Denial

Refusal, denial, saying no: such a negative topic we have before us!

There are, of course, two main kinds of denials: those that arrive at the truth, and those that maintain a falsehood. The first is largely logical, the second is mostly psychological. The denial of an untruth is, after all, a truth. Let's have more of that. But denial is also a psychological defense mechanism, a self-deception, a declaration of fantasy or will against reality. We deny the truth we don't want to be true, can't admit to be true, can't even imagine to be true. Death we cover with the polite pall cloth of denial.

Psychological denial is a form of illusion, an intolerance for the truth, often temporary, but sometimes successful. It is a separation from reality, engaged in for avoidance purposes, and with the price of self-deceit. It is presumed that our passional nature is so powerful that it manufactures an alternate reality which it interposes between us and the truth, while mollifying scruple and doubt. It is also presumed that we are so dainty and timid and fearful of pain that we require a power greater than ourselves to hoodwink and protect ourselves. Psychological denial is a picture of weakness and strength. Once, playing the smart-aleck, I said "denial is the first truth in psychology". It's a slur that works at many levels. My current employ in a psychology department forbids me such wicked thoughts.

Some denial is mere inertia. Often after a life-changing event, like a death in the family, we find ourselves in old habits, thinking in old ways, as if nothing had changed. It takes time to get used to a new reality; thinking is slow to adjust. We catch ourselves once or twice, weep all over again, and gradually learn. But to call slowness to change denial suggests that there is something willful, self-delusional, unconscious about it. There is a difference between not adjusting to the truth and not being able to handle it. Denial is an aspersion; inertia is a law.

The aspersion of denial is sometimes itself denial. We come together, we argue, you are not persuaded of my point of view. "Denial!" I cry. "Your refusal to accept my position is your denial of reality. Your disagreement with me is just your failure to face facts." Denial is not only a defense mechanism. It is also an offensive tactic. The accusation of denial is often a preemptive attack.

All the celebrated psychological defense mechanisms are mere elaborations of denial, which is really only the bluntest of such weapons. Repression itself would be ineffective if denial of it were not involved. One must forget that one is forgetting something to successfully repress it. It doesn't work to go around consciously repressing it — that is called daily struggling. Projection, another defense mechanism, is like a source attribution error in perception, rather than in memory (i.e., it is comparable to when we remember hearing something said, but mistake who said it). I have impossibly conflicted infantile ideals, and then find them manifest in you as your fine attributes. I forget that I saw that image first in myself before I fell in love with what I am calling you. Projection is a denial of origin of mental contents.

The aficionado of denial will go in for reaction formation, a defense mechanism with real flair. Here an unacceptable impulse (of which the ego firmly denies the existence) is mastered by hypertrophy or exaggeration of the opposite tendency. Here solicitude is evidence of repressed cruelty, cleanliness or a secret interest in feces, and of course the notorious homophobe who loves who he beats. Here we find the art of denial at its most flamboyant and invisible, excepting only sublimation. In sublimation, our negative and unacceptable impulses are transformed by the artistry of denial into socially productive causes. Wracked by eros, the artist sublimates upon the canvas, instead of sinking to perversion. The violent man who finds cover in becoming a policeman has sublimated his vicious urge. Sublimation is denial with a noble mien.

There can be no denying my negative slant on denial. My critics will charge that I am in denial about denial, and trying to sweep the whole concept of defense mechanism under the rug. But they just can't handle the truth. Myself, I find the double negative not enough. I must go on to positive assertion. Yes. I must say yes to denial.

Logical denial is denial of falsehood. It's saying no to bullshit. No is a very powerful little word. No means no. Your power to say no is sacred. Use it, or you'll lose it. Just say yes to your power of no.

The pressures to conform being real and insidious, the bad influence of low karma being pervasive, and the perquisites of corruption being so very appealing, the power of no can mean your salvation. Action being often habit, the act of saying no can be your liberation. There are some who contend that there is no free will, only a free won't. Veto power may be our fundamental liberty, symbolized by stopping and thinking. Denial is refusal to go along, to be a sheep, to fit in. Freedom just may start with logical denial.

Our actions have many explanations, although we prefer to assert our ownership when things are going well, when we are comfortable in our actions. (When things go wrong, we often blame circumstance, and implement our perpetual stand-by procedure, called plausible deniability). Though we claim responsibility for our (fruitful) actions, histories of reinforcements, dangling inducements, and plain old routine account for many of them. Causes of our behaviour range from near to far, from genetic to cultural, from custom to duty, from biochemical to behavioral reinforcement. If we don't step up to deny the over-determination of action, we will be swept up by the world, and be left with no choice for ourselves.

Saying no to oneself is the highest form of self-affirmation. It overrides the inner automaton. We have a weakness of ease, and aversion to struggle. Saying no to these, we take on difficult battles we wouldn't win otherwise. No stand on principle ever began with a yes. It began with a no in the face of its violation. Standing up for oneself is saying no to those who would walk all over you. Denial pokes a finger in the chest of all oppressors. No means revolution.

It has not gone unmentioned before that two negatives make a positive. Two positives rarely make a negative, except in the sarcastic doubter's reply, "yeah, right!". One has to shake one's head at jokes that bad.

Say no to your sofa. Stop and think this very night. Float your philosophical barge along denial.