Does Collective Denial Lead to Mass Dissociation?

In past columns and articles I often talk about the state of entrancement so many people seem to live in, refusing to be motivated to do something about so many dysfunctional systems in which they are engaged. It is as if they have developed a state of mind that insulates them from the experience, making it easier to tolerate all the dysfunction. This manufactured state of mind allows them to get through the routine of their day and not get “distracted” from their routines or engaged in righting wrongs, getting active in changing things or even pointing out the variety of ineptitudes, unkept promises, cowardly leaders, corporate rudeness, personal incivility and widespread objectification.



Image that came up when searching for “dissociation”

Denial is a coping mechanism developed by our subconscious to avoid a reality we don’t want to face. Usually the avoidance is due to fear – perhaps fear that some emotion will take us over and we’ll lose control. Sometimes we avoid because we fear that we must give up some cherished position or belief to which we are quite attached. Either way it is avoidance.

Do people get up in the morning and tell themselves “I will not feel today”? “I will not get upset when no one answers by calls today.” “I will not feel hurt when I am ignored by people with whom I work.” “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that insult to my intelligence.” Hardly. Denial is rarely a conscious act.

This entrancement seems more like a widespread emotional detachment rather than conscious individual decisions to “numb out” over this matter or that. It is closer to a habit people have taken on than a succession of deliberate choices.

Recently, it occurred to me that this phenomenon could be a sort of widespread dissociation, a term I’ve heard through the years as a coping mechanism that is adopted by people who have been experiencing physical or emotional trauma. So I looked it up and here’s some of what Wikipedia says about dissociation:

….describes a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality….In mild cases, dissociation can be regarded as a coping mechanism or defense mechanisms in seeking to master, minimize or tolerate stress…

Dissociation can include depersonalization and “derealization” – a word I had not seen before. So I looked that up: “an alteration in the perception or experience of the external world so that it seems unreal.” Said another way, an alteration or experience of the external world so that it is more acceptable – or, a way to cope by altering one’s experience of worldly things like work, reality and everyday life.

Is this what people are doing? Is “detachment from reality” a means by which people are coping with the sensory overload they are experiencing in everyday life – hearing and watching the news, participating in the gossip about the news, experiencing all the social systems we have created (traffic, the economic system, politics, media, corporate life, schools, the legal system, healthcare, and all the others)?

Could this detaching be an attempt to “numb out” and feelings of hopelessness or discouragement about the state of things? Could it be a way of avoiding the guilt of knowing you could be doing something about things but you aren’t? Might it be an avoidance of the responsibility that comes with being a good citizen on Mother Earth? And perhaps it is all of these.

I am not a mental health professional but I know there are some therapists who read my writings. I would love to hear from any of you as to whether there is merit to this query.


  • Jerry Weaver

    Easy peasy to prove this. Ask a few ppl about the clouds. PPL say the funniest things . LOL

  • Carl Schroedr

    Well, I think people gotta have the hope of achievable goals. If they’re overwhelmed and overburdened, denial and other mechanisms are survival strategies until such time as the person can hope to succeed and make an attempt.

  • Caro

    A topic close to my heart. I often view it from a slightly different perspective in the sense that I am often saddened to realise that those in position of power (most at least) will never make socially responsible decisions unless they understand the experience of connectedness. And I am most concerned about those who pursue detachment under the guise of spiritual practice.

  • Robert Doiron

    Good Insight, I believe much of what you are writing about here was actually planned. Social engineering for some nefarious purpose. What exactly? I’m not sure. I hope this is not the case. But public relations as a science has come a long ways since Edward Bernays. If more people read crystallising public opinions many would come to realize the craftiness of it all.