Defense mechanisms are psychological tactics employed unconsciously by the ego to maintain equilibrium. Denial is the ability to assert something in speech or judgment with the caveat that it can be refuted by placing a negative before the assertion.
Denial is a harmful form of self-protection
In the context of free association, the ability to confirm or refute something arises from thought as a judgment.
Since psychic reality impulses and fantasies are denied, along with objects that disturb external reality, which are considered non-existent, Melanie Klein states that in this mechanism, the ego identifies with idealized internal objects, countering the persecutory threat.
This describes an ego defense that is primitive and even violent.
Denial and Thanatos
A person’s ability to make the necessary changes and bring about positive change is partially disabled when he or she is unable to accept a problem.
“Letting go” of certain pleasures, people, objects or even situations that are destructive would require great effort and perhaps even pain and suffering, but accepting a problem also means “realizing that things are being done wrong.”
Denying is the domain of Thanatos or self-destructive death pulses. In contrast, affirmation relates to Eros, the human desire for union and continuation of life.
Reason’s capacity for judgment
According to Sigmund Freud, to deny something in judgment essentially means that I prefer to repress it.
To affirm or reject ideological contents is the purpose of judgment, intellectually speaking. The intellectual equivalent of repression is judgment, and the distinctive judgment of repression is represented by the denial of judgment.
When something is denied in judgment or speech and then admitted, it indicates that the speaker prefers to repress, which makes it a symbolic action.
“Dénégation,” said Jean Hyppolite.
The word “dénégation”, or negation, is used by Jean Hyppolite in Jacques Lacan’s 1954 seminar.
Later, Freud defined it as a verbal mechanism that allows the negative recognition of the repressed. Recognition, but not acceptance, is an effort to repress the repressed. It supposes denying something and at the same time maintaining what is maintained by affirming another argument.
- Not at all, no… I don’t know how those crumbs got in my room, Dad. I didn’t eat the cookies
“Denial is the act of rejecting a claim that has been made about you or attributed to you. Cognitively, it can also be the act of rejecting your perception of an event that has been imposed on you by the outside world.”
Biological trust and denial
The use of denial is a very effective ego defense, since, together with other strategies such as rationalization, it can be observed in personality disorders and severe dependencies. Even if sometimes the subject is able to identify what is repressed, he/she still uses this strategy to defend him/herself:
- No, I am stumped; how do you think I am going to break the promise I made to you one more time?
Denial is a form of nullification, used in situations such as the one mentioned above to avoid interpersonal conflict. In addictions something similar occurs, because the addict may reject reality for the same reasons, avoiding another “problem” with those he cares about.
He may even justify his behavior by saying that he is “denying it for them; so that they won’t worry, because in reality: it’s not that big a deal”, thus minimizing the effects of his actions both on himself and on others.
The patient “thinks” that he is not dependent on that substance or that person and that he can quit whenever he wants, which is a typical argument used by dependents, and this occurs mostly in the early stages of dependencies.
This defense tactic suggests a downward spiral from guilt to denial and back again.
By the very nature of their illness, parents who are alcoholics or who have dependencies on things, behaviors, or people and are in denial can cause significant harm to those who live with them.
This is an example of the phrases we may hear from these people: Dependents, however, tend to underestimate the effects of their behavior, which makes their condition more chronic because they do not give up on it because they do not even perceive it as a threat to their health.
Denial of the conflict and of the sexual assault of minors
It has been observed that when a child has been sexually abused, the perpetrator often uses this old-fashioned defense because admitting his guilt would force him to take the consequences of his crime, so he chooses to deny it.
However, when someone confronts him, he may use this defense:
“I didn’t do that, he is lying. I will punish him and beat him to make him stop lying. I’ll see if he comes back with those stories,” the boy said after trying to sexually provoke me. “He’s just doing it for attention.”
Adverse judgment serves as an intellectual substitute for repression by serving as an outlet for what is repressed. Discordance and exclusion are the two domains in which negation appears. Exclusion, in the words of Jacques Lacan:
“It is a particular mechanism operating in psychosis, whereby the rejection of a basic signifier, expelled from the symbolic universe of the subject, takes place.”