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

  • Leave a Comment
  • Avril Sime

    October 31st, 2015 at 1:03 AM

    Helpful will consider and pursue line of enquiry thank you

  • Jerri

    October 21st, 2016 at 4:05 AM

    Wow, just ended reading this blogpost. Very wonderful articles you wrote. Totally following your site! Thank you for everything.

  • Trubie Irene M.

    March 17th, 2019 at 9:40 PM

    I just had to put my 13 yr old fur baby to sleep, had cancer among a bunch of other things I had become disabled myself and didn’t notice something happened while I was in physical rehabilitation for 23 days didn’t know he got hurt which infection and how we found cancer. I feel like I killed my child how can I deal with that, I feel like taking my life because I ultimately took his he did have a voice I had to trust what someone else tells you. How do I do this without taking myself out to be with my baby. And my other dog Duke I had both of those dogs 14 and 13 yrs. God help me forgive myself for putting my baby down before I put myself down just to be with him….

  • The Team

    March 18th, 2019 at 9:08 AM

    Dear Trubie Irene,

    Thank you for your comment. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy Team

  • Lisa V

    September 15th, 2019 at 9:40 PM

    I hope you didn’t mean what you said. You gave your pet 13 years of good life. It was old and that’s why it got sick, to begin with. It’s natural to feel your pet is as difficult or worse than losing a human because essentially they are so close to you, everyday. Think that your pet would not want you to be sad. Get another pet and transfer your love to it. There are many in the pound that need your help. Save a life.

  • Irenabelle

    November 6th, 2019 at 3:37 PM

    bruh what is psychology

  • GH

    February 19th, 2021 at 11:31 AM

    My son denies things that happen and pit him on trouble. He denies, and believes in what he is denying. How can we help him in this? Is there a solution?
    Thank you

  • GH

    February 19th, 2021 at 11:34 AM

    My son denies and believes in what he is denying about things that happened and might put him in trouble. Is there a solution to this?
    Thank you

  • Richard

    February 17th, 2022 at 12:34 AM

    I am 69 years old and lost my father last May at the age of 90. While that was distressing, I was just hit with a second wallop mid January. My wife of 45 years passed away unexpectedly. I know I am still in denial – – it just doesnt seem real that she is gone. Your info above is helping me to understand more of what I am going through. Thank you.

  • Rachel

    May 10th, 2024 at 9:35 PM

    Hello, I realise this is a dated post however, i just wanted to say that what you describe resonates with me

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