All of us come from a family system. And each and every one of those systems has it’s own unique way of problem solving. I grew up in a family system, like many of you, that employed collective denial, as a defense to avoid dealing with issues we were not equipped to resolve.


Denial of an issue in family systems is a way to continue to not see, the ‘elephant’ in the room. It’s so obviously there, taking up space, and perhaps even stomping around causing major damage, but no one speaks the truth about it. Whether the issue is addiction, mental illness, anger, or something else, it affects every member of the family. We make excuses and misname the behavior. An alcoholic, may be described as, having too much now and then, a rageaholic might be described as, having a bit of a temper.

When you grow up in a family system of denial, you are taught not to trust yourself or what you feel. You are taught that if something seems wrong, you are wrong because no one else is admitting the truth. You are taught to compartmentalize and to disavow your own experience. Yet the truth is…

Denying an issue, will not make it disappear @Terri_Cole {CLICK TO TWEET}

Whether you are in denial, or contributing to a collective denial, know that damage is being done. Denial is comparable to a ticking time bomb; eventually, things will explode. In my own family, my sister had a terrible car accident while driving drunk and was almost paralyzed. I had already stopped drinking by this point, so I asked my therapist to help me figure out what to do. I knew that if my sister did not get help, she would die young. My therapist suggested I inform the hospital that my sister was an addict and needed to detox. And as terrified as I was to reveal this truth, I was more terrified she would die if I didn’t. She has been sober since. She is also happily married to someone she met in the program for the past 24 years and they have four amazing kids. She has created a beautiful life for herself that would not exist if she had not stopped drinking. The truth really does set you free, although the thought of telling it may also scare the crap out of you.

A Course in Miracles teaches us about both positive and negative denial. Negative denial, is knowing an issue is present but refusing to deal with it. When you negatively deny you look away, pretending nothing is happening.

Positive denial is when you look directly at an issue: a family member’s financial disaster, horrific divorce, or perhaps a terrifying issue in your own life. You then look through it. You use your life tools (meditation, prayer, yoga, therapy, etc.) to deny the power that this issue, or any issue for that matter, has over your life. You remind yourself that life has not taken you down yet, and that you are stronger than any challenge thrown your way.

I would describe positive denial, as leaning in and staring straight at the truth you are afraid to see. Once you realize that facing that truth, will not kill you, you are able to transcend the victim mentality to then recognize that you have choices. Remind yourself that you have power over your thoughts, words, and actions. You can control you and only you, and the denial, in any form, cannot take that away. The more you practice leaning in, the better you get at handling what is actually going on in your life that needs your full attention.

Please share your thoughts, experiences or questions about collective denial in the comments below. Write what is being denied, and how you plan on transcending the issue through leaning in, and as always, take care of you.

Love Love Love



*Image courtesy of allison

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  1. My family employs collective denial that they are NEVER Wrong. So that makes me the wrong one in every situation. My mother is Asian and my two sisters are more like her than I am. So I’ve been given the title of troublemaker in the family because I speak the truth and stand my ground. It’s me against them most of the time. My mom has said the most hurtful things to me and taught the other two from a young age that she will punish me and never them. So I don’t feel loved or accepted by anyone accept my father. I’m thankful that I’ve found you, you’re a ray of hope.

    1. I am so glad you found me too and I am glad you are here. Sounds like you have been chosen to be the scapegoat in your family system. This is a painful position to be in. Standing your ground inside and realizing that the family system is toxic may help it hurt you less. I am grateful you have your father and I encourage you to not need to convince your mother or sisters of anything. The less you engage the less painful it will be for you. Seek out healthy friendships and consider going to a therapist who specializes in family systems. Keep up the good work!

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