Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Denial is a basic human feature. In fact, most of our lives are based on denial, and they would not run without it. But in many cases, denial is a dangerous fact.
I define ‘denial’ as a sub-conscious negation and conscious ignorance (or, in rare cases, also negation) of a fact (or what should be perceived as a fact). The fact does not have to be something unpleasant.
Denial is primarily a necessity for our survival. A doting parent of an ugly child does not realise its child’s ugliness, facilitating the welfare of the child. In the context of adults, we ignore the sufferings of people around the world, even the ones that are right in front of us, otherwise we would spend our days being sickened and depressed by the state of the world. As an example, for a long time, I was (and still am) sorely tempted to stop reading the newspaper, just so I wouldn’t have to read about these things.
But in particular, rather than general, cases, denial can take an ugly face. A parent who thinks its child is an angel when it actually is a pain is in denial. A person who fails to admit to any mistake s/he has made might not necessarily be arrogant, s/he might be in denial, which later hurts that person more than anyone else.
Today, we see two major instances of large-scale denial. The first is sexuality. Our parents do not tell us about sex. They want to avoid the embarrassment and awkwardness. Therefore, they take comfort in the belief that we will learn it on our own. This can lead to absurdities like what has recently come to light in Hong Kong, where a large percentage of newly-wed couple do not know what they were supposed to do next (“don’t know where their sex organs are” were the exact words – click here for more). A lot of the time, we do learn it on our own, but we mostly learn a distortion of the truth, which usually leads to either a feeling of guilt, or a feeling of nervousness, confusion, and sometimes to misplaced aggression. I remember that when I was 12, a friend gave me a Xerox copy of a biology text dealing with reproduction. I hid it well, so that I could read it at night, but my parents found it and they tore it up. When I was little, my grandmother forbade me to touch my genitals, saying that it would cause some kind of disease. You can see where I’m going with that.
In the other instance of large-scale denial, we see that denial is the basis of modern religion. I am not referring to the mythology and theosophy of religion, but to the reason why people take to religion. They want to assuage a deeply hidden feeling of guilt or uncertainty, and they decide that they will place all the responsibility on a God. After this, they are free to blame God, and whenever they have a feeling of guilt, they offload it on God by prayer. Here’s a somewhat snide (and, some might feel, unrelated) example: I am a somnambulist, and in my early teenage, I feared that perhaps I would reveal all my ‘dirty’ fantasies in my sleep. Therefore, just before going to sleep, I would fervently pray, so that if I said anything in my sleep by chance, this would be what I said.
Denial takes different forms for different people. On one hand is the pre-teenage boy who refuses to believe that his mother ever had sex, and on the other hand are the custodians of our welfare who are turning blue in the face screaming that skimpy clothes cause sexual abuse of women, who perhaps believe that abuse did not exist in the 18th and 19th centuries.
As I said, denial does not necessarily have to be of an unpleasant fact. Anorexic people deny the fact that they are slim, and proceed to make themselves thinner. A person with feelings of inferiority, who might develop a complex, does not actually need to be inferior to do so. This can happen on its own or under pressure from parents, friends and other people. I know students who developed feelings of guilt and inferiority because their parents insisted they didn’t study, without bothering to check whether they actually did or not. This led to the students feeling that they did not do anything well.
The only solution to denial is to realise and rectify it, which can only be done by realising and rectifying it, so you can see where that argument is going. I’m not going to try and offer a solution. That is for everybody to find out for themselves.
I have only scratched the surface of this topic – perhaps I’ll write more in another post. Till then, ciao. [Sorry for the abrupt ending. I like abrupt endings.]