November 26, 2007
Many psychologists believe that we are all in denial to some degree because we subconsciously do not want to face adversity and more importantly some of their consequences. It is a protective defense mechanism against what we perceive as threats to our ego, body or even livelihood.
However, denial can lead to catastrophic results not only for ourselves but for others as well.
For the chemical dependent denial can mean death. The Community Alcohol Information Program (CAIP) a private, non-profit agency founded in 1977 to provide alcohol education lists 8 different types of denial:
3. INTELLECTUALIZING or GENERALIZING
Denial could have played a major role, in the recent corporate scandals. The CEOs of Enron, WordCom, Tyco naming just a few, took enormous risks, which leads me to believe that they must have refused to see the danger and the possible consequences of their actions. Furthermore they all proclaimed their innocence.
Denial also excludes the possibility of forgiveness to others and also to ourselves.
If we do not recognize our errors and wrongdoings how can be forgiven or even forgive ourselves?
Self-deception is the worst of deception because it is very hard to identify and correct.
How do we know then if we are in denial?
I suggest we look at the words we use. The vocabulary we choose is sometimes an indication of denial. Euphemism is often used not to offend someone or to alleviate the harshness of a word and its meaning. We say of someone, "he passed away" instead simply saying "he died," or we may say of a friend, "he drinks too much" as opposed to "he is an alcoholic."
Euphemism can however also mask a dangerous situation that we may ignore by not recognizing it seriousness. In his book Euphemism, Spin, and the Crisis in Organizational Life, Howard Stein believes that euphemism in organizational communication is a flight from reality that can have very damaging consequences. He calls for an "ethical awakening" from our self-deceptions and for "direct, honest language that expresses our feelings and intentions."
The quote from Tolstoy’s War and Peace is very appropriate:
At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal force in the heart of man:
One very reasonably tells the man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of avoiding it;
The other even more reasonable says that it is too painful and harassing to think of the danger, since it is not a man’s power to provide for everything and escape from the general march of events; and that it is therefore better to turn aside from the painful subject till it has come, and to think of what is pleasant.
In solitude a man generally yields to the first voice; in society to the second.