The essence of psychologica denial is a refusal to look at, or acknowledge, reality.
Fortunately, reality exists outside of one's head and is objective and verifiable. It is not altered by whim, desire, lies or myth. This is not to say that people might not believe ideas that do not conform to reality--in fact, they do so all the time. Just like Anna's description of the child's ego, the ego of an otherwise normal adult may also resort to childish, immature and primitive mechanisms when it feels threatened.
You would think it would be a simple matter to be "in touch" with reality. But it isn't. It requires a great deal of cognitive effort--i.e., thinking--and often that effort must assert itself over powerful emotions that draw the person away from the real world to a place more comfortable and unchallenging to their inner reality.
So, how does a rational person determine what is true and what is delusion? How do you decide if something is a myth or is real? How do you decide if someone is paranoid, or simply "connecting the dots" and facing reality? How do you determine if someone is simply neurotic, where thoughts and behavior are conflicted and distressed, but not inappropriate or outside socially acceptable norms; versus psychotic, where thoughts and behavior become unanchored to reality? [Freud distinguished the two in this way: “in neurosis the ego suppresses part of the id out of allegiance to reality, whereas in psychosis it lets itself be carried away by the id and detached from a part of reality.”]
In "How Sad", Jonah Goldberg bemoans John McWhorter's interesting defense of Van Jones, Obama's ex-Green Jobs Czar:
I've been a big fan of John McWhorter, but his piece over at The New Republic is sad commentary both about him and the magazine in which it appears. He writes:Jones was wrong, actually, in disavowing his support for 9/11 conspiracy theory. He signed the document, which can only mean that he supports the idea that 9/11 was planned, or that the Bushies knew something more than they have said, or at least that the charge is plausible enough to require investigation.
But support for that idea is hardly unknown among people of the left – and often gestural in its own way; look one of these types in the eye and ask “Do you really think George Bush and his cabinet engineered the murder of thousands and have kept the secret for eight years?” and watch the nervous pause and the look off into the distance. Speculations in this vein hardly meant that Jones was not sincerely committed to working within the government to do good.
Just a few years ago, Peter Beinart wrote a TNR cover story (which became a book) on how intellectually serious "fighting liberals" needed to confront their own anti-American left flank. Now TNR is running pieces insisting that just a little trutherism is okay in the liberal big tent. Good to know.
I hope this means we will hear fewer meditations about the right wing's coddling of the lunatic fringe and the "paranoid style" of the Right from The New Republic.
So, now we know that 9/11 "trutherism" has become completely mainstream on the political left. [Just as a reminder, here is the sort of paranoid fantasy we have had to put up with during the entire Bush Administration:
If you want to talk about extremism, how does the above psychotic delusion--which we can now assume is a position held by a rather large number of leftists--compare with even the most extreme neurotic obsessions about Obama's birth certificate? ]
The left decries the "paranoid style" of the the right when any question arises about the seemliness and unbelievable haste with which President Obama has attempted to consolidate vast amounts of power in the Presidency (see here for a breakdown of the more than 30 czars who function outside the normal checks and balances of government and have been called Obama's "shadow government")--something they daily insisted Bush was doing on an unprecedented level.
Turns out Bush was a piker compared to the Great Obama when it comes to accumulating power to one's self.
Psychological denial and the avoidance of an unpleasant reality are certainly not confined to one side of the political spectrum or the other. But what I find endlessly fascinating is how the political left has created and fully integrated into their mainstream thinking, specific ideological tools that facilitate ongoing psychological denial and completely break with reality.
It reminds me of all the paranoid patients I have observed over the years, who effortlessly are able to dismiss or explain away those facts that don't fit in with their carefully constructed conspiracy theories. If you get too assertive in pointing out those uncomfortable facts, you find yourself in no time fully integrated into the theory. For the paranoid, the case is closed and the argument is finished.
The political left has been utilizing the same psychological strategies inherent in the paranoid style since the end of the cold war and the 20th century. The rise of politically correct speech and the dogma of multiculturalism; the insistence on cultural diversity while enforcing a profound homogeneity of ideas and lack of intellectual diversity in academia; as well as the distortions and rationalizations that are currently the hallmark of intellectual debate within our institutions of higher learning and politics-- have all combined to dissuade those on the political left from pursuing a course of intellectual honesty and/or emotional insight.
This is what makes it so frustrating to debate or argue with today's typical postmodern leftist. Some are willing to engage in discussion, but you can always count on their complete dismissal of any fact that does not conform to their ideological perspective. No matter how many times you debunk their position (e.g., no matter how many times evidence of Saddam's WMD's are found and documented; that evidence has been either ignored or poo-pooed using a variety of rationalizations--and the goalposts are then changed to ensure the safety of the denial).
When it suits their purposes (i.e., when they are losing the argument), they will resort to the claim that reality and truth are merely subjective constructs anyway, and that any evidence you present is only someone's "opinion" and that their opinions are as good as anyone else's.
Such a position should logically disqualify their position to begin with, but of course, it doesn't.
Take Van Jones. He is now making the ludicrous claim that he was "smeared". Since when is it a "smear" to quote a person's own words? Nothing that was said about Jones was false; nor did it come anywhere near the definition of a "smear". Yet, to the postmodern political demagogues who are currently running our country--and I refer to the Democrat, Republican, socialist and communist variants--the meaning of words is elastic and can easily be manipulated or distorted to suit their current purposes or agenda.
