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When Denial Goes too Far — 9 Comments

  1. Joyce, this is such a timely article, as they ALL are, but DENIAL is one of the most torturous and self-inflicted pains that we can indulge in, and it’s overlooked, under-estimated, and utterly ruinous.

    “Denial” is, IMHO, pretending. Pretending that everything is fine when it isn’t. Of course, there’s a whole area of psychology involved in “denial,” but it boils down to pretense. What are we pretending, and why are we pretending it? What is the basis of the pretense? FEAR. Fear of not being “perfect,” or being “wrong,” or unsuccessful, or whatever……….

    What a fantastic article, Joyce, and I cannot imagine, in my wildest nightmares, imagine what the poor gal must have suffered for 55 years to keep the truth – undeniable truth – a secret. I turned my own son, Bob, in for a number of things. Theft and other petty crimes, and on up to the Stolen Valor issue. Nothing much came of any of the events, but I made the conscious decision to step out of denial, call a spade what it is, and say, “Know what? This is wrong – legally, morally, and ethically. And, I’m not going to continue living WITH those dreadful secrets.”

    Excellent article, Joyce………..thank you, so much.

  2. Truthy, I know first hand how difficult it is to turn in your kid for even a “small” crime and get them into the “system”—I thought (wrongly as it turned out) that it would “break” him of illegal activities and get him back on the right track…and all it did was to make him hate me from the bottom of his heart.

    Jessica paid for her denial with her life when Patrick killed her. She thought that the situation could be fixed if Patrick came up with the money to repay her grandfather. Of course he had no hope of coming up with $8,000, and of course she had “betrayed” him by outing him as the criminal thief.

    I stayed in denial a long time even after Patrick went to prison for robbery for 2 years, and of course he feed me the “line” that he was innocent and I wanted so badly to believe that, then to believe that, yea he is guilty but he will still be okay when he gets out. Only after decades of denial did I fully come out of the FOG (fear, obligation and guilt) that kept me “supporting” him, and he played into it to keep the commissary money coming.

    I’m no longer willing to deny or over look bad behavior in anyone…especially criminal behavior of any kind, and I do n ot want to associate with anyone of that caliber.

  3. Truthy and Joyce,
    Denial can also be a protective mechanism which is necessary because the truth is so dangerous. When we know the truth, it is our obligation to report it and that can put us in danger. I think that sometimes it’s better to make that report anonymously.

    It’s a judgement call for each of us, but I’d recommend caution and anonymity if at all possible. Dangerous people are vengeful.

  4. Skylar, you are right that denial is a PROTECTIVE state in keeping us from being OVERWHELMED by a “truth” that is too difficult to swallow all at once. If someone reports to you that a loved one has died, our first response is “Oh, no, that can’t be true!” i.e. denial. But denial when held LONG TERM like this woman did, prevents us from acting on what is going on. In the case of a dead loved one, I have seen families keep brain dead loved ones on life support for decades because they are in such deep denial that they can’t accept that the loved one is not “in there” waiting to get well any day. It is difficult to get through to these family members because to them admitting that their loved one is brain dead but the body is still warm because of the machines is to them something that they can not acknowledge…it is too painful.

    Reporting without someone knowing who reported is sometimes the best way to keep ourselves out of danger, but there is still the DUTY in my opinion to report the crime. In this case, the mother LIED and gave her son an alibi and even years later she never told until she knew she was going to die. Still didn’t go to the police herself. It is obvious though that she felt guilty about lying for her son, but she put her own pain above the pain of the family of the victim….that is what causes me to feel angry at this woman, and yet, I DO understand WHY she did what she did, and understand how much pain she must have been in.

    Denial if held for a short time until you can come to terms with the problem is a protective emotional state, but held long term…it keeps you from taking necessary action and the problem only gets worse. I’ve seen patients who had cancer of the breast, with lumps as big as an egg refuse to get a mammogram because they were afraid they had cancer. I had a lady literally go screaming out of the exam room because I suggested a mammogram to look at her lump. She was so afraid of having cancer she waited until it was the size of a baseball.

    So the bottom line is that denial CAN be beneficial and if held long term can be very detrimental to not only the person in denial but to society at large as well. I think about the Jewish lady who moved from Germany in the mid 1930s as a child with her parents who left everyrthing they had and walked to Switzerland to get out of Germany because her father saw the Nazi threat and was willing to go with nothing but the clothes on their backs, but she said that he tried to get their friends and neighbors to go but the people were in such DENIAL that they just kept saying “but what would we do with the furniture?” They denied, and stayed and died for their trouble.

  5. I think there are a number of factors involved here. The crime or act of whatever was committed and the core nature of the person who knows about it. Some things you see and instantly know- I have to report this! In the same situation, person #2 will sit on the information for a few days, weeks, months or even years. Person #3 will take it to their grave.

