Common forms of denial

A few common forms of denial that are encountered in sexual addiction ministry

Denial: The action of declaring something to be untrue

Below are just some of the common forms of denial I have both encountered in ministry and used myself. As with all unhealthy patterns, there is overlap and subtlety that varies for each person and situation. This is intended to be a list of reference, helping identify common patterns of denial. It is neither perfect, nor all-encompassing and should not be treated as such. My goal in writing this is to help start the process of identifying forms of self-deception so that we can be free from the patterns and behaviors causing such damage in our lives.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
– James 1:22

Insight/Knowledge equals Change

“I haven’t changed, but I’ve learned a lot!”

“I learned so much during my time there.” 

This is a common form of denial for individuals with extensive experience in recovery, but little actual change in regard to the addictive behavior. Instead of facing the reality of my lackluster desire for actual change, I redefine change to be something I have already achieved, for example: knowledge. This denies the reality of actual change seen in changed behavior and ultimately allows me to ignore the changes that need to occur, because after all: “I AM changing.” This is in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

Thinking Errors

  • Super-Optimism
  • Pretentious 

My problems are isolated to one area

“It’s only this one area.” 

“It’s just this one problem.” 

“I have a healthy _____. It’s just this area that’s bad.” 

A form of denial where I minimize the scope of influence my addiction has upon my life. This denial means I may continue doing whatever I please in all other areas of my life because those parts are not influencing or influenced by my addiction. I approach change like that of a surgeon: remove the problem and everything is going to be okay. This denies the central theme my addiction has played in my life and the all-encompassing nature of my addiction. It encourages a simple lie: certain areas of my life are isolated from all others. This simplistic view enables me to claim health in all other areas, thereby minimizing the addictive patterns and allowing me to use seemingly healthy reasons to not do what I must to achieve real change. These excuses include: work, family, children, church, ministry, friends, etc.… I deny the reality that my addiction is destroying all these areas and that all of these areas have patterns of behavior related to my addiction.

Thinking Errors

  • Failure to Consider Injury to Others
  • Building Up Opinion of Oneself as Good

My problems are not that bad

“I’m doing lots of good stuff too.” 

“No one else is hurt.” 

“I’m not having affairs.” 

“My spouse is okay with it.” 

I deny the severity of my problems, either through comparison to others I know, or comparison to an internal standard of “bad”. By claiming my problems to be “less”, I gain the ability to treat them as less important than other parts of my life. This “lesser” approach deemphasizes the severity of my behaviors and their impact upon those around me, even though [SB2] I am doing harm to what I call “sacred” (family, faith, self). By thinking this way, I am free to ignore suggestions to take more serious action in dealing with my behaviors because they are, in general, “not that bad”.

Thinking Errors

  • Pride
  • Concrete Thinking

I’m too hard on myself

“I don’t want to live in shame.” 

“I have to be careful of negativity.” 

When I am forced to look at my patterns of behavior, especially over an extended period of time, I often fragment my thinking towards other unrelated patterns of behavior in my life that emphasize my victimhood. For example, I may refocus the group and/or my internal thoughts towards how I must build up my self-esteem. I am disconnected from the reality that healthy self-esteem is built through healthy behavior. I believe I have gone far enough or taken the issue serious enough, and therefore it is not right for others to “push” me towards acknowledging any greater or deeper truths. The reality is, I do not want to change my core issues and am still seeking to retain personal control; I am refusing to change. I will maintain this form of denial so long as others around me will respond with “encouraging words” in response to my half-hearted efforts that fail to produce real change. This is a common dynamic I will pursue in groups that do not allow feedback of any negative kind.

Thinking Errors

  • Zero State
  • Victim Stance
  • Fragmentation

Others need to accept me

“I was never accepted as a child.” 

“This place is the only place I’m safe to share.” 

This is another defensive type of denial that is often seen in those who are already involved in recovery environments. As I grow in knowledge, I do not put greater emphasis on self-improving knowledge – which would be an self-improvement focus – instead, I focus on how I believe others should be treating me. [SB3] I believe that it is their responsibility to make me feel comfortable. I deny my personal responsibility for change and put that responsibility on the people around me. In this denial, I often use social expectations (be nice, don’t say things others won’t like, etc.) as a weapon against those who hold me accountable. I demand that they “accept me” which actually means that they “condone” and “encourage” me regardless of how little success or health I exhibit over an extended period of time. If allowed, I make it impossible to challenge my behavior.

Thinking Errors

  • Diversion
  • Refusal to take Responsibility
  • Attempting to Confuse

Others shouldn’t judge me

“This place is the only place I’m safe to share.” 

“I need somewhere I don’t feel judged.” 

Yet another defensive tactic of denial. I claim that anyone who points out my wrongs is “judging” me. The difference between this and “Others need to accept me” is my heavy use of religious teachings as a justification. This usage of “religion” deserves distinct attention as I often will challenge others behavior as “unchristian” if they confront my unhealthy patterns of behavior. I will attempt to use religious terminology to justify my continued denial of reality. So long as I can divert attention away from my behaviors, my goal is achieved. I do not wish to be faced with the uncomfortable truth of how my behaviors are a rebellious personal choice.

Thinking Errors

  • Victim Stance
  • Religiosity

I’m just not yet ready to change

“Everyone has their own path to walk.” 

“I haven’t hit rock bottom yet.” 

“I’m not sure I’m willing to do the work just yet.” 

This is a common tactic for those who have been engaged long term in recovery environments, and, as such, have taken concepts such as “hitting rock bottom” or “doing the difficult” and twisted them to suit their continued lack of effort to change. I take these concepts as if they are states of being that I have no control over and therefore am powerless to make any choice in regard to. It is akin to some interpretations of the “disease” model of recovery where claims are made that the addict has no choice in the matter of change – he is a victim (we at Foundations believe there is always a choice: submit to God). I wholeheartedly accept this concept as it justifies my total lack of real effort to change and gives me the means, using recovery terminology, to push others away from me. I do not grasp the deeper meanings of these concepts. I see myself as the victim and demand that others see me that way too.

Thinking Errors

  • Lying
  • Concrete Thinking

(Reference: 36 Thinking Errors)