“Be stronger than your strongest excuse.” – Unknown
Am I in Denial about Addiction?
Denial is a large part of addiction. Denial (a statement that something is not true) is one of the most commonly used defence mechanisms.
”A defence mechanism is an unconscious psychological strategy that people use to help them cope with reality and protect their ego.”
The ability of people to protect themselves in this way can be beneficial, but sometimes a defence mechanism can prevent a person from healing from addiction. Addicts who suffer from denial will refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem.
Please note: They don’t try to lie when they deny. However, their nonacceptance can be so strong that they can’t see that substance abuse or behavioural activity is their real problem.
Patrick Carnes wrote in his book, “Facing the shadows” that for all addicts, there comes a moment when they realize they have a problem. He says in this moment of clarity for the addict; it suddenly hits home that life is out of control. Addicts often have to reach a low point before they admit they have a problem. So the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem.
Knowing that you have a problem and admitting it are two different things.
How does an addict usually get past denial? By hitting rock bottom. It means that things in their lives get so bad that they can no longer ignore reality. A low point provides an opportunity for the addict to reach out for help. Unfortunately, some miss this moment of clarity into their problem and slides back into denial.
Reaching a low point does not mean having to lose everything for everyone. Some addicts have a ”high rock bottom”. We can compare it with a person going down in an elevator – they can choose which floor they want to get off. There is no advantage to riding the addiction to the bottom because this can mean death. The sooner that the addict can see beyond their denial, the better it will be for them.
In the following worksheet, a few examples of denial is listed. By working through it, you might discover some forms of negation that you are using.
Every person with a substance abuse problem has had some form of denial for some time. But, unfortunately, it is the primary reason addiction progresses and goes untreated, and it affects the addict and their family equally.
For loved ones, it is tough to comprehend how the addict can be so convinced there is no addiction. We quickly judge a person by saying, ”he is in denial”. It is a value judgement we make when we feel that person avoids the truth. Compassion and support of the addict is key to breaking through the denial. Addicts genuinely believe you have no idea what you are talking about when confronting them with their substance abuse problems. It often takes a skilled therapist to help an addict out of denial into accepting reality.
But what does being in denial mean?
Each of us has a perception of ourselves that we feel comfortable with. We can use different forms of denial to help us rather than accept the reality that requires us to alter our perception of ourselves. Denial helps us cope better with unwanted or difficult emotions. It is a cognitive process in which we can hide any negative emotion from guilt, shame, fear, or distress.
Sometimes even positive emotions can be challenging to deal with, and it’s easier to deny them, for example, emotions that expose our vulnerability in a relationship.
Addicts use denial to ignore the truth about what they feel rather than about what they are doing or thinking.
When you rationalize, you attempt to justify behaviour or an attitude with logical reasons, even if these are not appropriate. For example, people who struggle with addiction explain why they continue with addictive behaviours.
Addicts are masters of blaming. Although their actions embarrass them, they genuinely believe that the addiction is not the problem. They will always try to convince themselves and others there is more to it than that. They know if they take the blame, something has to change, and they have to take responsibility for that.
A person, who uses self-delusion as a form of denial, lacks knowledge and perspective, which affects their ability and willingness to take responsibility for their actions.
Deliberately avoiding talking about a particular issue is your first sign that you want to avoid something in the conversation.
If a person denies addiction – one question to ask is:
”Given the harm you are doing to yourself and others
– are you willing to stop? If not, you are addicted.”
William G. Borchert describes denial as “a frightening, insane frame of mind that kills thousands of alcoholics and drug addicts every single year” in an article he wrote for Rehab centre. He further states, “denial of one’s addiction is an almost incomprehensible, powerful force in the face of the stark and harmful behaviour associated with the disease itself.”
Addiction is an illness of evading reality – and the way addicts do it is to escape via medicating or addictive activities that bring relief from painful thoughts and emotions, however brief that may be.
One of our most essential skills is the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Addicts live in a world of so many rationalizations and delusions to justify their behaviour that everything real becomes blurred and impossible to cope with.
Accepting reality enables us to live in fact.
Acknowledging a painful truth is not easy for most of us, especially if we’re used to denying or controlling our feelings and circumstances. Yet, change begins with acceptance of reality. Herein lays our power.
Tips on how to deal with an addict:
- Set boundaries – for you and the addict
- Commit not to enable them
- Don’t give in to manipulation
- Motivate addict to seek treatment
- Organise an intervention with a professional – you are not alone
- Take care of yourself – never blame yourself.
Tips on how to motivate someone to seek help
- Stay calm – stay in the now – stick to the problem
- Demonstrate empathy
- Encourage responsibility
- Enlist help
Tips on how to confront a child about drug use:
- If you have a spouse/partner – do this together. Present a united front.
- Pick a time when the addict is sober, avoid interruptions
- Stay calm – focus on the problem – don’t overreact – don’t judge
- Try to set a realistic goal for the conversation
- Expect the conversation to be uncomfortable
- Expect the child will react in anger /embarrassment/ lying/ manipulation/ blaming
- Be ready to present them with proof if they go into denial
- Empathise with how they feel.
- Emphasize how important honesty is.
- Set rules on how this is going to play out and the consequences of breaking them
- Get in professional help.
You may chat with an online counsellor on LIVE CHAT for more help.
Reference: Denial: The stepchild of ignorance and shame, William g. Borchert. August 10, 2017. Rehabcenter.net