As I have written before, at the center of all psychological denial is a hidden agenda. That agenda is usually not completely conscious--meaning that the denier has not thought through the issues surrounding his denial; and may not even be aware of what his motivation is in asserting something is true when it isn't; or false when it isn't.
The hidden agenda or underlying motivation behind the denial is very frequently related to the potential adverse consequences that could ensue if the denial were eliminated and reality acknowledged. And this is where unnacceptable feelings, needs, and thoughts come in. The denier (or part of him) has made an unconscious decision that awareness of certain feelings, needs, or thoughts is more threatening to his sense of self than the act of denial.
Thus, any person genuinely trying to determine which side of an argument conforms to reality and truth, needs to assess the personal, i.e., the psychological, stakes or conflicts of interest (as those stakes are sometimes referred to) for both sides of the argument.
Of course, both sides in this argument have a conflicts of interest because this is politics and both sides want to win. So, it is entirely possible that both sides are deluding themselves and in denial. The question then become, to what degree?
A rational observer could either wash his hands of both sides; or, accept the reality that one side or the other is going to be in power and go with the side that is at least closest to reality.
Let's review some of the key points about whether a someone is "paranoid" or "projecting" or in "denial" versus accurately responding to and interpreting objective reality. In other words, how do you tell if the use of a defense is a symptom of some underlying psychological problem versus whether it is adaptive and healthy?
In order to be adaptive, a defense:
• should regulate, rather than remove affect – that is, instead of totally anesthetizing a person, the defense would just reduce the pain (and therefore make it easier to cope; rather than to avoid coping altogether)
• should channel feelings instead of blocking them (i.e., allow a healthy expression of those feelings in a way that can discharge them in socially acceptable ways rather than keep them hidden and motivating behavior)
• should be oriented to the long-term; and not simply short-term comfort or avoidance
• should be oriented toward present and future pain relief; and not focused past distress
• should be as specific as possible (i.e., be as a key is to a lock; not as a sledgehammer applied to a door)
• the use of the defense should attract people and not repel them.
Think about those criteria for a while and decide for yourself which side is psychologicaly healthier; more functional, and in touch with reality.
As for my own view and clinical assessment: when it comes to deciding between Democrats or Republicans; the political left or conservatives; I'm going to have choose the only partially deluded Republicans and conservatives all the way. It's the difference in severity between psychosis (where contact with reality is lost or highly distorted) and a neurosis (where inner conflict brings about distress and unhappiness, but not delusions or hallucinations) --both are definitely dysfunctional, but the psychotic is a really, really sick puppy.
At least the neurotic right has not completely abandoned the real world for the bubble of self-delusion. They have not regularly retreated into moral relativism and the nihilism of postmodern rhetoric to justify their denial and delusion. They have not embraced national defeat and humiliation as a path to power and control over others. They do not constantly whine, scream, and behave like immature children when they don't get their way (at least not a a matter of course). They do not say one thing and then do another, at least not with the frequency and enthusiasm of the Democrats and the left.
The list of issues that the Democrats and the left are desperately trying to avoid are legion; but among the most serious are: (1) an imminently nuclear Iran (as they badmouth America and apologize to pretty much every despot and petty tyrant in today's world) and the deterioration of the stuation in Afghanistan under their watch; and (2) the imminent fiscal catastrophe they are foisting on America today and the forseeable future, with their wild spending and intemperate haste to remake America into a leftist
For more than 8 years , America has had to listen to the the left's constant carping abou the inadequacies of America; the evils of American power and the evils of capitalism etc. etc. etc.; we have had to withstand their contempt for America's fundamental values; and our military have had to bear the brunt of their incoherent rage and careless enabling of the enemy we fight (talk about "not caring" about people--does Code Pink or the other zombies of the left take any responsibility for enabling and encouraging terrorists to kill Americans whenever they can?).
Now that the left are ascendant and have complete power and control over the White House and both Houses of Congress, the incessant carping has only accelerated and reached a fever pitch! They can't even function effectively when power is handed to them on a silver platter because reality is not part of their world view.
We have listened to the endless repetition of the left's mantras and slogans--and their myths; the unrivaled self-righteousness of their superior intellects; and seen firsthand the intensity of the hatred that motivates them. We are now beginning to see the consequences of their self-delusion in the real world.
Through it all, there have been very very few on the left side of the political spectrum who have been able to summon up an iota of insight; or a moment of self-reflection about the potentially devastating consequences of their own rhetoric or behavior--nationally or internationally.
Don't dare question their patriotism, they screamed when they were not in power. But if you looked at their behavior and the consequences of that behavior, that was exactly what you had to question. Of course, now that they are in power, questioning them is completely out of bounds.
Look at the people that Obama is surrounding himself with; his czars and the ceaseless promotion of his cult of personality--even to children.
One of the most important psychological challenges for every human is dealing with reality and the real world--particularly when the consequences of confronting truth are personally unpleasant and painful. That is exactly what psychological denial seeks to avoid.
Today we are witness to the left's vivid (and psychotic) imagination, feverishly working overtime to reverse all those unwelcome facts and painful truths so they can remain in an endless childhood.