Why Do People Live in Denial?

Being in denial about some aspect of our life is something that anyone and everyone is susceptible to. It’s a normal way of protecting ourselves to get us through some pretty tough situations.  Denial offers temporary relief.

Yet when we accuse someone of “being in denial” it is often used as a derogatory statement, referring to the notion that a person is avoiding or negating reality to their own detriment.

Denial is in play when some refuses to acknowledge the significance or consequences of certain behaviors. In the psychological sense, denial is a defense mechanism in which a person, faced with a painful fact, rejects the reality of that fact. 

A coping mechanism, such as denial, is an adaptation we make that enables us to deal with a difficult environmental stress that we feel we cannot change or eliminate.  The adaptation we make causes us to feel like we have control over the way we feel and behave. This is a false sense of control. 

Simply stated, denial is lying to yourself and believing the lie.

As a counselor, I often associate denial as a common defense mechanism of people who struggle with addiction issues.  Many addicts live in denial until they hit rock bottom.  Yet denial is also attributed to ANY person who does not want to acknowledge when bad stuff is happening in their lives, such as those who are attempting to cope with an unhealthy relationship, a life-threatening illness, a loss, abuse, or anything else that one may attempt to repudiate.

As human beings,  denial runs the gamut: people deny facts, responsibilities, the impact of their words & actions, and even the reality of their life. We can use denial to hide from any negative emotion, including embarrassment, shame, being afraid, guilty, depression.

When you’re in denial, you:

  • Won’t acknowledge the true extent of a situation
  • Try not to face the facts of a problem or the situation at hand
  • Downplay possible consequences of the issue

Some signs you may be in denial:

Do you ever…..

  • Think about how you wish things would/should be as opposed to reality of how they ARE?
  • Wonder, “If only, he (or she) would . . .?”
  • Make excuses for yourself?
  • Blame others?
  • Doubt or dismiss certain feelings you don’t want to face?
  • Conceal embarrassing aspects of your behavior?
  • Hope things will improve down the road magically?
  • Feel resentful or bitter?
  • Spend years waiting for things to improve or something to change?
  • Dread talking about problems? Refuse to face it in any real meaningful way?
  • Play the victim?
  • Feel regret?

If you find yourself answering yes to many of the aforementioned, you may very well be IN denial about some aspect of yourself, your relationship, or some element of your life.


Denial is prevalent. When we can’t deal with, change or eliminate something painful, in order to avoid despair, we simply deny whatever is painful.

But to stay in denial, on some level you have to place yourself in a bubble, so as to stop seeing, feeling and hearing any proof to contradict it.  

Denial is a peculiar thing but it always serves the denier. Denial is a defense mechanism that discharges emotional discomfort. It is a form of self-deception. Yet if you are denying there’s a problem, just so you don’t have to feel bad about the fact that there is INDEED a problem, this is not good for your mental health and well-being.

Living in denial does not solve anything or make your life better. Denial is a form of psychological protection. We lie to ourselves to protect ourselves from certain truths we DO NOT WANT TO FACE, yet ironically the things we deny cause ourselves much more pain and suffering in the long run.

Denial is difficult to combat. That’s why it’s good to remember that while life is not completely in our control, that we are ALL in this boat. None of us are in complete control.  Yet it is important we take responsibility for the things we can control–our own words, actions, and behaviors. It can be nerve-wracking and can produce a lot of anxiety, but you do not have to be free from fear in order to act in ways that are necessary.  If you are in pain or hurting, acknowledge that.

Be courageous and face your life — and you’ll find a happier, healthier you on the other side.

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):


Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822