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Denial Defined

Mental Health Terms Used in Treating Troubled Teens


Definition: Denial is a psychological concept originally identified by Freud that describes ignoring and avoiding situations in an attempt to cope with painful realities that threaten a person's sense of safety and control.

Some denial can be useful when initially facing a traumatic event such as the death of someone close or the diagnosis of a severe illness, but when denial is consistently used to justify self destructive behavior, such as drug abuse, it keeps a person stuck and makes healing impossible because they aren't able to accept or deal with their problems.

A teen in denial doesn't consider how their decisions may have created the problems they are having, or take into account the harm they may be causing themselves or others. Denial in troubled teens is usually expressed through blaming others, insisting nothing needs changing, making excuses or minimizing negative consequences. The driving force behind denial is usually: 'If I don't deal with it, or have to face it, perhaps it will go away." In many cases denial takes place at an unconscious level, meaning the person has no awareness this is what they're doing.

Denial manifests in many ways to include complete avoidance of the difficult reality, playing down its seriousness, or having some acceptance but not taking any action to make needed changes. An important part of healing for teens is getting past the avoidance of problems in order to accept and deal with them.

Examples of denial

  • Joe gets kicked out of school for using drugs with friends but says this isn't a problem.
  • A teen is arrested for shoplifting but claims someone else must have put the stolen merchandise in his bag.
  • Parents confront their daughter about staying out long past curfew. Her response is to angrily accuse them of treating her like a baby.

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