Examples of trauma denial
January 7, 2010 4:24 PM   Subscribe

What are some detailed examples of trauma denial?

I'm interested in reading about denial of trauma by traumatized individuals. I'm specifically interested in intellectualization, rationalization and minimization and perhaps in the kinds of denial you might see in well educated or highly intelligent trauma victims (although perhaps I'm mistaken in thinking their denial is even more intellectualized)

When I try to Google trauma and denial, for example, most of the examples for give examples such as "it didn't happen". When there are examples, they are extremely simplistic, such as "I mustn't have heard him ask for permission" (in a sexual assault case) or "Maybe abuse is too strong a word" (in a domestic violence case). I suppose I'm looking for more detailed examples or case studies that help to show how complicated denial can be -- that it's not always "just" a matter of people saying "he never hit me" or "the tower never crashed" or "I was never in an extermination camp", which is how a lot of what I read makes it sound. Online resources are great, if you can point me anywhere. Thanks.
posted by acoutu to Human Relations (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
No help with links, but goggle 'ptsd denial' and see what you find.
posted by Kerasia at 4:37 PM on January 7, 2010

What is this for? Most of the time, those who don't want to deal with it repress and avoid rather than deny and it isn't really "forgotten" just deliberately kept out of mind. In other words, you avoid anything that reminds you of it and you don't say anything to anyone. It becomes literally unspeakable.

If someone asks, you change the subject. "It wasn't that bad," I suppose is an example but it would be easier to provide information if I knew more about the context.
posted by Maias at 4:58 PM on January 7, 2010

Well, there's this, but that crosses more into "Stockholm Syndrome" territory, perhaps.
posted by availablelight at 5:06 PM on January 7, 2010

i have an interesting personal story i'd be willing to share with you, if you can give me more detail and what you're interested in this for, if you want to set-up a skype meeting. send me a message. my sub-conscious mind simply completely repressed something from my conscious mind for a couple of years (denial in its strongest form- when its completely unknown to your ownself on a first layer of consciousness level)...and then certain triggers brought it back and allowed me (forced me) to learn to process it safely on a fully-aware basis.

overall a fun experience albeit scary for someone who is interested in psychology, i.e. myself.
posted by saraindc at 5:08 PM on January 7, 2010

Also, read "The boy who was raised as a dog" which is an absolutely fantastic story-based resource on trauma cases for children. very very interesting, a quality read that is 'readable' and not so textbook like. i.e. normal people can easily appreciate its depth. fascinating, at times very depressing, at times giving hope. don't read it unless you are ready for some heavy stuff
posted by saraindc at 5:10 PM on January 7, 2010

You might try searching for "fetishistic disavowal" - this is kind of the opposite of repression, where the subject fully knows and accepts the traumatic event, but continues to act as if basically nothing happened, because they hold on to a fetish object that allows them to cancel the full impact of reality. In the case of sexual assault, this might be "it wasn't that bad" or perhaps "he didn't hear me tell him to stop", although in this case the specific traumatic event that is disavowed is not the rape itself, but the fact that she is in relationship with/married to a rapist.

An extreme example I read is about a man whose beloved wife has died; he continues to cope with the situation quite well, it doesn't really affect him very much, until the hamster which she loved died, then he had a total breakdown. This is different from normal repressive denial, where for example, a child would refuse to accept that grandma died, insisting that she's just at the hospital waiting for them to visit her.

To make clear the distinction between the two types, repressive denial is like Invasion of the Body Snatchers - on the surface, people look normal and nothing is out of the ordinary, but that conceals the traumatic truth, that underneath they are horrible monsters. Fetishistic disavowal is like a zombie movie - the fact that zombies are monsters is not repressed, it's out in the open, we can even have a comedy and laugh about it. The traumatic truth that this conceals is that behind the monster, they are really your friends, your neighbors, your husband or wife, people you love.

