Therapy Blog

When Defensive Denial Announces Truth

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“The Lady doth protest too much”

Shakespeare was a genius. In this quote from Hamlet, he delivers the essence of defensive denial announcing one’s true feelings that are contrary to what they are actually saying. In other words, when the Lady protested too much, everybody saw right through her.

“I’m NOT an alcoholic!!”

A charged proclamation of not having a problem often announces the problem. It’s not that denying always something makes the opposite true; it’s more that emotionally charged, vehement, LOUD proclamations often announce a hidden truth. But certainly not always. This is tricky stuff to read. And we are wise to simply give the benefit of the doubt since typically if they are denying something, they are impacted more than you by the deception, and they may dig in more defensively if you call them on it.


This is one of the more common examples that we find among friends and family . . . I know I’ve typed this before (or actually said it loudly–all caps implies YELLING online). And I was kidding, partially . . . but not “just” kidding . . . there was definitely anger in there, too, which is ok, but in the moment, it’s not always easy to effectively communicate that in a balanced way, so it comes off as passive-aggressive defensiveness or denial.

In social media, you’ll see people shouting by using ALL CAPS!! And exclamation points!!!! Yep, that could be a charged reaction. Perhaps not, but it typically makes me stop and wonder. I saw somebody on Facebook defensively proclaim in all caps, “I WAS JUST KIDDING!! GEEZ!!” I doubt they were “just” kidding, at least not as much as they were asserting. They may think they were just kidding, but the venom in the sarcastic statement that preceded it was clear. Which brings us to defensive sarcasm . . .

Sarcasm and defensive denial

Sarcasm is always laced with anger; when that anger is mindfully owned, the sarcasm does not seem so defensive or passive-aggressive, instead, it seems like somebody knows that they’re (mildly) angry and are saying that they see the humor in it as well. When the tinge of anger is not owned though, the sarcasm seems defensive and charged.

Most of us can likely think of a time when we protested too much, used defensive sarcasm, etc. and thereby announced our true feelings. We weren’t fooling anybody (except, perhaps, ourselves).


This brings up a good point: sometimes people are truly not conscious of the feelings they are trying to hide. It is an unconscious denial and can be difficult to point out to them since they truly believe what they are saying.

Other times, they are perfectly aware of their feelings, but feel embarrassed by them, and/or feel scared to reveal them directly. While they are aware of their feelings, they try to veil them behind defensive sarcasm or charged denial and are therefore deluding themselves into believing that others cannot see right through them. To be clear, they are not deluding themselves in regards to their feelings–they know how they feel, but instead, they are deluding themselves into thinking that nobody sees through them. And if you think you’ve never done it, you may be in denial . . . it’s ok, we all do it; the trick is to become mindful of it so that we can counter-balance it. Sometimes that means an apology, other times it just means learning and moving on.

Types of self-delusion

  • Conscious self-delusion – This is when we secretly know exactly what we are doing with our charged or defensive denial
  • Unconscious self-delusion – This is when we don’t clearly see the delusion behind our sarcastic or charged defensiveness. . . in other words, we actually think we are fooling everybody with our defensive denials

The remedy of authenticity

When you are ready to stop trying to fool everybody (potentially including yourself) and learn to be assertive instead of passive-aggressive with your truth, then practicing mindfulness will help you become more authentic.

When people are either not aware of how they feel about something, or if they are embarrassed or fearful of how others will see them, they may try too hard to cover up the truth with charged defensiveness, denial and/or sarcasm. Thinking this works is the self-delusion we just discussed. It is a version of over-compensating. As we become more authentic, we become more clear and confident in our truth. Authenticity comes from having our thoughts/feelings, words and behaviors in line with one another (the opposite of cognitive dissonance). You’ve probably seen people that seem to hold views that may be offensive to some people sharing those views, but not alienating themselves. This is possible when somebody feels confident in themselves and therefore are able to communicate their views without seeming charged, passive-aggressive, or defensive.

When you are ready to get started, please get in touch.

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