Faces of denial


A few months ago, Dan Brown’s Inferno was released, which is his latest novel. I have read all of his novels and felt curious what he would come up with now so I bought the book as soon as I saw it in a book store. Frankly, I have been disappointed in many respects. Nevertheless, there is mentioned a theory of denial in the story and I had to think about it a lot. It has stuck in my mind…

The theory says that our human mind protects itself against feeling unbearable stress which could be faced when thinking too much about possible threats. We could be permanently afraid of what could happen to us, of being abused, attacked, robbed, having an accident, being involved in any kind of nature disaster. We could easily add other fears to this list, fears related not just to ourselves but also to our families and friends. Instead our mind focuses on our daily routines and needs and suppresses this type of thoughts. Denies their probability, I would say. This pattern protects our sanity for sure.

I googled “denial” and found out that there is also a different pattern of denial. The one we experience when we have a problem and do not want to face it, instead we pretend that everything is all right. We eat too much but insist on almost starving, we yell at the family but insist on being a perfect partner and parent, we are lazy but insist on being just tired… We do not want to deal with the problems, whether we are not strong enough or it would hurt, so the easiest way is to deny them. Though without acceptance, there is no way forward.

That made me think about a friend I had and yet another type of denial included in a complex process of facing something difficult or bad which was inflicted on us. She and her husband cannot have children and she wrote a little book about what she went through. She described a process which in my opinion applies to many cases that look at first sight like having nothing in common. When we lose someone who is dear to us, when we suffer a nasty illness or injury, when any kind of disability is inflicted upon us, when our possessions are damaged or stolen.

First we do not want to believe what happened. We do not want to think about it and sort of hope it is just a bad dream and when we wake up, it will be all right again. We hold to the idea that it could be just a misunderstanding or that there is an easy solution. Then reality impacts and anger follows. Why me??? What have I done??? And finally, if we are lucky or rather wise, there comes acceptance.

At this point of my thoughts I realized which photo should accompany this post. A few weeks ago we spent a few days in Moravia and visited a Milotice castle there. The photo above was taken at its back yard and if you look at it closely, you will see a statue representing the God Janus. You may know him, he often symbolised change and transition from one condition to another, among others he was called god of beginnings and passages. He was usually depicted with two faces, one looking to the past, the other to the future. One face watches BEFORE and the other one AFTER. One witnesses the denial and anger and the other admires the acceptance.

This type of denial may also protect us for certain time, to ease the shock and disappointment, there is nothing wrong about it. The following anger is a natural reaction and there is nothing wrong about it as well. Perhaps we need to go through that phase. But I keep my fingers crossed for us all that we always pass safely through these two stages to arrive quietly at the acceptance. The acceptance being not resignation but embrace of reality.



  1. Soosie

    Sadly, the only answer to 'why me?' is often 'why not.' Which makes acceptance (or resignation at least) more difficult to postpone. I love your point about acceptance being an embrace of reality though. Something to aspire to. Thank you.

  2. Catherine

    I'm a great believer in denial and it has gotten me through some challenging times. I can be afraid of so many things……so I whistle a happy tune like Mary Poppins…….or my adult equivalent which I call "performance mode"……..sometimes it's all that I can do…..so many kinds of denial, I love how you have explored it today and allowed the two faces……

  3. Ginnie

    Your fascinating "study" has sent my brain off into so many different directions, Petra. At first I laughed nervously while singing the Pam Tillis counrty song, "Cleopatra, Queen of Denial." HA! Then I started to think of the 5 stages of death and dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Then I remembered a quote from my high-school years by Amy Carmichael (after whom I named my daughter): "In acceptance lieth peace."
    You've really gone around the block on this one, Petra, and I like the way you think. I've read most of Dan Brown's books, but not this last one. I'm glad you did, because it seems there was clearly a nugget of gold to be found. Thanks for finding it!

  4. Kathryn Dyche Dechairo

    Denial is kind of like being an awkward teenager . . . a stage you have to get through to get to the other side. Love the exploration of Denial in this post, made me think.

