Understanding Denial

Addictions (of all types) are driven a complex series of internal and external lies commonly referred to as denial. Typically, each lie is supported by one or more rationalizations, with each rationalization reinforced by still more lies. When looked at objectively, denial is about as structurally sound as a house of cards in a stiff breeze, yet addicts act as if they’re living in an impenetrable bomb shelter. They defend their flimsy lies and rationalizations with reckless abandon, no matter how ridiculous they sound to an impartial observer.

Note: Most of the time, denial is a natural and healthy coping mechanism used to put off overwhelming pain until we can deal with it effectively. Addicts, however, tend to subvert healthy denial in ways that support their addiction.

For addicts, denial is incredibly powerful. Over time, they come to believe their own deceit. And because they buy their own dishonesty, their addictive behaviors, no matter how crazy, seem utterly reasonable to them. The rest of the world can easily see through their smokescreen, but addicts themselves either can’t or won’t.

Denial comes in many flavors. With sex addiction, the most commonly utilized forms are as follows:

  • Blame: Frank, a 40-year-old pilot, blames others for his behaviors. “With the lousy sex life I have at home, who wouldn’t be looking at porn and chatting up women for sex?”
  • Entitlement: Jeff, a 55-year-old executive, feels entitled. “Just look at how hard I am working. I give and give to this company. If I spend a few hours online, getting off on a little fantasy, that’s a reward I deserve for all the work that I do.”
  • Justification: Daniela, a 33-year-old copywriter, justifies her behavior. “I’d be having sex every night if I was in a relationship, so why can’t I have sex every night while I’m single?”
  • Minimization: Sam, a 24-year-old salesman, minimizes his behavior. “I’m no different than any other gay guy. All of us are on Grindr. Besides, I’m not in any danger. I can tell when someone is too weird or into drugs, so I don’t get into those bad situations.”
  • Playing the Victim: Josh, a 36-year-old graphic designer, feels victimized by the people around him. “My wife nitpicks everything I do. If she ever gave me some positive feedback, I’m not sure what I’d do. So, I turn to other women to get the validation I need.”
  • Rationalization: Suzanne, a 57-year-old physician’s assistant, rationalizes her behavior. “I’m not having affairs like some of the women I know. If I go online for a few hours after my husband falls asleep and have my secret little intrigues, no one gets hurt and nothing comes of it.”

Happily, as addicts start to get healthier, their need for denial diminishes. Over time, it becomes easier for them to tolerate the reality of their day-to-day lives, and to make lasting changes in their sexual and romantic behaviors.