Tuesday, February 20, 2007


The consequences of psychological denial can be seen every day in today's world; and particularly of late in the Democratically controlled United States Congress. Ed Koch writes:

Over the last few years I have written of my fears that we Americans, as a people, have lost our will to fight for our freedom.

We have come to expect that wars can be fought without casualties, even the relatively modest casualties we have suffered in Iraq. During World War Two, more Americans were killed or wounded on Iwo Jima in one month than have fallen in Iraq in almost four years. Of course, every military death and severe injury is a tragedy. Nevertheless, former Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that our army in Iraq is "about broken," which appalled and frightened me. Added to those two disturbing dangers to our national security is a new and third factor: denial of a military threat to our armed forces. Such a denial allows us to avoid addressing the threat with an appropriate military response.

We are not at war with Iran, but Iran seems to be at war with us. In the last year we have suffered at least 170 American military deaths in Iraq and 640 American soldiers have been injured as a result of Iranian manufactured and supplied explosives supplied to Iraqi insurgents and terrorists. These explosives are planted at the side of the road and are activated when U.S. military vehicles pass by. They are especially dangerous because their high technology design allows them to penetrate armored vehicles and kill and maim the occupants....

Democrats and some Republicans in Congress are seeking to humble, embarrass and, if they can, destroy the President and the prestige of his position as the Commander-in-Chief who is responsible for the safety of our military forces and the nation's defenses. By doing so, they are adding to the dangers that face our nation. And so I ask again them again: do you think that leaving a power vacuum in Iraq will make us safer? If, as a result of the power vacuum, the terrorists are emboldened and God forbid we sustain here in the U.S. civilian casualties comparable to those caused in Iraq by car bombs, will you publicly accept responsibility?

Of course they won't.

That is one of the incredibly wonderful aspects of psychological denial. In the vacuous recesses of their own minds, those who deny reality have managed to convince themselves that they are "reality-based". One might justifiably ask them why they have an almost obsessive need to so aggressively tout their connection to reality, like some sort of celebrity name-dropper expecting to increase his stature in the eyes of the world: "Oh, btw, did you know that I'm reality-based?"

Sadly for them, just because one repeatedly claims a close connection to the Big R, does not prove anything one way or the other; nor does it absolve the boaster of providing the requisite evidence to back up their claim. Feelings won't do, I'm afraid; though it is often to those arguments of emotion that the denier will ultimately resort when impeded in his quest to avoid reality.

As a psychiatrist, I would be the last person to suggest that even a primitive and immature psychological defense mechanism like denial didn't have some positive results for the individuals who use it. Obviously, if it resulted in the outright death or dismemberment of the person using it, denial would probably not last long as a viable strategy in the real world; nor would it be particularly helpful for the species as a whole.

The truth is that frequently denial works--at least for a short while--and that is why it is so often resorted to in extremis.

Some of the positive consequences of psychological denial include:

In the short-term, psychological denial can help a person maintain their sanity--which would be threatened by awareness of a painful truth or reality
In the short-term, denial can help a person function day to day
In the short-term, denial can prevent a person from having to acknowledge painful thoughts, feelings or behavior and help them maintain a world view threatened by an unacceptable reality or truth

The operative word in all of the above is "in the short-term." In the short-term, even the unhealthiest of defenses--such as denial, projection, paranoia-- may be creative, healthy, comforting, and coping. And, while their use may strike observers as downright peculiar at times, in the short-term, they may be transiently adaptative.

In fact, psychological denial is a way to integrate one's experience by providing a variety of filters for pain and mechanisms for self-deception. It creatively rearranges the sources of conflict the individual faces so that the conflict becomes manageable.

To some extent, all psychological defenses ultimately function to deny reality. Just the other day, I discussed psychological displacement, for example--the mechanism that underlies BDS--as a way of avoiding dealing with a really threatening and/or painful truth by focusing on a less threatening object:

As we finish the last two years of Bush's Presidency, we are witnessing "end stage" Bush Derangement Syndrome, which manifests itself by the histrionic and blind hatred of anything the President does or does not do.

This "end stage" BDS--like terminal syphilis--has culminated in blindness combined with an insanity so profound, the consequences to those who suffer it--as well as to our country--will likely be quite profound, if not lethal, since they hinder and undermine this country's ability to deal with real threats. (read it all for the full context of this type of denial)

Let's consider some of the negative consequences of psychological denial:

• In the longer-term, denial requires a continued compromises with reality to maintain the pretense that "Everything is fine!" or "If only X would happen, everything would be fine!" Eventually, delusional thinking, along with paranoia and its inevitable conspiracy theories begin to take the place of rational thought in those who deny reality for long periods of time. (see all the 9/11 conspiracy theorists for examples in our own country; or the more recent comments of former President Clinton--once considered a "moderate" democrat, who now fully adheres to the model that the Republicans have manufactured a culture of fear in order to fool the American public into thinking we are at war (read the transcript linked below). See here and here for common examples in the muslim world which is rife with conspiracies and which could not exist as a cohesive society without them).

• The denier must then place the blame for the unacceptable reality on someone else and that leads to increased conflict between deniers and non-deniers. Efforts to maintain their denial consumes them and will lead them to escalate their anger and rage as their denial becomes untenable and ever more obvious.

• The denier will begin distort language and logic to rationalize and justify their behavior(examples of this are too numerous to mention, but I have discussed it here , here and here) . Eventually, cognitive strategies and rational argument will be abandoned altogether by the denier, because those strategies are not sustainable and are unable to convince others; at which point the person in denial will simply refer to his feelings or emotions as the sole justification.

