No one wants to be told lies. When something is important, we want the truth. People often respond with anger, when they find out someone has been lying to them. So why do we lie to ourselves? Is that what people mean when they use the word “denial”?
In the literature of recovery, denial is a common subject of discussion. Traditionally, the term has referred to an alcoholic/addict’s unwillingness to see the obvious negative consequences of drinking and using. Currently, the word “denial” has been expanded to include many forms of self-dishonesty: denial of one’s own emotional life, denial of relationship shortcomings, and denial of the consequences of other damaging habits (such as overeating).
There are lots of motives for avoiding the truth. Humans have an individual image of themselves, a view of who they are that defines their interactions with others, and gives them hope about future choices. Even those convicted of serious crimes may say they “were only doing what they had to do,” or that they “weren’t really guilty” of the accusations brought against them—when, in fact, they were. This is partly a result of the need to believe that one’s life is meaningful, and that one’s choices are defensible.
It seems that being dishonest with oneself is a form of pain avoidance. Pain avoidance is a natural and necessary human instinct. When a child touches a hot stovetop, he remembers how badly that burn hurts—he won’t touch that coil again unless he is sure it is cold. If you are misled in a business deal, you learn to do your homework, and to be wary of deals that sound too good to be true. Pain avoidance equals physical and emotional survival.
The trouble with lying to oneself is that the avoidance ends up being worse than the pain it is meant to sidestep. Bad relationships have a tendency to continue as they are, or get worse. Overeating, compulsive gambling, and internet addictions cause ever-increasing problems of health, financial strain, and isolation. Refusing to see the consequences of these behaviors doesn’t lessen their accumulated damage, and these problems don’t solve themselves. They require attention.
Alcoholism and drug addiction also require attention. Once an addiction cycle becomes established, it becomes increasingly difficult for the sufferer to break the cycle. Some of the difficulty comes from the self-deception. I can’t address a problem I refuse to recognize. “It’s not that bad,” “it’s someone else’s fault,” and “I’ll change when I feel like it” are not effective strategies.
If you need help, or somebody you care about needs help, a lack of self-honesty is not your friend. It may feel like change is your enemy, but that’s an untruth. The enemy is an addiction cycle that leads to more suffering, more loneliness, and possible serious legal and health problems. Don’t deny yourself the help you need—you deserve a chance at a better life. Call Sobriety Matters at 713-907-4699 today. We will help you get back to being the real you!