“Denial” is a psychological defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud in which a person is faced with a fact that is too painful to accept and rejects it, insisting that it can’t be true, despite what may be overwhelming evidence.
If you were to receive the sudden information that your son had been arrested for murder in a phone call from the police chief of your town, your first and very normal response would be “denial”–Oh, it can’t be true!
Denial initially and short term is a very beneficial thing, it keeps us from having to accept a huge event all at one time, but it isn’t beneficial in the long term as it prevents us from acting on the problem. Not acting sometimes, if not most times, causes the problem to get worse.
For example if you were driving down the road and your car started making a “funny sound” and you knew you didn’t have the money to repair a major engine problem, so you kept telling yourself as you kept driving “oh, it’s nothing. I don’t have the money for a new engine, it just can’t be anything important.” Instead of pulling over on the side of the road which would be the reasonable and rational thing, you stayed in denial of the problem because of your fears of having a major break down. But by continuing to drive you don’t act on the problem. Maybe it was simply your radiator had sprung a leak and you were out of water, but if you had pulled over (acted) you would not have burned up your engine by continuing to drive on in denial.
The next step when you are confronted by some horrible problem may be in bargaining with the universe or our version of God….please don’t let this be true. Let it be a mistake. I’ll go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life if this is a mistake.
The grief process consists of accepting a grievous loss and coming to terms with it. The steps are not sequential but usually consist of denial, bargaining, sadness, anger and eventually, if all goes well, with acceptance of the loss and peace with it. The process however goes like a roller coaster up and down, around, back and forth, rather than a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, but more like a 1,4,3,2,4,5,2,1. Eventually we may come to acceptance but then may bounce back to denial and repeat the processes over and over until eventually we come to acceptance and pretty much stay there. Some people, however, never reach “acceptance” and continue in trying to rectify the situation, especially if it involves the bad and unacceptable behavior of a family member.
The process of resolving grief is not painless, and it isn’t quick. The bigger the loss, the bigger and more painful the grief. Resolution is not something that we can expect in a matter of weeks or even months, but may be a matter of years. It may also require professional help in the form of psychiatric or family therapy.