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Int J Psychoanal. 1983;64 Pt 1:47-58.

The cognitive arrest hypothesis of denial.


This paper has presented a microanalysis of the psychic actions and processes involved in the following four phases of the denial defence: (1) preconscious appraisal of danger, (2) painful affect, (3) cognitive arrest, and (4) screen behaviour. The subject's preconscious appraisal of some situation as actually or potentially dangerous or traumatic brings about the formation of some painful affect. The painful affect initiates a reaction in which the subject turns his focal attention from whatever disturbs him to something less threatening. This turning away or rejection of what is disturbing involves an arrest of the subject's perceiving and/or thinking about the painful object. In the cognitive arrest phase, the subject unconsciously in fantasy attacks the concrete representation of whatever he considers to be the cause of his psychic pain. These fantasy attempts to destroy the painful object arrest the subject's thinking at a primary process level. The fantasy attacks on the painful object and the consequent cognitive arrest is followed by screen behaviour. Screen behaviour is defined as the ideas, fantasies, affects, and overt behaviours motivated by the need to fill in the gaps created by the cognitive arrest, to substitute a different object relation for the one subjectively lost, and to support the defensive aims of the preceding phase. Auxiliary defences acting in conjunction with denial are frequently used in the screen behaviour phase.

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