John D. Hawkins Jr., M.S., C.A.P., Registered Mental Health Intern
A common psychological defense I see with many of my clients in relationships is denial through fantasy. In this defense, a person denies parts of their reality and relates to the fantasy of who their partner could be, rather than face the reality of who they are. Entering a relationship with the expectation or hope of who someone could be is like speculating on the stock market. Furthermore, this is not fair to the other person: I make an agreement to enter into a relationship with you even though I do not fully accept who you are.
There is often an accompanying pattern of codependency contributing to this dynamic that originated in childhood or early adolescence. Many children are placed in a position of having an overwhelmed, such as in divorce or dissatisfying marriages, or narcissistic parent. In an effort to survive, they attempt to meet their parent’s needs in the hope they will then have their needs met. In adulthood, many of these individuals will seek out or find themselves in relationships with a partner who is great at receiving but poor at giving. I have seen clients who have used this defense for decades until the evidence of who their partner is, and is not, becomes overwhelming, and they are forced to face reality. Even if one continues to engage in denial, there is a steep price to pay. Many of my clients in these situations present with depression or deep-seated anger and resentments from years of unmet needs. This often leads to overeating, addictions, or infidelities as a way to cope with distressing emotions or the emptiness of such relationships.
One of the tricky things about denial is that it is an unconscious defense, so it is impossible to recognize you are in it with your conscious mind. People will assert they are not in denial, but they would not be able to validate whether they were or not.
Facing the truth can be painful at times. But even more so is living in a false reality for years or decades. As human beings we are biologically wired to be adverse to pain, so facing pain goes against our natural instinct. However, developing the ability to face reality and short-term pain is the true path to long-term pleasure.