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The Psychology of Denial

The Psychology of Denial

Robert J. Burrowes
June 6, 2013

Despite conclusive evidence, some people deny the ongoing climate catastrophe. Why do they do this?

If you terrorise a child out of taking action to change its circumstances for the better (for example, to get out of a situation in which it is suffering the violence of a parent), then that same terror that stopped it changing its behaviour will also cause the child to now unconsciously delude itself that there is nothing wrong. Why?

It must do this because the human organism is genetically programmed to be an integrated whole in which mental functions (including sensing, thinking, feeling and conscience) are intended to work together to generate the appropriate behaviour in each circumstance. If you prevent the logical behavioural outcome, you force the child’s mind to deal with this.

Initially, it will simply repeat the original process of mental assessment and try again, one way or another, to escape the violence. But if it is repeatedly stopped from carrying out the logical behaviour, it must find another way of dealing with the problem to restore a sense of consistency (or integration). Unfortunately, of course, this response must be dysfunctional simply because the functional response, and any functional alternatives, was repeatedly blocked.

After its functional responses have been routinely blocked for some time, the child unconsciously 'learns' that functional behavioural responses 'don't work', so it increasingly resorts to deluding itself that 'really there is nothing wrong' (which means that it must suppress its awareness of all of the feelings - the fear, pain, anger and sadness, among others - that are telling it that there is something wrong). Once it has suppressed awareness of these feelings, mental assessment ('really there is nothing wrong') and behaviour (not allowed to act for change) are consistent but, of course, only in a dysfunctional/delusional way.

If in response to every negative, dysfunctional and/or violent experience the child is thwarted from taking remedial action that leads to clearcut improvement, it becomes progressively more dysfunctional in its responses and increasingly deluded about the circumstances of its life. As the child grows into adulthood, its mind now routinely deludes itself that violence is not happening because, unconsciously, it feels utterly powerless to do anything about it.

One outcome of this is that many individuals are completely unable to acknowledge, in any way, the prevalence of violence in its many forms or, therefore, take action to resist it. These individuals must maintain, for their own sake, the delusion that, on the whole, violence does not happen. Why? Because to acknowledge their failure to find a way to defend themself from the violence of their own childhood will require them to feel the monumental, unconscious fear, pain, anger and sadness (among other 'unpleasant' feelings) that they were originally terrorised into suppressing. Clearly it is far less frightening to delude themself that the violence never happened and still isn't happening, and to even take action to prevent the courageous efforts of others to both tell the truth about the violence and to resist it.

To summarise in simpler language: The individual pretends that everything is okay so that they can avoid feeling their fear of taking action to fix things. This is why they do not act: they are too scared. It is easier to pretend that things are okay, that is, 'under control', and then the fear of taking action can be ignored.

There are, of course, many other adverse outcomes of this denial process including a phenomenal variety of dysfunctionalities that adversely impact on the individual themselves, on others and on the environment. For example, many people refer to 'climate change' (which sounds almost benign) and some even argue that it is a natural phenomenon; some of these people accept that we will experience ongoing disasters of many kinds as a result of this 'change'. These people are so frightened of acknowledging the genuinely catastrophic state of affairs and its human cause, as well as the visionary and powerful action that must be taken in response, that they 'normalise' what is taking place in a powerless way: their 'reasonable' manner masks their deeply suppressed terror of taking action.

What I have discussed above is the process that leads to what the literature on psychology refers to as 'denial' or 'the denial of reality'. This problem has enormous implications. One fundamental outcome is that once you have terrorised a human being into 'thinking', 'feeling' and behaving in a delusional/dysfunctional way, it is extraordinarily difficult to get them to think, feel and behave functionally, because they are now unconsciously terrified of doing so. What they are 'thinking', 'feeling' and doing now is what got them approval as a child and that is terrifiedly but unconsciously locked in their mind. And the fear of even becoming aware of this, let alone feeling all of the feelings so that things might change, is overwhelming.

What can we do? Fundamentally, we must stop terrorizing children to do as we want. See 'Why Violence?' And if you want to join the worldwide movement to end human violence in all of its guises, you are welcome to consider signing online 'The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World' http://thepeoplesnonviolencecharter.wordpress.com

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Robert has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of 'Why Violence?' His website is at http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com

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