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Using denial as a coping strategy

17.01.2018 - Addiction, Articles

Denial is a common coping strategy that everyone uses to some degree to avoid uncomfortable feelings. For instance, a delay in going through a grieving process until you are able to cope with it is a healthy form of denial.

Denial is a major symptom of addiction. It is automatic and unconscious. Addicts are often the last to see the reality of their disease. Bear this in mind, because being in some level of denial is not a failure or a fault in you – just a fact about you that you need to change.

In alcoholics and addicts, this coping strategy can get out of control. Denial can leave you unable to accept what is really happening in your life as the result of your addictive behaviours, and so you do not have to face consequences of your addiction.

If people chose to use the 12 Step programme in their recovery, step one is about working with and through the denial, allowing you to accept your powerlessness over your addiction and the chaos, unmanageability and damage it has brought into your life.

One of the beautiful things about recovery is that once you have accepted these things, it can open the door to your feeling that you have choices and the understanding that a healthy life can be achieved.

Denial can take many forms. These include:

Projection – “I don’t have a problem – you have a problem.” 

Rationalisation – “I drink/use because of my crummy job/ life/partner/parents etc.” 

Intellectualisation – Being too much “in your head” about your problems. 

Minimising – “Sure I drink/use a bit each day, but it’s not a problem.” 

Suppression – Forcing down memories of using behaviour and consequences of use. 

Withdrawing –  Leaving relationships, jobs, etc. rather than face problems. 

Geographic escapes – “My life is unmanageable – but it’ll get better if I move to another place. 

Emotional Thinking – I feel this way so it must be true. 

Magical thinking – I want it to be true so it must be.

Remember – Denial is not a river in Egypt!

Author: Nick Kypriotis, Client Relations Manager (MSc, FDAP NCAC) at The Kusnacht Practice