Don’t Shoot the Messenger! – The Psychological Purpose for Denial



Are any of you familiar with the Tom Stoppard absurdist  play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead?   It is about how two servants (that had minor roles in Shakespeare’s Hamlet)  were so naive that they walked into a situation that ended them, just because they delivered a message that someone didn’t want to hear.

Ring a bell?

Have you ever known anyone that would attack the messenger rather than face news that he or she didn’t want to hear?

A prime example is that of a couple of friends of mine.  He cheats. He has ALWAYS cheated….and even though she knows it,  rather than face the reality of it, the wife (my friend) will blame the women with whom he cheats, hanging on to the marriage as though her life depended on it.

In her eyes, the WOMEN are “bad” because she is sickly emotionally dependent on her husband.  He has always been disloyal to her behind her back, and he continues to be to this day.  She KNOWS about it, yet continues to cling .  She will get drunk, pick up the phone and call up the women that he cheats with, claiming that he doesn’t love them….that he is “afraid of” them…or that he has said terrible things about them.  The women sort of roll their eyes, because he has already warned them that my friend is crazy and to expect her to call.  He warns them that she will demand a 3-way phone call and insists that they ignore the request.  This is how smooth an operator he is….and how he convinces his wife that the women are lying.

The person that is actually telling the lies and committing the cheating continues along these lines indefinitely while the person that speaks out about it gets labeled the “bad one”…the “slut”…”evil”… because the recipient of the news has dependency issues that keep her in the relationship regardless of how unhappy he or she is.  She demands he throw out anything the lover has given him….which, of course, he doesn’t really do.   She demands he block her from his telephone….which, of course, he doesn’t do either.  He simply gets a dedicated phone for the purpose of calling the lover more than ever. In other words, my friend spends all of her energy trying to make misidentified “problem” go away.  She believes that if she can make the other woman “vanish” her husband will be faithful.

Ain’t gonna happen.

My friend’s husband has been unfaithful to her repeatedly.  This man is CONSTANTLY  “trolling for women” and telling them that he and his wife are on the skids.   Oh, the lies!

This poor woman has plans to spend the rest of her life with this man and she refuses to embrace the truth no matter how many times she comes face to face with it.

When well-meaning friends have tried to warn her,  she will either get mad at them for having delivered the message, or she will attack and belittle the women with whom her husband entangles himself…but she will NEVER walk away from the relationship, because she is too insecure.  She makes excuses for her husband every single time.  Does he stop cheating on her?  No.  Does she vilify the women that he cheats on her with?                           René Best musician

Yup.  Every.  single. time.

It is always THEIR fault (the fault of the other women)  and never the fault of the cheating husband.  They want him.  They throw themselves at him.  They stalk him.  He can’t beat them off with a stick!  And when caught, he declares that these other women are fat…or ugly…or crazy….and the wife falls for it every single time.

cageRene Best musician       Rene Best guitarist

Meanwhile, the other women that this man flirts with, sleeps with and swears his undying love for,  are all lead to believe that they are the special ones….that the marriage is so bad that it excuses his cheating behavior.

 The wife denies and denies it and cooks up all kinds of unsavory stories about the WOMEN….but not about the man that is stirring the pot!  She will upload photos of herself and her husband in strained, deliberately posed positions that are intended to convey their “happiness” together…but the husband instantly dispels this theory.  “She MADE me pose in that picture!  I didn’t want to do it.  She was just trying to piss you off…..”  on …and on…and on….

This action takes place because of her own dependency issues. She is desperate to convince the world…the same world that knows how miserable they are…how “happy” they are, completely ignoring the fact that he has ruthlessly cut her down to virtually everyone that knows him.   She would rather have a man that she KNOWS in her heart, is cheating, than not have a man at all.  So she remains  in total denial….even when these women occasionally reach out to try to help her.    Big mistake. Huge.



 Is there an apple in the picture below?  I don’t think so…yet according to some people, it may very well be one…because they WANT to believe it is an apple, whether it is or not!  How sad is that?   Some people do not base anything on actual reality.  They base everything on their insecurities and needs….(…not that anyone NEEDS to be with unfaithful men. )



Denial is an internally-generated defense mechanism that goes into action when someone is not able to face reality.    It is the refusal to admit or to even recognize that an event such as an affair (or other traumatic event)  has occurred or is currently going on.   We most often hear about denial as it relates to  alcoholics or drug addicts.   However, these are not the only times when denial kicks in.  People that  are traumatized or who  fear trauma will go into denial rather than even see the truth.    In many cases, there might be overwhelming evidence that something is true, yet the person will continue to deny its existence or truth because it is too uncomfortable to face.   Ask how things are going, and they might respond with, “GREAT!!!”  and a big, happy smile.     Why does this happen?


Denial  protects one’s ego from things and events with which the individual cannot cope.  While this may save that person from anxiety or pain, being in denial  requires a huge investment of psychic energy. Because of this, other defenses are also used to keep these unacceptable feelings from consciousness.  One of these defense mechanisms is displacement.

Have ever had a really bad day and then gone home and taken out your frustration on someone else?  This is displacement.  Displacement involves taking out our frustrations, feelings, and impulses on people or objects that are less threatening.   This, too, can result in the wrong person getting the blame.   In the case of my friend, her husband is clearly the one that is doing something wrong, but my friend, instead, blames the other women….or blames her ex husband, or blames her upbringing, her parents, her boss….ANYONE AND ANYTHING other than her husband….because if she admitted that he was unfaithful, there would be no reason to justify her staying with him….and she is very insecure.  She needs a man, even one that cheats on her, to create the delusion that her life is something that it isn’t.  Convincing people on the outside that things are, “GREAT!!” is her top priority.

The type of denial that my friend has goes far beyond grace and forgiveness and into the realm of stupidity.  I guess that was unkind.  She is not stupid.  She needs help, actually….but a lot of people just view her as stupid, because THEY can see what is going on, even if she does adamantly deny it.  A defense mechanism that K. needs to develop is sublimation.

ImageSublimation allows people to act out unacceptable impulses by converting them into more socially acceptable forms of behavior. For instance, when K. experiences the uncontrollable rage that causes her to attack the messenger or, worse yet, to attack the women with which her husband carries on, she might, instead, take up gardening or join a dance group to vent her frustration.  I agree with Sigmund Freud, who  believed that sublimation is a sign of maturity that allows us to function normally in socially acceptable ways.   Going on the attack against the wrong people?   That just sucks.   Living in denial of my friend’s husband’s infidelities only makes my friend appear pathetic.  EVERYONE knows that he cheats….and she does, too, at some level, yet she continues to skirt the issue.  Living in denial is a debilitating mental illness.  It makes the person in denial look mad as a hatter while everyone else comes out smelling like a rose.