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Denial is an inability to accurately perceive the extent or severity of a problem.
Denial often goes hand in hand with lying, but they’re not the same thing. When you’re lying, you know it – it’s a deliberate attempt to deceive others. When you’re in denial, you don’t know it – because the object of deception is yourself. Something is so frightening to you, for whatever reason, that you just can’t accept its existence. Denial isn’t so much an angry defense (“what are you talking about? I am not an alcoholic!”) as a disbelieving one (“no, that can’t be true.”).
It’s closely linked to the pattern known in addiction treatment as ‘identifying out”. This occurs when someone responds to the suggestion that he is addicted by pointing out what isn’t wrong with his behavior. “I have a job,” he notes. “I go to work. I have a family. You haven’t seen me drunk. I haven’t got a DWI. I had a physical, and the doctor didn’t mention anything about my drinking.”
But it would be just as true to note that this same individual had nearly lost his job and alienated his family because of his drinking, and that although he had yet to be arrested, had driven under the influence on a number of occasions, and his doctor may not have mentioned drinking because the drinker had kept it so well hidden. That “identifying in” process is key to the eventual self-diagnosis.
In addiction literature, denial is described as: “Lack of awareness of the extent and severity of the addiction or the problems related to it.”
- “I don’t care what you say, I know myself, and I’m not an alcoholic.”
- “Yes, I use drugs, but I’m not the sort of person who abuses them.”
- ”Sure, I had been drinking, but that’s not what caused the accident.”
Result: The individual in denial makes no effort to change because he/she won’t see the need for change.
How we answer it: Present factual evidence that contradicts the denial.
How it ends: Usually, through painful experience. Repeated problems related to drinking or drug use force even the person in denial to acknowledge something is wrong–eventually. But this can take months, or years, or in some cases, decades – if the addict lives that long.
Next: Defense: Rationalization