Sunday, October 18, 2009

Denial: A Basic Survival Skill

A friend of mine who is a psychologist, told me that I am suffering from “Chronic Euphoria”. She says I am far too happy for my circumstances and teases me about being in denial. The truth is that she is right. I am in denial. In fact, it may be our most important survival skill.

We all live with varying degrees of denial. If we didn’t, we would never leave the house. Fatal car accidents occur every day. But not to me. Houses and buildings burn down every day. But not where I am. I live in Los Angeles and someday there will be a catastrophic earthquake. But it won’t hit my house. A certain amount of denial is required for us to be able to function in this modern world of ours. I consider this a ‘healthy level of denial’.

What is an unhealthy level of denial? Denying what already exists. My psychologist friend is worried that I may be in denial about how my disease/disability affects others around me. I don’t think so. In fact, I think I am particularly sensitive about how my disease affects others, especially my wife who is my primary caregiver. In many ways this disease (multiple sclerosis, for those who don’t know) is harder on her than it is on me. I am aware of that. No denial here.

Unhealthy denial may also occur when we deny that we have control or influence over circumstances in our lives. Or, at a minimum, controlling how we respond to those circumstances, events relationships, etc.

Healthy denial may be denying a possible adverse outcome. Denying a possible adverse outcome is also how many of us function every day. Car accidents, burning building and earthquakes occur almost daily, sometimes more often. If we really thought that these events would hurt or kill us, we would run and hide. We, or at least most of us, live our lives with an expectation that “bad things” won’t happen to us. While it is true that bad things happen all the time, we don’t expect them to happen to us.

I do know people that always expect the worst. To me, denying possible positive outcomes may be the UN-healthiest form of denial.

I live with a chronic disease and there is a great possibility that my condition may worsen. I know that and don’t deny it. But I live my life in anticipation of good things, accomplishing physical goals and expecting new treatments to improve my quality of life. To me, that is healthy denial and that is okay with me.

According to my psychologist friend, there is no such thing as “healthy denial.” Instead, she says that these are coping skills and being able to cope with the realities of life is good….and healthy. She is probably right.

Call it healthy denial, coping skills or whatever you like. Being able to accept reality is always healthy. There is no denying it.

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.


  1. Great blog, Michael! Dan & I always appreciate and enjoy reading your posts. What you call healthy denial, I believe is optimism. I hope, and am pretty sure, all three of us share that kind of thinking!

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