Everyone has something they are in denial about. We deny death because if we dwelt on our eventual mortality, we couldn’t live happy lives. We deny losing a loved one will ever happen, even in the face of them getting older.
This brief article will tackle denial, how it affects people with dissociative identity disorder, and how to overcome it.
What is Denial?
People have many definitions of what denial is to them. However, the American Psychological Association (APA) gives this definition:
“a defense mechanism in which unpleasant thoughts, feelings, wishes, or events are ignored or excluded from conscious awareness. It may take such forms as a refusal to acknowledge the reality of a terminal illness, a financial problem, an addiction, or a partner’s infidelity. Denial is an unconscious process that functions to resolve emotional conflict or reduce anxiety.1”
People living with DID are very prone to feelings of denial. We deny our past because who would want to claim what happened to us? Most of all, we deny our diagnosis, believing we are liars or desperate for attention.
Our go-to defense mechanism of dissociation is closely related to denial. We are triggered into remembering and reliving an event from our childhoods, then ignore it so we can live on; we dissociate.
What Causes Denial?
While there is no one answer to the above question, the best may be that denial is used as a coping mechanism. One can deal better with extreme traumatic events as protection against future pain. One instance might be when we were children; we denied what had just happened to us by forming an alter to carry the pain.
The trauma we experienced in childhood was extreme, and as children, we had no defense or means of escape. So, to save ourselves, we did what comes naturally to a young child. We dissociated away the memories of what happened into an alter.
One form of denial that people with DID have is the denial of their childhood abuse’s impact on them. The abuse has altered their entire life course, but some decide to deny this, deciding instead that they have brought their problems on themselves. While you are responsible for what you do, dissociated or not, the fact remains that you would have taken a different path without the abuse.
Another form of denial is the denial of responsibility. How often have you told someone else that you couldn’t help what you did while dissociated? How many times have you used dissociation as an excuse for inappropriate behavior? I know I have. The reality is if I break the law, I go to prison. Not an alter, all of me goes to prison because we did the crime; we must do the time. This possibility is why I worked so hard to gain control over the others to try to prevent me from doing anything I would regret. If I do wrong, it is my responsibility.
While denial is common in DID, it is not ideal. Living in denial makes us vulnerable to poor decisions and keeps us from facing ourselves head-on in therapy. Doing so is very important to overcoming dissociative identity disorder.
Below are four ways you can use to overcome denial.
Learn about your condition. Speak to a therapist or someone farther along in their healing than you for inspiration and hope. When you understand your condition better, the fear you have been denying will lessen.
Be compassionate with yourself. Try not to be so hard on yourself because you have a bout of denial. People sometimes feel denial, and those living with traumatic pasts like ours need something to comfort them when overwhelmed.
Listen to your self-talk. Do you hear yourself denying your DID to yourself or others? Even in the face of evidence that your diagnosis is correct? You must take control of your self-talk because much of what you say can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Instead, tell yourself that you acknowledge your DID and do not want to be in denial any more.
Accept your reality. Receiving a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder is frightening. At first, you may wear it as a label and identify it so much that you lose yourself. Or you may deny that diagnosis stating to yourself and others that it is impossible to have it or that the doctor was wrong. This is normal and natural. However, denying your condition harms you by delaying treatment or complicating it greatly. Accept your diagnosis of DID and begin your travels down the road less taken to heal yourself. This is the most important thing you can do for yourself.
Ending Our Time Together
Denial is a topic that isn’t discussed enough in the therapist’s office, yet it is a prevailing problem. If we do not believe we have DID, how can we overcome it? Our overarching goal is to believe in ourselves and the professionals that diagnosed us and begin the hard work ahead.
Denying your alters is to deny yourself. We often deny the existence of alters because we are frightened by them. We need not be afraid, as the alters are parts of us that were never merged into our conscious awareness. They are you, and you are them.
I hope this piece helps open a dialogue with you and your therapist. Telling yourself and others about your fear and denial takes power away from what once held sway over your life and treatment.
- American Psychological Association.APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.