    None of us ever know until we are faced with such situations- how we, personally would handle it. Looking back in that too common 20/20 hindsight, there’s always things we would have changed. Any of which would likely change the results of the outcome. For these reasons, I try not to judge the reactions of others. I have not walked even a step in their shoes.

    For this mother to keep things under wraps for so long, who knows the real reasons why. She may have been afraid of her son. He had already killed one person, what would stop him from killing her if she spoke up? The brutality of how he killed his victim would be enough to scare the cra-p out of a lot of people or at least enough to scare them into long term silence. Let’s face it, in the day to day, when she wasn’t around him and had things to do, places to go, people to see… It was probably a relief to forget for a while, what she knew about what he had done. This obviously wasn’t a burden she wanted to carry, which is why she spoke out on her deathbed. She spoke out so she could finally make peace, at least with herself, for what happened and her part in it.

  6. Phoenix, I think you are right, that she spoke out on her deathbed to “make peace” with herself…but at the same time, in my opinion, she should have made peace decades before, not as she expired. I think the fact that she tried, at the END to “make peace” showed, to me at least, that she felt somewhat guilty about not exposing the fact her son had no alibi.

    I can’t say I wouldn’t have lied either in this case. Even after Patrick was arrested, and before his trial when I didn’t know the death penalty was not on the table, I was SO AFRAID he would get the death penalty that I couldn’t breathe. In the case of this woman’s killer there is NO DOUBT IN MY MIND that he would have at that time, received the death penalty due to the age of the victim and the brutality of the crime. I can’t judge her reasons but I would bet the farm that fear of her son being put to death may have contributed to her lying…and I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same because that fear of my son being put to death was overwhelming at the time.

    Now, decades later, I wish he had received the death penalty, I’d rest easier…but because Patrick robbed Jessica AFTER he killed her, rather than before, it was not at that time a “death penalty” case.

    But whether this woman lied or I had lied, the lying to give a killer an alibi (for any reason) I think is WRONG, but that is just my Humble opinion. And I do realize that can place a person in a dangerous situation.

  7. My personal belief is that “denial” is a 100% “normal” reaction to something that is simply too painful to process. Having typed that, however, there comes a point where maintaining a death-grip on denial, lies, and covering up becomes a pathology. In any capacity, long-term denial can become a disease that feeds shame, guilt, and self-harm.

    When does denial reach that point? I can’t say. What I am able to confirm is that denial can literally prevent a person from simply “being.” When so much energy is spent upon maintaining the facade, or running from the truth, then any person is going to become exhausted.

    I recently had my own bout with denial – I believed that someone who was asking for my help was actually asking for my help because they wanted it. But, what they really wanted was for someone to agree with them, attend their pity-parties, and indulge their toxic behaviors. And, I saw the symptoms quite clearly, but it wasn’t until this person turned their pent-up rage against me that it finally sank in (for the last time, I hope! LOL) that, no matter how I angled the picture, the image could not be altered.

    Denial is a “normal” reaction to something that is painful – Elizabeth Kubler-Ross did extensive research on the stages of grieving, and DENIAL was a huge player in this process. Most people who were raised in an emotionally healthy environment will endure denial for a while, and wind their way to “acceptance.” For me, having been raised in such a dysfunctional environment, I spent many decades riding the Denial Train………..

    So…………it’s an individual process to move through for every person. Remaining in denial is 100% toxic and poisonous, IMHO.

  8. Truthy, you are right, moving through grief stages, &/or denial is an individual thing, and some people NEVER Accomplish that and stay in denial forever.

    Denial SHORT TERM is beneficial to us emotionally….to protect us against things we cannot easily accept, but if we are healthy, we move past that denial. If we do NOT move past that denial, then we are STUCK and unable to take ACTION appropriate to the situation. I used to see it every day in the hospital where people had difficulty accepting that their brain dead child was GONE. Or that they themselves had a serious possibly fatal illness.

    The lady you mentioned who was deeply in denial and only wanted a “friend” to validate her delusions is all too common in my experience. They express a desire for your opinion on a course of action but always find a reason not to accept your suggestion. Dr. Eric Berne called this the “yes, but…” game and they will literally SAY “yes, but…” before putting down your idea. LOL When we recognize the “game” they are playing it behooves us to back away from that person because they really do NOT want your advice, only your validation that their delusions are truth. If you continue to deny that their delusions are truth, they will, as your friend did, turn on you with a rage!

    Denial long term is toxic and keeps us from every fixing what is wrong in our lives. And you are also right, it takes a TREMENDOUS amount of energy to keep that denial intact. I can speak from experience as the “queen of de-nial” and I ain’t Cleopatra. LOL

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