Understanding why someone you love is in denial (2023)

Denial is often a defense mechanism for people living with grief or trauma. If your loved one is in denial, there are ways you can help.

When someone you love minimizes, avoids, or denies a painful situation they've experienced, it can be confusing, frustrating, or draining.

What you're feeling is natural, and knowing that they're not doing it on purpose can help. Denial may be a way they have developed to deal with past wounds.

By understanding why denial happens in the first place, you can feel better equipped to respond with care and compassion.

Talking to someone you love who is in denial can be a challenge, but there are a few ways to make it easier for both of you.

Learn as much as you can

Whatever your loved one is going through, be it grief, trauma or something else, learn as much as you can about the event from other sources.

This can help you understand and empathize with them and realize how much space they need.

Look at it differently

Giving up can bring benefits.

"The good thing is that the person in denial still has some fighting spirit in them — the desire for self-preservation," he says.Timothy Yen, a psychologist in Dublin, California.

“The brain is wired for our survival and does everything it can to keep us alive. "If a painful situation is going to cause pain, the brain will find creative ways to keep those kinds of experiences away from the person," he says.

Knowing this can help you be more compassionate. In the same way that you wouldn't want to remove a bandage before someone's wound has begun the healing process, you might not want to fight denial.

Be polite

Your instinctive reaction might be to force someone to face the music and face reality, Yen says, but that's not necessarily the best approach.

"It's important to remember that a person may not have the ability to face reality at that time," he says. “You can start by sharing your feelings and thoughts about the situation and create space for the person to remain in denial.

(Video) How to support someone in denial about being in a narcissistic relationship

"It's like planting a little seed of truth that will hopefully sink in later," he adds.

Practice non-judgment

It might help you think about something in your life that you've been struggling with.

Remember how scary or painful it was, and then show up the way you would want someone to show up for you: with grace.

You don't have to participate in someone's self-harming behavior, but you can provide a safe place to help them deal with their pain.

Consider using a calm demeanor, open body language, and soft voice to communicate that it's okay to be vulnerable.

Be an active listener

It is common for loved ones who have been hurt to make excuses for their behavior. When you hear this happening, try not to get defensive. Instead, give it a tryactive hearing.

You can repeat what they say in the form of questions to encourage them to clarify what they mean.

Paraphrasing what you heard can help someone hear—really hear—what was said. It can also make room for digging a little deeper.

Use "I" statements.

If someone seems open to talking, you can dip your toes in the water and see how they react when you express your concerns.

Consider using loving "I" statements and say how their actions make you feel.

It might sound like this:

  • I'm afraid when you drink at work and then drive home.
  • I worry when you don't take your medicine.
  • I feel upset when you set the table for our dead father.
  • I'm sad that I don't know how to support you when you act like that.

Stay calm

Your loved one may react with irritation and anger or double down on their denial, but that doesn't mean you have to escalate the situation either.

Try to breathe deeply, and if things get out of hand, it might be a good idea to say you'd rather talk about it another time.

What not to do

(Video) Mental illness consumed my marriage -- until this epiphany

Getting out of denial is a process - not an overnight change.

Try to be available to support or guide them without attacking them, she saysGina Marie Guarino, a licensed mental health counselor in New York.

"Pushing someone to refuse to see reality as you see it is going to be met with resistance," he says. "This causes stress for both you and the person refusing, and often leads to problems in the relationship rather than resolving the situation."

Even if you feel frustrated, try not to blame them for the rejection. Consider avoiding questions to get them to see your point of view.

Also, try to be patient and not rush the process. It's a good idea to let them set the pace. They will come out of denial when they are ready. You can believe this.

There may come a time when denial will do more harm than good.

If they seem open to it, you can encourage your loved one to start tracking certain behaviors in a journal or app so they can see the objective facts of the situation.

For example, someone might record how many drinks they had in a week.

If the denial is interfering with their work, home, school or general quality of life, it may be time to discuss other options.

"If you notice that denial is affecting or interfering with a person's ability to function, you can compassionately suggest they talk to a professional," she says.Tiffany Brown, a licensed clinical psychologist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

"Be compassionate with your words," she adds. "Think about how difficult the situation might be for that person and let that guide what you say."

It may be beneficial for you to work togetherfind a therapistusing our search tools.

Sometimes people need denial because dealing with a traumatic event is too painful to deal with. This may be if they don't yet have the resources to deal with it.

Denial as a self-defense mechanism was first described by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, he explainsmavish sikander, a therapist in London.

"Defense mechanisms are strategies that help people avoid distress and make them feel like they're coping better," she says. “Denial can give someone a sense of control, like water flowing from a faucet. They may find it easier to control when they can decide how much water flows and when."

What is denial?

Denial can be the brain's way of trying to protect the person from overloading the system because the reality would be too much of a mental, physical, or both shock.

Denial is common for people living with:

  • rana
  • grieving
  • substance use disorders
  • personality disorders

It's different from "not caring" because you can't do it by choice. Denial can happen consciously or unconsciously.

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When someone is in denial, they may avoid and minimize their behavior, refuse to accept help, or minimize consequences.

For example, someone who regularly misses work due to substance use, but believes their boss doesn't notice or that they aren't harming themselves.

Denial is a spectrum. It can involve avoidance behavior, such as changing the subject, or it can also involve self-awareness, such as not seeing how something has affected you.

A loved one living in denial may tell you they're fine, for example, even though you know they've just been through a difficult event.

There may also be physical signs that someone is having trouble accepting the event or its impact. For example, when a mother leaves her son's room exactly the same several years after his death.

When something may seem glaringly obvious to you, but your loved one doesn't see it, you can feel confused or scared.

