Mature woman stares blankly.Sigmund Freud originally developed the concept of denial as a defense mechanism. Denial involves the rejection of a fact that is too painful for a person to accept.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross expanded upon Freud’s model and proposed that denial is the first stage in accepting one’s death. Denial is now widely accepted as a common stage or aspect of grief.

Sigmund Freud’s Model

Freud argued that there are three types of denial:

1. Simple denial occurs when someone denies that something unpleasant is happening. For example, a person with terminal cancer might deny that he/she is going to die.
2. Minimization occurs when a person admits an unpleasant fact while denying its seriousness. A person about to get divorced might, for example, brush the divorce off as no big deal.
3. Projection occurs when a person admits both the seriousness and reality of an unpleasant fact but blames someone else. For example, the cancer patient might insist that his or her doctor is providing inadequate care and that a different doctor could provide a different outcome.

Grief Model

Although originally developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross as part of the five stages of dying, many mental health professionals now argue that denial is a common stage in accepting a loss of any kind. The other stages identified by Kubler-Ross are anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. A grieving person may not necessarily proceed through these stages in this order, and the grieving person may go back and forth between stages. For example, a person whose partner is dying might first deny that the partner is dying, then become angry, and then begin bargaining with the doctor to get different treatment, before returning again to the denial phase.

Other Types of Denial

Several mental health experts have expanded upon Freud’s model to incorporate other forms of denial, including:

  • Denial of denial: the denial of the unpleasant fact and the insistence that one is not experiencing denial.
  • Denial of cycle: the inability to acknowledge what is happening. A domestic violence victim, for example, might deny that his or her spouse previously engaged in behavior that led to abuse.
  • Denial of responsibility: the failure to recognize a person’s culpability in an unpleasant event caused by that person. For example, a driver who hit and injured another person might deny the impact of the accident, deny responsibility, or even justify his or her actions.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
  2. Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Last Updated: 06-15-2018

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  • Avril Sime

    Avril Sime

    October 31st, 2015 at 1:03 AM

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