  5. Deborah

    Excellent post and image, Petra! You really have me thinking about these stages we go through. I find myself wondering how often I truly embrace reality as opposed to saying I have accepted something. Lots of food for thought.

  6. Barbara

    What a wise and loving wish/hope for you to extend to us, Petra. I find our minds to be so absolutely amazing. So powerful. Such protective instinctual guards. Denial can be protective, helpful, dangerous and keep us in the dark as to reality. It runs the gamut, doesn't it? What a beautiful, beautiful setting in your photo.

  7. Kelly

    acceptance can be such a hard place to find. i think we all have our own way of working through those earlier phases, and i agree that some of it is a matter of survival. one of my favorite things about humanity is our resiliency, and now you are making me think that denial comes into play there.
    I also read inferno, and i was also disappointed. it just didn't seem to be as well-woven as some of his other books.

  8. Maery Rose

    I think I could use more denial — I'm working on that. I do accept reality. I just don't like it very much. Although, when anger and frustration begin to boil, I have found that catching it and taking deep breaths until my muscles relax and my mind quits racing is a big help. I do love the peachy-yellow of the castle. I think just having that color around me would make me smile.

  9. Laurie

    For me, denial or neglect of grief. I've had this feeling for a while now that I may not have grieved the loss of my sister…Almost seven years now. The way my life was at the time, and the major turn it took last December. My sister lived out of state, and wasn't a large part of my life – mainly holidays and a random visit now and then…Your post really touched a chord in me. Has me thinking about denial…Thank you for sharing…

  10. SaucyKod

    I found this post most intriguing – having experienced much in my lifetime thus far. I have learned how to compose myself, be strong and never stop learning. If you continue to learn, you will grow – I have learned to accept each day as it is and have become wiser over all. Because we let go of sadness, doesn't mean we forget – we grow stronger and again wiser. I find most people are afraid to let go of great sadness in their lives, because they simply cannot handle or want to accept the loss, they denial can tear you apart, if you allow it.. Life teaches us many lessons and in order to be a survivor, we simply learn from it all – good or bad. Excellent Post Petra

  11. Linda

    First, Petra, that castle is beautiful, and I love the way you've positioned it in your photograph.
    I do think God has given us some tools to help us through difficulties. The chief one, of course, is Himself. Faith is trusting Him even when our world seems to be falling apart. Sometimes, as Deborah mentioned, we tell ourselves that we've embraced reality, when in actuality, we're still somewhat in denial. As others have said, it's interesting to see how you've explored this subject; and it does cause us to think.

  12. Susan Swiderski

    Denial can certainly be considered a phase we have to pass through in order to reach acceptance, but it can also be a coping mechanism. Especially if one is trapped in a bad or sad situation. Remember the song about whistling a happy tune? Sometimes, putting on a happy face and attitude, in spite of an untenable situation, is the best thing we can do.

  13. Jennifer Richardson

    I think all of our prisons are made
    from places that originally protected us
    and kept us from further harm.
    Perhaps denial is a gift until no longer needed,
    like shock to a trauma victim.
    It's all about the ebb and flow and movement of life,
    isn't it. When something stops moving and growing,
    it begins to die. What if denial is simply not a place
    to get stuck….that it's necessary and we use it and then
    move on when we're ready.
    I guess staying somewhere too long is the unhealthy thing.
    Wishing you love and light and lift in every breath you take,

  14. Gotham Girl Aka Robin

    Wow…a thought provoking post and how clever to weave the castle and the statue's two heads into your writing…beautiful photograph.

  15. Keiko

    Like many say, I think denial, despair, struggle is a process to lead me to "acceptance being an embrace of reality" or I'd say to reach a deepest part of myself, which enables me to step forward again. I seem to repeat this process many times in life but every time I experience this repetition I can move further, hopefully.

  16. CherryPie

    I often like to face up to things and accept them so I don't like to be in denial… But this post also reminds me of my Fathers illness and his denial of the illness kept him going longer than if he had accepted his fate…

  17. Marcie

    I'm right there with Catherine – believing that 'denial' carries its own cloak of protection…and it's so often what allows me to hope. Love how you've looked at it from all sides.. So thoughtful and inspiring!

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