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The Psychology Of Denial

By Robert J. Burrowes

06 June, 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

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?' http://tinyurl.com/whyviolence 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'

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?'
http://tinyurl.com/whyviolence His email address is [email protected]
and his website is at http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com





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