suffering, “letting go” of certain pleasures, people, objects or even situations that are being destructive.

Denial belongs to the Thanatos or the death drives that tend toward self-destruction. The affirmation, on the other hand, corresponds to Eros, that human tendency to union and to preserve life.

Intellectual function of judgment

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

By denying something, it is avoided and then affirmed, in the trial or speech, it means that what the person would prefer is to repress, so it is an operation of a symbolic nature.

Jean Hyppolite: "Dénégation"

In Jacques Lacan's seminar (1954), Jean Hyppolite includes the term “denégation” or denial. Freud later describes it as: a verbal mechanism by means of which the repressed is recognized in a negative way. 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 support what was denied at the same time.

"No not at all. I was not the one who ate the cookies, I don't know how those crumbs got to my room, daddy ”, the denial represents the rejection of a statement made or attributed to the person, cognitively it can be a rejection of the perception before a event that is imposed on the outside world.

Toxic dependencies and denial

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

  • “You're going out with Paty again, my friends saw you at the cafe the other afternoon, holding hands with her. You promised last week that you wouldn't do it anymore ".
  • Not! How do you think, that I will break the promise that I made to you again, surely they confused me.

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

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

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

  • "I'm not an alcoholic, sometimes I drink excessively, 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 of 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 to recognize it would even be to admit his crime and would have to bear the consequences of it, so they deny it, when it is He tries 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 is lying, I am going to punish him and I am going to hit him to take it away. liar, to see if that way he returns with those stories. Just try to get attention ".

The intellectual substitute for repression is adverse judgment, it serves as an escape valve from what is being repressed. Denial arises in two areas: discordance and foreclosure. According to Jacques Lacan, foreclosure "is a specific mechanism that operates in psychosis, through which the rejection of a fundamental signifier is produced, expelled from the symbolic universe of the subject".

The denial goes beyond the direct aggressor, in these cases of abuse, since it is very common that when the minor gathers up the courage to tell his mother, for example, that the father is constantly sexually assaulting him; The mother, unable to deal with such a great conflict, can cognitively reject what is happening: “It cannot be what you are telling me, your father would be incapable of something like that”, thus becoming another aggressor for the child.

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

“The content of a repressed image or thought can thus make its way to consciousness, under the condition of being denied. Denial is a way of realizing what is repressed ”. Sigmund Freud

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

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

Helper personality and denial

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

The overly helpful personality tends to employ this defense; For this reason, we find in clinical work that many times people who tend to try to fix the lives of others, many of them do so because they cannot resolve their own conflicts, and by helping others feel some relief in their anguish.

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 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 to first help yourself, the right balance is balance.

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

Denial as disabling of change

Conflicts and deficiencies can be very challenging, as well as difficult to deal with. However, when there is acceptance, you can get the best out of the experiences. It requires a sustained will, a constant effort, which sometimes involves falling and getting up many times..

By using this defense mechanism, the power of the person to make changes is partially disabled, it is necessary to recognize character defects, to be able to modify them, for example. How could you change something to improve if you are not aware that there is "something wrong"?

Parents with children who have different capacities or a serious physical, psychological or psychiatric condition, also have to cross the barrier of denial, accept the condition in order to start treating it appropriately and in a timely manner, according to the treatment they propose. health professionals, thus providing a better quality of life and support to the children.

It also happens, when the guardians are informed of some inappropriate behavior or manifestation of symptoms of other conditions that their children may have: "I don't believe what he tells me, my son is doing very well." In this way, the person faces an emotional conflict, threatening, painful reality or stress, refusing or "refusing" to acknowledge a conflicting aspect of the situation, which could be very evident to others. This type of ego defense can attribute or de-attribute properties to a person, situation or object..

This is only possible through the acceptance of the obvious, how could a person who lacks the discernment that he has it be treated? The same happens with 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 a person has to be let go, either because interaction with them is detrimental, to overcome the arduous course of grief, when there is a serious illness, whether of a loved one or the individual himself; One of the first frontiers that must be demolished is precisely denial, to give way to acceptance, and thus begin to work on the changes required to have biopsychosocial health.

Bibliographic references

  • Roudinesco, E. (1999). The Battle of a Hundred Years. History of Psychoanalysis in France (1885-1939). Volume I. Spain: Editorial Fundamentos.
  • Freud, Sigmund (1981). Complete works of Sigmund Freud. Volume III. 4th. Edition. Spain: Editorial Biblioteca Nueva.
  • 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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