Is there a word for someone who does not want to admit that things are going bad?

E.g. when a person does not want to admit that a specific project at work isn't going as planned -- not because they are not aware of it, but simply because they don't want to admit it.

  • 7
    Manager was my first thought ;)
    – user71169
    Apr 20, 2014 at 11:28
  • Related.
    – tchrist
    Jun 7, 2014 at 20:47

13 Answers 13


Somebody is "in denial" if they refuse to admit the true circumstances to themselves.

  • 3
    Yes, denial ain't just a river in Egypt! Apr 20, 2014 at 0:36

Consider "obstinate."

obstinate: firmly or stubbornly adhering to one's purpose, opinion, etc.; not yielding to argument, persuasion, or entreaty.

The expressions "bury one's head in the sand," "be blind as a bat," and "turn on the blinders (and stick to one's guns)" are also quite descriptive of that kind of attitude.

bury (or hide one's face) in the sand: to refuse to think about an unpleasant situation, hoping that it will improve so you will not have to deal with it.

blind as a bat: unwilling to recognize problems or bad things.

put the blinders on (also turn on the blinders): to refuse to admit something.


Is there a word for someone who does not want to admit that things are going bad?

Delusional:to mislead the mind or judgment of; deceive.

Example 1:

His conceit deluded him into believing he was important.

Example 2:

  • Bob: Roger, we've got to sell our company! It's failing! There's no way we can survive if we keep going on like this!
  • Roger: Of course we can! We've got funds to back us up!
  • Bob: We have nothing in our bank! You're being delusional!

  • That person is delusional.
  • That person is deluded.
  • 1
    The user wanted "... not because they are not aware of it, but simply because they don't want to admit it." Delusional would mean they were not aware that they are wrong.
    – IQAndreas
    Apr 20, 2014 at 1:31
  • 3
    @IQAndreas Not entirely. Delusional can mean that they convince themselves that something isn't as bad as it seems. They basically lie to themselves and convince that whatever it is just isn't all that bad. A common business phrase is delusional optimism, when one is convinced that something is a great idea despite overwhelming evidence that it isn't (known as depressing reality).
    – Tucker
    Apr 20, 2014 at 4:25

Try this word:

Stubborn - having or showing dogged determination not to change one's attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good reasons to do so.

You're asking for a little bit more specific meaning, but I think in this case we would use the word stubborn.


It is officially named ostrichism:

ostrichism noun : the deliberate avoidance or ignorance of conditions as they exist. See also self-delusion

  • 4
    Note: this word is very unusual and isn't in common usage. I doubt many native English speakers know what this word means. Apr 20, 2014 at 11:06

Do you mean like an ostrich with its head in the sand??

(sadly not single word)


Psychologically speaking, the phenomenon you describe could be called "cognitive dissonance."

Cognitive dissonance is experienced by a person who has two conflicting thoughts in his or her mind at the same time, each of which is struggling to be recognized and dealt with.

It has been said that you can't believe you are crazy and, at the same time, not crazy, without feeling some dissonance, or to use a more familiar term, discomfort. What do you do then? You choose one or the other (crazy or not crazy) and begin to come up with reasons why you are one or the other (the term for this is "clustering").

Some people struggle very little with cognitive dissonance. I guess you could say they are "dissonance tolerant." Other people, however, are very much "dissonance intolerant," and they seek to resolve that dissonance by deciding, by making a choice. (From your description of the self-deluded person whom you describe, I take it she or he is not yet ready to make a decision as to how badly things are really going!)

As for people who are dissonance tolerant (or sensitive) and are therefore eager to admit, for example, that they are wrong and need to go in a different direction, the dissonance that would be created and aggravated by NOT admitting things are indeed going badly is simply untenable and would cause them too much pain. They therefore make a dissonance-resolving decision. In other words, they come to the following conclusion:

"Looks like we'd better 'cut our losses' and start over again. As things stand now, that would be the only sensible thing to do."

On the other hand, as for people who are dissonance intolerant (or insensitive), they are perhaps not that driven to resolve the dissonance, for whatever reason(s). They might say to themselves,

"Meh. We've come this far. We may as well take it to its conclusion, regardless of how inadvisable some people say that would be."

I suggest that we take one or the other approach at different times in our lives, depending on our circumstances. Perhaps we're all dissonance sensitive (or insensitive, as the case may be), but in differing degrees and in different situations.

Perhaps a "real-life" example would help. Let's take a compulsive, degenerate gambler. Upon losing again (and again and again), he deals with whatever dissonance he experiences by continuing to gamble, to a point where he gambles away a fortune. In other words, he's dissonance insensitive. Who knows, maybe his dissonance insensitivity itself is his "payoff"--the "juice," as it were, which keeps him digging deeper and deeper still, the hole into which he has fallen.

On the other hand, for the occasional gambler who is dissonance sensitive, upon losing a few bucks she throws in the towel and says, "Oh well, maybe next time I'll do better," and that's that. That little bit of dissonance triggered by losing a few bucks causes her to call it quits. Consequently, maybe around the same time next year she'll give gambling another whirl, and if she loses, no big deal, but if she wins, that too is no big deal.

Hey, we all deal with dissonance in different ways. How we do so may have ethical and/or moral implications, depending on our circumstances.


Such a person is overly optimistic, meaning they have an opinion which is more positive than the facts can support.

There is a noun form overoptimist.

  • As a natural pessimist I would just have said "optimist", but +1 ;-) Apr 21, 2014 at 15:24

Another idiom in the same family would be seeing the world through Rose Colored Glasses.

It's a little less judgmental way of saying "in denial"...applied when you want to emphasize someone as having unfounded optimism about something, when it isn't actually going as well as they think it is.


An excessively cheerful and optimistic person could be called a Pollyanna.


As mentioned already "obstinate" and "in denial" for sure, but it could also be that they are being "wilfully ignorant" or "blissfully ignorant".


A hypocritical optimist.

That is, if they don't want to admit it to others. But if they don't want to admit it to themselves either, then, as one word, with some artistic license, I would say a positivist, that is to say, someone with a trait of mildly repressive optimism.


This made me think immediately about Willful Blindness, which if you go to the Wikipedia entry, references Nelsonian Knowledge, both of which sadly are not single words but aptly describe what you're after.

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