The genesis of this article came from my watching the recent Casey Anthony three-episode special on television (HLN), in which Ms. Anthony – someone I have not evaluated myself – sounds like a woman who was desperately in denial. Entitled, self-absorbed, and perhaps even psychopathic, she was someone who personified denial. After watching, I started thinking about how so many men and women – not just those accused of murder! – display a disturbing level of denial, and if you are in denial, it will absolutely prevent good relationships or screw up the ones you’re already in.
What is denial?
Denial is what therapists call a low-level defense mechanism, meaning that it is simple and does not require any thought or reflection. You say I’m arrogant? The person in denial responds without hesitation, “No, I’m not,” and they never think twice about it. An example of a higher level defense mechanism is intellectualization. Using this defense, you say I’m arrogant, and then I say this: “I know some people think that, but the truth is that I am really bright and successful, and most people don’t know what that feels like. If they had as many accomplishments as I have had, they, too, would feel special.” See how that defense is more complex? Overall, denial is simple and it means that you do not think longer than thirty seconds about a possible emotional problem or challenge you have. By using denial, you simply disavow it altogether and say there is no truth to it.
What is the opposite of the denial?
The opposite of denial is having insight into yourself and taking accountability for your personal beliefs or behaviors that are misguided or problematic; you take responsibility for your actions that may have been selfish, stupid, or immoral.
What are the signs that you are in denial of the issues that hurt your dating life? There are countless examples, but I highlight a few crucial examples below.
You’ve heard the same kind of negative feedback from multiple people – friends, family, exes or people you’ve dated – and you respond by saying or thinking, “They are the crazy ones.”
Listen Carefully: If several people have told you something negative about your personality or your behavior, there is probably a grain of truth to it. It doesn’t mean that they are completely right, but it does mean that there is probably some truth to the criticism. The man or woman who is not in denial hears negative comments from others and actually reflects for a minute about whether there is truth to it. If an ex or someone you date says that you say or do something that is hurtful, you have to listen if you want to be someone who has a good relationship. You need to be open and self-reflective to have a decent relationship! Don’t you want to be someone who isn’t in denial, and who doesn’t deny any criticisms outright? When we’re four years old, we can’t handle criticism; when we’re 20, 30, 40 or 50, we should be more mature than that. The truth is that we all have issues, so you would be smart (and extremely normal) to at least entertain the criticism and ask yourself if there is some issue you should work on to become a better romantic partner and better person overall.
You don’t like to talk about feelings. Honestly, if you want to have relationships, you’re going to have to talk about feelings. You might not like it, but it comes with relationships, and relationships will always fail – zero exceptions – if one member of couple won’t look honestly at their feelings and then be able to communicate them to their partner.
You are a blamer. Before even discussing it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Many of us have dated people in the past who, when we tell them a legitimate frustration we have with their behavior, they respond by turning the tables and telling you what you do that is wrong. When someone tells you something you do that bothers them, listen, pause, and say, “I will think about what you’re saying, because I know I’m not perfect and I care about how you feel.” Blamers, on the other hand, live in denial. They have no interest in believing that anything they do is wrong, and thinking about what they need to work on emotionally is not something they want to – or will – do unless absolutely forced to do so.
The takeaway message…
Most people in your life that you love and respect are not people who live in denial. They are grown-ups. They know they are not perfect; they don’t try to be perfect; and they can accept that there are some issues they need to work on. (Self-disclosure alert: I have about 110 of them.) When you’re getting to know a new date, ask yourself whether this is a person who seems open and honest, or whether this is a person who seems hell-bent on proving to you and the world that they are perfect the way they are. If you’re dating the ladder, ask yourself how open this individual will be in the future to real emotional intimacy once the new-love excitement inevitably wears off.
About the Author:
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve.