Denial: the main obstacle to recovery

Logically, the need to recover from living with an addict can only become apparent when you are  conscious of the fact that it is indeed addiction that is affecting your life and that of the addict. Unfortunately this consciousness is often hindered by the mechanisms of denial and repression.

Your behavior and the choices you make are based on your belief system.  Denial is a very common defense strategy used by the ego to cope when reality conflicts with your beliefs.

A simple example of denial at work occurs during sport events. When the referee makes a decision, the fans of one side will applaud it, while supporters of the other team may be totally and sincerely convinced that the referee’s call was wrong and very often they will maintain their view, in spite of video material showing that they are wrong.

The same thing occurs when you are proud to buy an expensive product that  you believe you really  need and that that simply has the best qualities. If after the purchase it appears in reality,  that the product does not quite meet your expectations or that the price you paid was not that good of  a deal, or that you realize you did not really need it,  often times you will choose to defend and justify your acquisition in spite of reality. The ego will deny reality and will make up excuses in its attempts to defend your external image of the savvy and expert buyer in the eyes of  the people you know (friends, colleagues, etc.) . In marketing this phenomenon is called cognitive dissonance and denial is often the consequence. We would rather deny reality than admit we have made a mistake. In the case of addiction we do the same.

Children or spouses who are verbally or physically abused by the other parent will often first seek the explanation for this behaviour in themselves. In their belief system their father or mother loves them and takes care of them. Admitting the opposite would cause them so much pain and sadness, that they prefer to blame themselves first. “We must have done something terribly wrong” or “If only I do my best more it will stop” are very common reactions in such cases. Of course, this form of denial will not end the problem.

On the contrary, it stands in the way of recovery and it will prolong the suffering. And the more denials the ego comes up with, the harder it gets to face the truth. It makes it all the more painful to acknowledge, to admit, to believe the truth. In some cases we don’t just deny the addict’s behavior, but we may even deny the fact that our behavior is a mistake.

Early recognition and awareness are key in speeding up recovery. In my upcoming book you can read more about how denial works against recovery and what you can do to face reality and start recovering sooner than I did.