Denial is one of several defense mechanisms we may find ourselves using unknowingly. When we use a defense mechanism, we are typically trying to protect ourselves from unpleasant emotions and feelings.
Although on the surface this sounds like a good thing, this tactic works against us by keeping us from seeing things as they truly are, effectively addressing our problems and issues, and moving forward with our lives in a positive way.
Some of the most frequently used defense mechanisms in individuals with eating disorders are rationalization, projection and denial.
When we use rationalization in relation to food, we use a plausible excuse to justify our behavior. (“Although I planned it, I didn’t eat that snack because I knew I was going to eat again in three hours!”)
Projection is when we assign our own thoughts, feelings or motives to another person, for example, accusing a co-worker of being angry at you rather than recognizing your own anger.
Denial, the most common defense mechanism, is when we completely reject that we have a thought or feeling, or that we are engaging in a specific behavior.
Breaking through our defense mechanisms helps us to engage in the process of personal growth. As we rely less on defense mechanisms, we become more in touch with ourselves. We begin to increase our awareness of our thoughts and feelings and develop a healthy acceptance of those thoughts and feelings. We become less critical and judgmental of ourselves, and learn to develop a repertoire of coping strategies that, in the long run, serve us much better than our defense mechanisms. Aside from connecting better with ourselves, we also connect more with others, and that’s a very good thing!