Sad Truths About Being in Denial

Sad Truths About Being in Denial

We have all heard the words, at one time or another, “You are in denial.” People say this to us when we simply cannot face the reality of something. This post will focus mostly on how parents can be in denial but the application can be stretched to most forms of denial.


The term “being in denial” is used for a psychological defense mechanism postulated by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence. An individual who exhibits such behaviour is described as a denialist or true believer. Denial also could mean denying the happening of an event or the reliability of information, which can lead to a feeling of aloofness and to the ignoring of possibly beneficial information. [see]

Parents often are in denial about the actions of their children. Our tendency is to trust what our kids tell us because we have a natural instinct and desire to believe them. We want to believe that they are always on the up and up with us. Again, this is natural. But this is also why it is easy for us as parents to fall into a state of denial when evidence suggests that our children are involved in less-than-wholesome activities.

I have noticed four characteristics of people in denial. I am sure there are others but these four top the list:

Being in Denial | Dismissal of Facts

Facts are facts. We know this. This is why we stand amazed when we can provide a fact to someone and they dismiss it. A person in denial will do all they can to “justify” their actions (or the actions of the child they are defending) in spite of undeniable facts and overwhelming evidence. The judicial system would not work efficiently if defense attorneys were allowed to dismiss facts. It is both facts and evidence, or lack thereof, that ultimately prove a person’s guilt or innocence.

When a fact is presented it puts the person in denial in the awkward position of having to justify their actions. It is sad to watch this play out because it can cause immense damage to otherwise loving relationships. For example, a husband may present to his wife the overwhelming evidence that their son is visiting pornographic websites and posting inappropriate sexual material over the internet. This, of course, is the last thing any Christian woman wants to accept. She may move into a position of denial thus putting a huge strain on the marital relationship. Dad wants to address it swiftly and even forcefully but mom wants a soft approach. But when no serious price is paid by the son, he senses that his actions must not be that bad and likely will continue, although more cautiously.

Both parents involved should seek God’s kind of wisdom. The Bible says in Psalm 1 that a person who meditates on God’s Word will be blessed. The wisdom of the Bible will help guide a person to avoid wrong friends and influences. Meditating—memorizing, studying and thinking about—brings the promise of being like a tree planted by a river. The person will have the life-giving nourishment that God provides through His Word. A further promise to that person is that God will guide their way in life.

Being in Denial | Providing Unhealthy Benefit of Doubt

When parents are in denial it is commonplace to give a child the benefit of the doubt, oftentimes to an unhealthy degree. I know of a dad whose son was spending hours watching inappropriate Youtube videos. The dad caught his son doing so and simply enforced the verbal rule that the son was not to view those videos any longer. The son “said” that he would comply. The dad went into “benefit of the doubt” mode and assumed his son would never watch the videos again. Several months went by and this dad noticed that his son was always gazing at his laptop with his headset on. It was easy for the son to hide the screen by simply switching tabs if dad got too close. The dad felt something wasn’t right and took the laptop from his son and viewed his history. This dad was heartbroken to discover that his son had deceived him when he had given him so much trust. It was a very painful scenario for both dad and son. The dad had no choice but to take the computer from his son for a designated period. Problem solved. 

The benefit of the doubt is a good approach in many situations. It shows trust and belief in other people and many times people will rise up and prove they can be trusted. But, as Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.”

Being in Denial | Tendency to Blame Something Else


When parents are in denial about the actions of a child the excuses and justifications begin to fly. As noted above an otherwise loving marriage can be strained or permanently damaged because the wife gets angry at her husband for pointing out what their son is doing. The son, in the example above, is involved in a horrific and frightening world that draws young boys into it by the thousands yearly. But the mother chooses to point out all the faults of the dad and remind him of his imperfections. Rather than focus intensely on the real problem, she shifts the discussion away from her son and toward the man who merely wants to help their son. Of course the dad knows that he isn’t perfect but he also knows that one persons imperfections do not provide an open door for the corruption of others. He is merely trying to protect the son and knows that a forceful approach is the only solution. But mom is afraid that her son will get angry and draw away from her, perhaps even permanently.

This is a very difficult side of denial. Perhaps the dad should backoff a bit and try a softer approach. But this does not mean that internet and computer restrictions should not be enforced. If the mother wants to simply “have a chat” about it and trust that the son’s actions will now be pure, she is exemplifying denial at its worst and very likely will be enabling the son to continue in this horrfic lifestyle. 

Being in Denial | Simplistic Solutions

As just noted, many times people feel like a little “chat” will solve the problem. The dad had a chat with his son about Youtube videos and the son continued. Children involved in an activity are involved in it because they think they enjoy it. They enjoy it so much that they don’t want to stop doing it. Little chats and simplistic solutions typically only empower the child to contine. They have paid no price. They assume that the parent isn’t really that concerned. If they were then the penalty would be more severe. But this activity only warranted a little chat. So, what’s the big deal, right?
The penality should fit the crime. But when no penalities are enforced at any level the parent is actually (yet unintentionally) endorsing the activity. Little chats and other simplistic solutions tend to backfire. How many kids have been given little chats yet continued with their actions? Countless ones. Unfortunately prisons are filled with people who were given “chats” or minimal forms of discipline. 
Just my two cents.
I hope these thoughts have been helpful.
Tony Guthrie, PhD.

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