• The denier will feel justified in acting out against those who threaten the peacefulness of their fantasy (check out the "peacefulness" and "reasonable" slogans chanted at most antiwar rallies these days). Check out, for example, the kind of vitriol that is being directed at people like Glenn Reynolds and Mark Steyn because they have had the audacity to either suggest (Reynolds) that it might save lives to covertly target Iranian scientists (personally, I prefer that we target the delusional mullahs) instead of having to use massive air strikes where surely more people would be killed; or (Steyn) who discusses in his book the genocidal trajectory that Europe appears to be on because they refusing to acknowledge or deal with the reality of immigrant muslim demographics today. Considering the fact that Europe has taken this track before in recent memory, Steyn is more of a Delphic oracle, rather than the genocidal maniac he is being portrayed as by those who would also deny reality.

• Problem solving and decision-making will deteriorate as the entire focus of energy becomes the maintenance of the denial. In place of rational alternatives, excessive emotionality in general; and specifically anger and rage escalate toward those who are "blamed" for the reality that does not conform to the denier's worldview. (consider the lack of any specific ideas in the Democratic party's agenda; or it's reflex negativity toward any substantive position or any compromise offered to them.

• In the end, interactions with those in denial are characterized by the denier's frequent smugness; sense of superiority; arrogance; belittlement of alternative views; and undiluted hatred toward anyone or any idea that questions their worldview (see the links related to the attacks on Reynolds and Steyn above).

• Finally, in the long-term, denial will always bring great harm to the individual using it and all who happen to be in his sphere of influence. It may lead to his death or many deaths when practiced by groups or larger societies. It will certainly leads to all sorts of dysfunction and destructiveness; even if--for a brief time--the denial gave the individual or group a sense of calm or control over their world because it blocked out the forces that threatened to upend that world.

The left's current consensus view on terrorism and Iraq ("Victory is not an option") is just plain wrong and cannot be justified or supported by the facts that are available. While victory is not guaranteed, this type of wishful thinking is a self-fulfilling prophecy because those who make it are actively working to ensure that defeat is the only option.

By doing so, they risk exposing for all to see their hidden agenda--which is nothing less than the defeat and humiliation of George W. Bush, the Republicans, and America.

Their rhetoric is designed to obfuscate and deny objective reality --which interestingly they don't even believe in to begin with (or, they believe in it until it become threatening then they seek refuge behind postmodern political rhetoric). The motivation for their continual Bush/Republican bashing is simple: Bush is the current symbol of the left's ideological demise as it is tossed into the trashbin of history. He is the fly in their utopian ointment; the light shining in their darkness.

In spite of the 2006 midterm elections which saw Democrats obtain a small majority in Congress, life has actually been going very badly for the left .

As the real world presses in on them, their voices have become more shrill and hysterical; their rage is escalating out of control. No longer do most of them even bother to argue their points logically; they simply loudly denounce any idea or person who threatens their ideology; or deliberately and with the ruthless finesse of all tyrants and thugs, simply attempt to suppress all dissenting opinions. (See the style of one of their heroes for an example of this)

9/11 did not wake them up; rather it forced them to openly move toward what they have supported surreptitiously all along--the elimination of free speech in the name of political correctness and multiculturalism; a dictatorship where the pseudo-intellectual, politically correct priesthood rule; and complete control over the lives of others (for their own good, of course!).

Since their objectives dovetail nicely with those of the Islamic terrorists, they have made common cause with them and have not lost many opportunities to enable and encourage them, even as they denounce America and the principles of freedom and democracy out of one side of their mouth, while remaining convinced that their actions are patriotic and are representative of "true" American values.

A while back, I listened in disbelief as Democrat after Democrat denounced the compromise bill that defines for detainees what torture is and isn't. To a person, they paid lip-service to being against torture (whatever it might be); and to a person it was obvious that the detainees "rights" were paramount. How strange that they don't give individual's in our own society the same "rights" to express their religion as they would like in public; or that they denounce opinions with which they differ with such passion. How nice it would be to see them behave consistently for a change....but it isn't going to happen because they just don't see it.

I'm sure that the recent court decision about all this will stimulate even more histrionic moral outrage--particularly since the outrage conveniently obscures the reality that we are at war with an implacable enemy that wants to kill us all.

That's what denial is all about. It allows--nay, it encourages-- the most blatant contradictions in thinking; and the individual does not ever have to account for those contradictions or take responsibility for them because they don't even perceive them! Facts, schmacts.

The left pretends their behavior is motivated from" love" or "peace" or "patriotism"; but these are only words they use to rationalize to themselves their actions, which demonstrate exactly the opposite. Their self-deception and denial is simply stunning in its sweeping grandiosity and self-righteousness betrayal of the good.

Careful observation and analysis of behavior is what I do for a living. I am very good at it. My patients tend to get well for the most part. I am not always correct and I have a great tolerance for ambiguity and doubt. I can be convinced that I am incorrect because I accept my own humanity and the limitations that come with that acceptance. But if you want to convince me, you will have to give me a compelling argument that is rational and which conforms to what I observe in the real world. Calling me names and threatening me (try reading my email for a week) just will not do it; and, quite frankly, often only confirms the existence of the pathology I observe.

If you can look in the mirror and truly know yourself, including all those hidden motives and agendas and unresolved issues in life which we all must grapple with; you can gain some control over your own life; make choices and attack problems based on a clear view of reality. People may still make the wrong choices, or screw up in dealing with the problems even when they are aware of their own unconscious conflicts. Human beings are not perfect.

But when psychological denial distorts or obscures reality, people are far more likely to make the wrong choices and ignore the serious problems; they are more likely to avoid the difficult decisions then blame others when things don't come out perfectly

Reality and truth matter--terribly.

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