Aspects of Denial–the Many Faces of Addiction’s Core Symptom
Aspects of denial ripple through an addicted person’s life in various forms and some are well-disguised enough to be overlooked. Denial is a core characteristic of any addictive process, and in the most severe forms of an illness can be quite diverse in the way it manifests. Resolving denial to make way for a solid sobriety is a holistic task. There are mental, emotional and behavioral aspects that need to be corrected over time.
How Aspects of Denial Work in Addiction
Denial is basically a perception problem. In addiction, it prevents us from seeing the problem substance use is in our lives. It is more profound than simply brushing away awareness, or pretending a problem doesn’t exist. Denial in addiction is literally a hole in perception. We do not see what others see about our substance use. We are blind to a significant part of our reality.
This disables us. Without evidence of a problem, we naturally have no motivation to address it. Even if others bring the problem to our attention, we are prone to trust our own perceptions more than others’ in this situation. Particularly, if we feel a deep need for the ‘benefits’ of our substance use, we will be even more closed off when hearing others’ concerns or observations.
One of the complicating factors about denial in addiction is that it is not one thing. It is a far-reaching ‘blind spot’ that can’t be willed to dissipate. It manifests on several levels and from several directions. So coming directly up against denial with the intent to dissolve it can be just an exercise in frustration. Not only does denial make us blind to the effects of substance use, it also hides from us. When truly in denial, we don’t believe we are in denial at all!
The Role of Denial in Our Lives
Denial is often a merciful thing, and many people are spared pain by it. It can help us function in times of crisis, for example, by removing an overwhelming perspective long enough to let us live daily life. In that way, denial serves as a door that closes out whatever is overwhelming enough to debilitate us.
Another role of denial is that it closes the door on things we don’t want to see–perhaps because we don’t feel able to cope with them. This can occur when there has been a horrific event, for instance. We might close the psychological door on details of a loved one’s death, or the details of an episode of violence or childhood abuse we endured. Many people who were mistreated in childhood, for instance, have large holes in their memory for such times.
In addiction, the role of denial is to make space and time for the illness to progress. And, to push away thoughts that will lead one to stop using. Symbolically speaking, the addictive illness wants to remain hidden, undetected, so it can take root and bloom. Our denial makes that possible. Consequently, many of us who are addicted are the last to know we are. Even though others have told us, our denial prevented us from knowing.
Aspects of Denial in Our Thought Patterns
Our thought patterns hold various complex versions of denial. And, these each has very unique dynamics and purposes. Typically, these are called thought distortions or thinking errors. They are considered distorted or erroneous because they alter facts and realities. They can serve one under certain circumstances but are self-sabotaging and unhealthy if used as standard approaches in daily life. Some of these aspects of denial in our thought patterns are:
Blaming others for our problems, feelings, behavior, or the results of our behavior–blaming others is a very effective defense against accepting our reality. If I make you the source of my problems then there is nothing I can do about my problems except focus on you. Of course, this solves nothing and adds a conflict with you to my stack of problems. However, the gain for me is that I don’t have to look at myself or my life as long as I am focused on conflict with you.
Projecting our own feelings, issues, motivation, and beliefs onto others–projecting is a way of ‘throwing off’ your
own feelings, thoughts and the like. You literally put them onto others, just like a slide projector throws an image onto a screen. You can then deny that any of the things you have projected belong to you.
Jumping to conclusions without considering the facts–this thought pattern allows us to gloss over facts. We jump to our own conclusions no matter what the facts are.
Using emotional reasoning to make decisions and solve problems–emotional reasoning also glosses over facts. The facts of a situation get lost as we use our feelings to make decisions and problem-solve. Consequently, any objective facts can be dismissed in those processes.
Intellectualizing and stripping one’s own emotions out of the equation, or failing to be empathic toward others’–using only the head without the heart’s input gives us an out of balance perspective. Without the feelings involved in some direct empathy and compassion toward others, people can be treated poorly.
Justifying one’s own unjustifiable behavior–this form of denial allows one to dismiss the reality of their behavior even when inappropriate, self-sabotaging or harmful to others.
Rationalizing there are good reasons for inappropriate behavior–rationalization as a form of denial also helps one cope with one’s own inappropriate, self-sabotaging or harmful behavior by tagging it as done for a ‘good reason’.
Judging others harshly and unfairly–this is one of those aspects of denial that push others away mentally, emotionally and behaviorally. By dismissing others in judgment, one dismisses the validity of their opinions, for example. Consequently, if someone presents information not liked, the person and the information can be dismissed.
Aspects of Denial that Protect One’s Addictive Behavior
Really all aspects of denial can be seen as protecting one’s addiction. However, some are more directly related to protecting one’s addictive behavior from being revealed. Among these are:
Lying–lying is the presentation of an untruth designed to obscure or hide one’s behavior, motive, intent, etc. Lying can be done overtly by telling a falsehood. It can also be done by omitting important facts from what is said. Lying serves to confuse others about the reality of a situation. It serves to give the person telling a lie the freedom and space they want to continue avoiding exposure and confrontation.
Vagueness–vagueness also obscures the truth by omitting specifics or not responding to the details of questions. This allows one to remain detached and distant, having additional ‘privacy’ by refusing clear communication.
Manipulation–manipulation is a more direct method of hiding one’s agenda or motives. It can be done in a number of ways including confusing others. It always has the goal of meeting one’s needs or obtaining a gain in some way.
Deception–deception, like all the other items in this section, also seeks gain by not revealing the truth to another. All of these in this section are attempts to lead a ‘double life’ in which the realities are not readily seen, but are given freedom to continue.
Breaking Through Denial of Recovery
Treatment and recovery efforts find people working on their thought habits, communication, and interactional styles over a long period, and many beneficial gains are made along the way. One of the most helpful ways to break through denial is through taking gradual inventories of one’s life. 12 Step groups like AA and NA (Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous) are helpful in this process. For example, in finances, one may take an actual tally of the overall amount spent on substances during active addiction, and include other costs such as legal fines, traffic tickets and the like. Of course, even a concerted effort to make such a tally will be an approximation, but it is a great eye-opener nonetheless.
Inventories in other life realms can continue to help resolve denial as treatment and recovery continue. For example, you may list people that have been harmed by your active addiction; ways you have harmed yourself; sexual encounters you feel badly about; losses, and so on. Such work gradually but powerfully corrects one’s perception, allowing the realities of an addicted life to be seen much more clearly. This kind of awareness better equips you to be more successful in sobriety. Identifying the many aspects of denial allows you to recognize their early signs of emergence, and you can take steps to correct them as part of a good relapse prevention plan.
If You or a Loved One Need Help
If you or a loved one continue to be entangled in compulsive drug use and the thought patterns that support it, there is effective help available, and many options that can work for you. At Elite Rehab Placement, we offer free consultations to find the right treatment options and clarify your insurance coverage to smooth your way to treatment. If you or an addicted loved one is ready to turn your life around, give us a call.
Treatment works if you find skilled professionals in the right kind of setting for you. You will have to make an investment of time and energy, and bring an attitude of willingness with you, but recovery is more than possible. If this is the right time in your life or the life of your loved one, we can help you get to the right help.