Denying the word "denial"

Can I just say how much I dislike the word "denial?"

I find it one of the most condescending words in the language. It's one of those wobbly words you can't argue with, but we all know the implications. It is willful, it is conscious, it is weak. It isn't a vicious slur - more venial - but even that gives it a scent of "if you had even a bit of self-knowledge you would be above it." The slight Freudian tinge confers a clinical distance and superiority to the speaker that is rarely lost on the one spoken of.

"He's in denial." "They're in denial." "I was in denial."

I can't think of one instance in which this is a helpful concept.

"He is afraid." "They have not fully grasped the seriousness." "I didn't realize." These are all, I would submit, more accurate, less of a character judgment, and admitting of hope than the others.

In a world that does not help us understand mental illness, filled with outdated notions and pop psych, and few coherent messages it could be said that our society is "in denial." But I suggest this: "We are just waking up to the hope and possibilities for improved mental health throughout society."


  1. Amen - although it is easier to pronounce than anosgnosia

  2. Two other expressions I dislike are "non-compliant" and "kicking off". One is used to give a veneer of clinical speak to describing someone who often CAN'T do what is wanted, the other is judgemental and unprofessional.

  3. I also can't stand, "She needs to hit bottom..."

  4. Laura, you are on a roll! Keep these passionate and relevant posts coming.

    It is unfortunate that people who express things this way lack understanding of the real situation. It is definitely a "can't" (without lots of help), not a "won't" for those with EDs.

    No one CHOOSES to be mentally ill. No one who is suffering from an ED, OCD, anxiety or depression ENJOYS their state of mind. They are stuck in a horrible mental state and need long-term help and support to come out.

  5. Erica

    I love the idea of hitting your own bottom. One that I was quoted was "finding her bottom". I bit my tongue hard but did want to respond that she knew exactly where it was!

  6. I love your hopeful attitude. I wish I had so much passion and hope! You make me want to believe in something again.

  7. I'd like that for you, too, Jaded. I really do. Feel free to borrow some of my hope - it comes, with interest, from a large community of people how have held up hope for me!

  8. I was told only today that I was 'in denial'. I was also asked by my mothercraft nurse today that 'if I died who would love my children?' Not a good day all 'round.
    Denial? Who knows. Afraid? Definitely.

  9. As much as I find it unhelpful and condescending to apply this term to parents I absolutely seethe at it being applied to sufferers. That is completely unacceptable to me.

    It shows a complete lack of understanding of the illness, of anosognosia, and compassion - and of hope. In fact, I think it is an admission of helplessness on THEIR part being reflected back.

    I'm so sorry - so very sorry.

  10. As someone with OCD and alcoholism, who lives a great life of vigilant recovery for both, I like the term denial. It describes a very real psychological mechanism that explains why I stayed in an abusive marriage and drank to destruction. I can remember the sensation of the denial lifting, and becoming ready to face my overwhelming situations. I felt helpless but unable to continue on the paths I was on. I prefer the saying "Denial is a powerful thing." I have learned to have compassion for those in the grip of denial (including myself). However, it doesn't mean that it isn't overused psychobabble. No one wants to be told "you are in denial". NOT HELPFUL!
    Thanks for your blog.


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