How to Tell If Someone You Know is In Denial


When my first wife left me I came out of denial. As I walked down Windsor Avenue in the coastal town of Powell River with my friend, Laurie, feeling completely distraught, overwhelmed and very, very frightened and at the same time desperately trying to hold it all together, I said to her:

“Something hasn’t been working in my marriage and I need to look at what my responsibility is.”

Prior to that statement, I had looked outside of myself. I held the world and all of its inhabitants to blame for my problems, the trials and tribulations I suffered from the aspects of my life that weren’t working. I blamed everyone and everything else for my problems.


Denial is the unwillingness to take responsibility for your own contributions to the problems existing within you and/or outside of you, and the unwillingness to take action towards changing that contribution.

Both responsibility and action must go hand in hand.

If you take responsibility in word only but don’t do anything about initiating change, you are still in denial.

My partner may threaten to leave if I don’t stop yelling at her. If I say I will stop but I don’t work towards changing the mechanisms within me that precipitate the yelling, then I am still in denial.

Alternatively, when I take action without taking responsibility – if I blame the people at work for telling me that I am dressing untidily but I never take the time or responsibility to look at my mode of dress, then I am still in denial.

It was in 1986 that I began to take responsibility for my contribution to the demise of my relationship with my first wife. That was only half of the story. When I went to my health practitioner at the time and admitted my need and intention to start working on my contribution to the relationship, when I began to buy the books that would give me some of the answers to the questions I had about myself, when I invested in disciplines such as meditation and self-contemplation that supported my self-exploration – only then did I move out of denial.

Responsibility and action both come under the same banner of commitment to my personal growth.

Committing to my self-growth, my self-development, my self-improvement and taking Action in each of these areas is committing fully to myself.

If I am only committed to changing the other person who I believe is responsible for affecting me, I am victim to that other person. I am now a victim to whether that person is going to change or is not going to change.

The power is out of my hands and in the hands of the other person.

If I say, I need to look at the forces within me that puts up with this sort of behavior, then I am no longer a victim.

If I am willing to see if the other person keeps their word and stops treating me this way over the next three months and then I will consider giving him a choice to come and seek help with me and if not I will have to leave the relationship, again I am no longer a victim to that person.

The power is not solely in the hands of the other person. I am involved in the process. I am no longer operating out of denial. I have commitment to my own needs.

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Only when I took responsibility in word and in deed did I step onto my personal growth journey. Prior to that commitment, I was not actively on my journey because I had not recognized nor taken responsibility for my own contribution, for the part I was playing in the relationships, events and situations occurring in my life, or taking the action towards changing it.

When each of us moves into that level of self-commitment, we each take the first steps onto our own personal growth. And it may be like the young child first trying to step onto a moving escalator. We may wobble, as if we are going to fall off at any moment and land on our face.

Because as soon as we look into the direction of change – never mind make the first active steps towards change – resistance will inevitably appear.


For more reading on Resistance and Defense Mechanisms please click onto any of the articles below:

How to Successfully Move Beyond Resistance

The Key to Sustained Personal Change, Growth, Happiness, and Success

Are You Getting the Protection You Really Need?

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One thought on “How to Tell If Someone You Know is In Denial

  1. Excellent article, Pietro. I must admit, however, when I first read the title I didn’t want to read it. I thought: when did Pietro start pointing fingers at others (i.e. How to tell if someone you know …) rather than looking within as your first objective. Your text more than made up for it.

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