Why Denial is Your Worst Enemy


Vienna-based marriage and family therapist Helen Rudinsky looks at how to recognize if you're in denial, and what to do to break out of it.

Are you lying to yourself? Probably. Most of us do. Denial is the most common way we lie to ourselves. We are in denial when we refuse to accept reality, pretending that a painful event, thought, or feeling doesn't exist.

A woman who is an alcoholic denies that she has a drinking problem by lying to herself that her job and family are not affected by it.

A man who is 30 kilos overweight, lies to himself saying he is not fat, he just has a few “love handles.”

A wife lies to herself, saying her husband isn't distancing himself from her, he is just “busy at the office.”

You know you are in denial when you:

  • Refuse to acknowledge a painful situation

  • Avoid facing the evidence and facts of the situation

  • Minimize the consequences of the situation

  • Make excuses for the situation

Staying in denial too long prevents you from dealing with critical issues that demand urgent action, such as a health emergency, a relationship problem, a financial crisis, etc.

Unfortunately, most of us don't recognize the harmful effects of our denial until we are knee-deep in a crisis. By then it is often too late for help.

Let's look at people who, by lying to themselves, will suffer greatly because of it:

  • A sales manager often misses a morning meeting after drinking excessively the night before, but tells himself there's no risk of losing his job because he is meeting his sales quota.

  • A young married couple who are acquiring way too much debt, stop opening their bills and tell themselves they will pay everything off once he or she gets a better job.

  • The parents of a teenage daughter with drug addiction keep giving her "clothes” money and tell themselves this is just a phase she is going through and she will be fine.

  • Is denial holding you in a bad situation? If so, get out of denial by following these strategies:

  • Honestly examine your bad situation.

  • Be honest about the negative consequences of not taking action now.

  • Allow yourself to express your fears and emotions.

  • Write a journal about your experience.

  • Participate in a support group.

  • Get professional help.

Are you lying to yourself? If so, stop! Break out of your denial now, and get help immediately.

Hospital emergency rooms, bankruptcy courts, and divorce lawyers' offices are full of people who lied to themselves, allowed themselves to be in denial and waited too long to get help.

At some point, it will be too late. The cancer will have spread too far, the spouse will give up and move on, the financial situation will be too far gone, the daughter will overdose on drugs.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist serving couples, individuals and children in the expat community in Vienna, I see this on a daily basis.

People come to me, seeking help way too late in the game. There is nothing I or another professional can do. It is too late.

The reality is there is a “window of time” for improving any situation. Once that window is closed it is very hard or even impossible to make significant improvements.

If conflict-ridden, strained relationships are left untreated for too long one partner or both will eventually give up and move on emotionally or physically.

Anxiety and depression tend to get worse if not treated right away. If a childhood disorder is not treated very early on, the prognosis for successful treatment is slim.

(This is especially true for Pervasive Developmental Delays, also called PDD, Autism, Aspergers, and disorders on the Autism Spectrum, which ideally should be treated by age six).

Don't let this happen to you. Denial is your worst enemy. Don't lie to yourself.


About the Author

Helen is an American Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor.  She has a Masters Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a Masters Degree in Intercultural Studies. 

Helen is an expat herself having lived in several countries: Holland, Finland, Switzerland, former Czechoslovakia, and Russia.  In addition, she has lived in Austria off and on since 1980.  She has been serving couples, individuals and children in the expat community worldwide for 40 years. She works with individuals with relationship problems, career decisions, anxiety, depression and other issues.

Helen has also helped many expat couples in Vienna turn their marriage around. She shows them how to improve their communication, set boundaries, and resolve conflicts by using videos, personality tests, role plays and other tools to bring about rapid change. Many of her clients have learned to better communicate, and have created  loving, healthy marriages.

Additionally, Helen works with children who are having a hard time at school.  Expat kids especially, may have trouble adjusting to school routines, on top of handling a new culture and possibly language. That's why talking to someone can help. Helen is happy to be there and assist through the difficult times.