Difficult to understand, but here is Slavoj Žižek's What's Wrong with Fundamentalism? - Part I, for what it's worth.
posted by AlsoMike at 5:24 PM on January 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

As I've about (here) before, I used to frequently do stuff like hang laundry or garden while shells were exploding nearby and snipers were shooting at me. (This after watching my parents die in a shelling and being injured myself, as well as a few personal hit-by-a-sniper experiences.) I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for or not. Similar to something AlsoMike writes, I had not much problem with dead bodies and the like, but a hole made in the pavement by a shell or seeing a shoe next to a dismembered body might really set me off. I certainly had PTSD and was certainly conscious of what was (and had been) going on - but sure wasn't responding "appropriately." Every now and then I'd snap back into conscious reality, but later drift right back out again.

While I like to think I'm quite intelligent, I don't think this factored into my behavior. Rather, it was just a way of distancing myself from what was occurring around me enough to keep a will to live. Once I was out of Sarajevo, I reacted the other way - hyper-aware of (for instance) strange noises - 4th of July fireworks still make me wince and it's only in the last few years I don't dive to the ground when a car backfires.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:59 PM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've had an episode (?) where I completely repressed the incident that happened in child hood. No memory whatsoever, period. But the physical scar was there. I've never remembered what happened, but certain things will trigger a strong emotional reaction.
posted by 6:1 at 6:17 PM on January 7, 2010

It is perhaps more useful to think about the ways in which trauma is forgotten than denied. There is a large and complicated polemic on both sides -- b/w those who focus on the capacity for trauma itself to function as a memory suppressor, and those who focus on what they believe are "false memories," that is, memories of trauma that seemingly come to light long after the event (Dr. Elizabeth Loftus is probably the most famous name in this camp.) To my mind, the most convincing writer on the processes by which traumatic memories are, in fact, forgotten is Dr. Jennifer Freyd. She specifically focuses on "betrayal trauma," or trauma that involves intimacy and betrayal of trust, and argues dogently about why we and how we forget these silenced events. See her web page.
posted by keener_sounds at 7:04 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Without question "trauma denial" would cover Cindy Anthony, the grandmother of 2 year old Caylee Anthony whose skeletonized remains were discovered last year near the Anthony's home.

In June of 2008 Casey (Cindy's 22 year old daughter) was living with her mother (Cindy) and Casey's toddler Caylee. Cindy and Casey had a huge fight and Casey left with Caylee. Thirty days later Cindy tracked Casey down ...but there was no Caylee. In the very beginning the grandmother Cindy was acting exactly as she "should"..she was upset and worried about Caylee. Casey's car was discovered and Cindy called 9-1-1 exclaiming, "it's smells like there has been something dead in the damn car!"...later, however, (when everyone else in the country easily came to the conclusion that Caylee's own mother was involved in Caylee's demise) Cindy changed her position to be one of complete support for Casey. Cindy Anthony very suddenly went into a delusional dissociative state where she seems to honestly believe all manner of cock and bull kidnapping theories that will spare Cindy from the truth (which is her own daughter killed her granddaughter). Cindy Anthony seems no closer to accepting the truth as recently she and her husband recently appeared on a morning show claiming that "there is no direct evidence linking Casey to a crime".
posted by naplesyellow at 7:06 PM on January 7, 2010

cogently, not dogently!
posted by keener_sounds at 7:39 PM on January 7, 2010

Thanks, everyone. I think "AlsoMike" has found the right words to describe what I'm looking for. It's disavowal. Some Googling shows this is a dissociation involving a vertical split, so that a person can be of two minds or have two separate views going on at the same time.

So, for example, say a woman was sexually assaulted by her husband. Say she's fully aware of this and can even say that. But she gets caught up in things like saying it was a misunderstanding, an overreaction, a miscommunication, a mislabeling and so on. Perhaps she does this because, although she recognizes that she was raped, she doesn't want to accept the reality that she was raped by her own husband in her own home and that she's married to someone who would do that.

That's the sort of thing I'm looking for -- where the person who suffered the trauma is fully aware and able to recognize the traumatic event, but where they also disavow it.
posted by acoutu at 8:38 PM on January 7, 2010

Also check out "Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History" by Cathy Caruth. I think this might point you in the direction you're looking towards.
posted by space_cookie at 11:42 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

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