Try to remember that your loved one is doing the best they can with the tools they've been given. Denial has some function, at least for now, and they'll come out of it when they're ready.

Until then, try to be patient, talk to them using compassion and take good care of your own mental health. When the time is right, they can come out of denial. In the meantime, your support can help them cope.


What to do when a loved one is in denial? ›

7 things you can do to help
  1. Learn as much as you can. Whatever your loved one is going through, be it grief, trauma, or something else, find out as much as you can about the event from other sources. ...
  2. See it differently. ...
  3. Be gentle. ...
  4. Practice nonjudgment. ...
  5. Be an active listener. ...
  6. Use 'I' statements. ...
  7. Stay calm.
Nov 18, 2021

Why would someone be in denial about their feelings? ›

If you are in denial, you are trying to protect yourself from a truth that is too painful for you to accept at the moment. Sometimes short-term denial is essential. It can give you time to organize yourself and accept a significant change in your life. However, denial can have a darker side and become unhealthy.

How do you have a relationship with someone in denial? ›

10 ways to help a loved one in denial
  1. Learn about their condition. ...
  2. See their condition from another perspective. ...
  3. Be compassionate. ...
  4. Be an active listener. ...
  5. Let them know you are with them. ...
  6. Practice the use of “I” in your words. ...
  7. Accept their reality. ...
  8. Become an accountability partner.
Mar 28, 2022

What does it mean to be in denial in love? ›

If you're in a romantic relationship and find yourself yearning for your avoidant partner to be who he/she was in the beginning ... you are in denial! --- If you're convinced that you are the reason your partner has become emotionally unavailable, uncaring, or narcissistic ... you are in denial!

What are the 5 stages of denial? ›

The five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – are often talked about as if they happen in order, moving from one stage to the other. You might hear people say things like 'Oh I've moved on from denial and now I think I'm entering the angry stage'. But this isn't often the case.

How do you get someone out of the denial stage? ›

You can help someone who's in denial after the death of a loved one in the following ways:
  1. Allow time to mourn. After suffering a loved one's death, a person will experience different stages of grief. ...
  2. Talk about what's next. Many people don't know what comes next after the death of a loved one. ...
  3. Help them cope.
Aug 18, 2022

Is denial a stage of love? ›

The five stages of a relationship are the Merge, Doubt and Denial, Disillusionment, the Decision, and Wholehearted Love. Every single relationship moves through these five stages—though not only once.

What does denial say about a person? ›

If you are in denial, it often means that you are struggling to accept something that seems overwhelming or stressful. However, in the short term, this defense mechanism can have a useful purpose. It can allow you to have time to adjust to a sudden change in your reality.

What are the characteristics of someone in denial? ›

10 Signs You Are in Serious Denial
  • You avoid talking about the issue. ...
  • You use other people's behaviors as evidence that you don't have a problem. ...
  • You promise future control to ward off concern. ...
  • You deny a problem absolutely. ...
  • You rationalize your substance abuse behaviors. ...
  • You blame others for your problem.
Jul 16, 2017

What are the 4 types of denial? ›

To summarize, denial of fact says that the offense in question never happened, denial of impact trivializes the consequences of the inappropriate behavior, denial of responsibility attempts to justify or excuse the behavior, and denial of hope shows that the person is unwilling to take active steps to make things ...

Is denial a stage of breakup? ›

On the other hand, there's no way to escape the new reality in which your significant other is no longer with you. Denial is the first wave that accompanies the pain of a breakup. At this stage, it almost feels like your entire world has become heavy, overwhelming, suffocating, and without logic or meaning.

What is the denial stage of a relationship? ›

Denial is your brain's automatic response to unwanted news, according to "How to Survive the Five Steps of Grief after a Breakup. " Denial gives your heart time to adjust to the new situation. In the denial phase you may think that your significant other is coming back to you.

What are examples of denial in relationships? ›

These behaviours are often expressed by avoiding owning up to things or omitting telling the truth in order to avoid conflict. Sometimes even using a direct lie, because the truth seems too painful to confront. And each time you try you feel thwarted or dismissed by your loved one.

What do you call a person who is in denial? ›

de·​ni·​al·​ist di-ˈnī(-ə)l-ist. dē- plural denialists. : a person who denies the existence, truth, or validity of something despite proof or strong evidence that it is real, true, or valid : someone who practices denialism. For those of us who prefer to remain based in reality, the denialists represent a conundrum.

Is denial emotional? ›

Denial is a common defense mechanism that we often employ unconsciously to avoid uncomfortable emotions and tough circumstances. While it can provide a temporary respite from discomfort, denial can exacerbate a difficult situation and lead to more challenging feelings in the long run.

What are the 4 stage of grief denial? ›

The stages, popularly known by the acronym DABDA, include: Denial – The first reaction is denial. In this stage, individuals believe the diagnosis is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality. Some may also isolate themselves, avoiding others who may have accepted what is happening.

Is being in denial a mental illness? ›

To be clear, denial is not a mental disorder; however, people often mistakenly believe that anosognosia is denial.

Is denial a stage of grief? ›

Denial is a challenging stage of grief because it occurs early in the grief process. Entrenched in denial is the belief that if you don't accept this reality, it may go away. People often ask themselves how and why they should continue to move forward.


1. Denial-Why Addicts Lie To Themselves And The Ones They Love
(Put The Shovel Down)
2. Breaking Your Denial: How To Accept What Is
(Heal Your Codependency with Marshall Burtcher)
3. Daters in Denial
(Judge Mathis)
4. Are You Difficult to Love?
(The School of Life)
5. 7 Signs of Avoidant Personality Disorder
6. BIPOLAR DISORDER DENIAL (10 Tips For Family & Friends)
(Polar Warriors)


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