Denial and Its Power

Acknowledging Domestic Violence/Pathology Awareness Month

With the POWER of Information!

 Every once in a while you need to be reminded that not everyone thinks you know diddly-squat. Sometimes it’s the people closest to you who think you really don’t have a clue. It’s not that it’s new to me. It reminds me that not everyone believes me when I tell them I think he’s pathological and it reminds me that denial is a mighty force—like a tidal wave.

My girlfriend’s daughter (I’ll call her ‘E’) could have been in my Women Who Love Psychopaths book—that is, her traits, her background, the men she chooses, the father of her child—are identical to the women in the book EXCEPT she hasn’t broken through her own denial yet. The women in the book broke through their’s long enough to at least answer the survey. E hasn’t come that far yet, no matter how many of my books I give her or how many times I have pounded this into her head when I see her.

E has a daughter with the pathological who is 9 years old. In E’s daughter’s short life, the pathological has been out of jail probably less than one year, in small increments of months at a time, until he does something else and goes back to jail. He has no empathy and no insight about his behavior. He lives a parasitic life off of others, he deals drugs for his full-time employment (when he’s out of prison), he never learns from his consequences, and he expects others to cater to his pitiful life. In short, he meets the criteria for a psychopath.

I have known E since she was about 7 or 8 years old and she grew up with my children. She’s now 31. E once told her mother, “Sandy doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She may write books, but she doesn’t really know what she thinks she knows. She assumes these people can’t change, but I am the hopeful type that believes anyone can change, especially if ‘they want to’, and with God’s help. You can’t be a Christian and believe that people don’t change.”

Did you sigh a big sigh reading that? That’s how I feel day in and day out as I see the mixed effects on women from both a lack of public psychopathy education in this country and a whopping dose of denial. Denial is often an underrated defense belief system in terms of the devastation it can cause people. Over and over I watch just one defense mechanism—DENIAL—kill women, harm their children, lose their career over, go into financial bankruptcy because of it, become spiritually bankrupt as well, and emotionally harmed and scarred. All because of one simple highly defensive belief system: Denial.

Denial is a defense mechanism, postulated by Freud, that when a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept, one will reject it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence. In E’s case that would be: he doesn’t work, he lives 10 months out of every year in jail, he doesn’t pay child support, he lives with his parents or other women, he lies/steals/cheats/deals and has never done anything different. This is the ‘overwhelming evidence’ of psychopathy upon which her denial is based. And I’m sure, in E’s defense, it’s uncomfortable to accept that he’s never going to help her and her child’s dad will live most of his life in jail or in prison.

Denial is different than ignorance. Ignorance doesn’t have the information to make an informed choice. E has the information in the form of previous experience with him, his consistent behavior that never changes, and a lot of information she’s gotten from me, and she refuses to use it to develop honest insight about his traits, behaviors, outcomes, and, ultimately, his mental health. She needs the illusion that he isn’t pathological, that one day he will somehow ‘just be different’. It’s magical thinking at best, and sad, sad, sad denial at worst.

It will cost her everything to stubbornly cling to the belief that he won’t live the rest of his life in jail, live off of others, and do nothing for his child. It may cost her a child abduction when he doesn’t bring her back when he’s supposed to (oh yeah, she already went through that). It may cause her serious financial struggles when he doesn’t pay child support and she must do it all. (Oh yeah, she’s already living that—she has to live with her mother because he doesn’t pay support.)

It may cost her child constant attachment/detachment problems when she goes for long periods of time and doesn’t see him and is told, “Daddy is in time-out.” (What a way to put it!) Oh yeah, the 9-year-old is already in mental-health counseling, according to her mother, because, “It’s important she has a relationship with her dad.” No child deserves to have exposure to a psychopathic parent.

With denial, E doesn’t see that her daughter doesn’t have a relationship with her dad! And since he is incapable of true attachment, empathy, love, consistency, or insight, what in the world can he give to her? He deals drugs with her in the car and she stays 90 percent of the time with his parents. But denial lets E believe that ‘something’ other than drug dealing is happening in those times her child has with her dad in those scarce moments in-between jail/prison time.

The theory of denial was first researched seriously by Freud’s daughter, Anna. She classified denial as a mechanism of the immature mind because it conflicts with the “ability to learn from and cope with reality”. Learning from reality is what the path of recovery is all about—accepting WHAT IS—his diagnosis, his incurable disorder, his pathology. You can’t learn from something that you don’t accept and you will never cope with something you don’t believe.

There are so many forms of denial, no wonder it is so prevalent—denial of facts, denial of responsibility, denial of impact, denial of awareness, denial of cycles, even denial of denial! With so many forms to get entangled with, is it any wonder it can take a woman years to ‘come to believe’ that her life with a pathological is unmanageable, dangerous, and deadening?

The last time I looked in the face of this kind of scary denial—where I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about in explaining possible lethality to a mom, she was shot in the head by him and died in front of her young children. Now parentless AND traumatized, the children are the by-product of his deadly pathology and her deadly denial.

I hate denial because I saw someone die because of it—and all to protect and defend an illusionary concept of a relationship that DIDN’T EVEN EXIST the way she believed it did simply because she didn’t want to face reality.

Reality is a gift. It’s the only truth. Truth is bigger and even safer than hope. Hope in him gets plenty of women and their children hurt when denial eclipses ‘overwhelming evidence’. Why women who love pathologicals hang onto denial like a shark has been the focus of our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths.

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)