Common forms of denial encountered in recovery environments
The action of declaring something to be untrue Refusal to declare my unhealthy behavior to be reality of destruction.
Below are just some of the common forms of denial I have both encountered in ministry and used myself. As with all my unhealthy patterns, there is overlap and subtly that varies for each man, and situation. This is intended to be a list of reference, helping identify common patterns of denial. It is neither perfect, no all-encompassing and should not be treated as such. The goal of this paper is to help start the process of identification, seeing my own forms of self-deception so that I can be free from the patterns and behaviors causing such damage in my life.
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 of core behavior. Instead of facing the reality of my lackluster desire for actual change, I redefine change to be something I have already achieved: knowledge. This denies the reality of actual change seen in 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.
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.”
Failure to Consider Injury to Others, Building Up Opinion of Oneself as Good
A form of denial where I claim a lesser impact from my behaviors, meaning I do not need to address any other areas of my life, for all that matters is dealing with this “isolated” part of my life that is causing such damage. I approach change like that of a surgeon: remove the problem and everything is going to be okay. This denies the motivating factors and all-encompassing nature of my addiction. It encourages a simple lie: certain areas of my life are isolated from all others. This simplistic view of how my life operates enables me to claim health in all other areas, thereby minimizing the addictive patterns. This allows me to use seemingly healthy reasons to not take the necessary steps for real change: such as work, family, children, church, ministry, friends, etc.… I deny the reality that my addiction is destroying all these areas.
My Problems are Not that Bad
“It’s only porn” “No one else is hurt” “I’m not having affairs” “My Wife is okay with it”
Pride, Concrete Thinking
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 upon what I consider “sacred” (family, faith, self). Ultimately, I am freed to ignore taking more serious action towards my behaviors because they are “not that bad”.
I’m too hard on myself
“I don’t want to live in shame” “I have to be careful of negativity”
Zero State, Victim Stance, Fragmentation
When I am forced to look at my patterns of behavior over an extended period of time, I often fragment my thinking towards other unrelated patterns of behavior in my life that give me the position of victim. Specifically, I will refocus the group and/or my internal thoughts towards how I must build up my self-esteem. I disconnect from the reality that healthy self-esteem is only built through healthy behavior, instead using this as a weapon to justify my minimization of my behaviors and as a plea to others to not push me towards acknowledging a simple truth: I am refusing to change. I will maintain this form of denial so long as others around me will respond with “encouraging words”. This is a common dynamic I will pursue in groups that do not allow feedback of any negative kind.
Others need to accept me
“I was never accepted as a child” “This place is the only place I’m safe to share”
Diversion, Refusal to take Responsibility, Attempting to Confuse
This is another defensive tactic of denial. Instead of refocusing my attention inwards, I focus it outward on those giving me input. I ignore the reality of what is being shared and instead 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. I make it impossible to challenge my behavior.
Others shouldn’t Judge Me
“This place is the only place I’m safe to share” “I need somewhere I don’t feel judged”
Victim Stance, Religiosity
Yet another defensive tactic of denial. I claim that anyone who points out my wrongs is “Judging” me. The difference here is my use of religious means to push people away from me. This usage of “religion” deserves distinct attention as I often will challenge others behavior as “unchristian” when they share honestly with me: attempting to use religious terminology to justify my continued denial of reality. So long as I can divert attention away from the reality of my behaviors, my goal is achieved. I do not wish to be faced with the uncomfortable reality of how my behaviors are mine, and no one else.
I’m just not yet ready to change
“Everyone has their own journey” “I haven’t hit rock bottom yet” “I’m not sure I’m willing to do the work just yet”
Lying, Concrete Thinking
This is a common tactic for those who have 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 own desires. I take these concepts as if they are states of being that I have no control over and therefore am powerless to actually change. It is akin to the “Disease” model of recovery that claims the addict has no choice in the matter of change. I wholeheartedly accept this concept as it justifies my total lack of real effort to change, and gives me means, using recovery terminology, to push others away from me. I do not grasp the deeper meanings of these concepts and my choice in the matter, I deny that I have any choice to actually change. I see myself as the victim and demand that others see me that way too.