The author is a certified addiction recovery empowerment specialist, with 26 years in long-term recovery.
Denying, Minimizing, Rationalizing and Justifying the Problem: Inside Jobs
For many of us, admitting that there is a substance abuse problem or addiction creates fear, shame, and embarrassment. As a result, the only way we can come to terms with it is to avoid it. Avoiding the truth of the problem relies on denying that there is a problem, rationalizing and justifying our continued use, or minimizing the outcomes of our use.
Rationalizing takes place internally. It's what we tell ourselves about our use. Justification is external; it's what we tend to say to others, or the excuses we use for our use, actions or behaviors.
I had many people question my use. Rather than acknowledge that what they were telling me was legitimate, I refused to see any other viewpoints. My denial of the severity of my problem should have been evident to me, but denial is such a difficult barrier to breach, both by the individual and others.
Refusal to believe until proof is given is a rational position; denial of all outside of our own limited experience is absurd.
— Annie Besant
Sometimes just seeing the explanations written down has helped others see that they are avoiding the problem. Here are some of the ways that you’ll know when either you or someone close to you is avoiding the issues of a substance abuse problem.
Deliberately avoiding talking about a particular issue is your first sign that there is something in the conversation that you want to avoid. If you find that you are purposely trying to steer the conversation away from a particular point, maybe that is what you need to discuss.
When you see yourself in these examples, you might realize your problem and seek help.
It's not denial. I'm just selective about the reality I accept.
— Bill Watterson, creator of "Calvin and Hobbes"
Complete Refusal to See the Problem
- “No, that is not how it is.”
- “No, not me. That doesn’t describe me at all.”
- “No, not me. Your assessment of me is entirely wrong.”
Minimizing, Downplaying, or Underestimating the problem
- “I don’t think it’s as bad as you describe.”
- “I know lots of people who have a few beers every night and they don’t have problems.”
- “I only act that way when others push my buttons.”
Leaving Out The Information That Would Prove A Point
- "I discussed my drinking with my doctor and he said I was within limits."
When the limits he discussed were amounts for a week, not for the day.
- "I'm getting a divorce. I'm stressed and need a drink."
When your drinking was a consideration in the decision to divorce you.
- "I got fired and I'm not the only one smoking pot."
When you fail to disclose that you had several write ups about this issue previously.
Avoiding or Running from the Obvious
- “I hear what you are saying, but you are wrong, so let’s talk about something else.
- “I don’t want to discuss this.”
- "I have to leave."
Avoiding the Problem with a Flood of Words about Everything Else
We aren't able to talk about the real problem because we start talking about so many other things that have nothing to do with the issue. We do this in the hope that whoever has confronted us will get sidetracked and will forget the problem.
- “I have to tell you about my work situation; a new boss and new rules. I’m afraid I won’t be able to measure up to the unreasonable demands that he is putting on me. You know how traffic is, and although I’ve been late, according to the new schedule, I think he should give us all time to adjust.” (Hangovers can make mornings difficult to get going)
Frenzied, Messy Distractions
If people try to force us into a conversation about the problem, we create other chaos or drama that we believe will focus on the new information.
If the new crisis is desperate enough, others may have to, bail us out, or rescue us from this mishap so that no one has the time to discuss the reasons for this situation.
The Real Issue Or The “Who Is At Fault” In My Drinking/Using/Acting This Way Excuse
- “I am only reacting to them.”
- “If they would only change the way they do things, I would not have to drink/use/act this way.”
- “If you had to deal with what (ever) I have had to deal with in my life, you would drink/use/act like I do, too.”
- “Now that I am sober/clean/acting differently, I need to have my spleen taken out. It has been bothering me lately, and I think I need to have many tests to determine if I truly have the cancer that I fear. These tests will let me know what is REALLY wrong with me.”
This one is when we just start spouting off things that may or not be relevant.
- “The problems of drinking/using/behaving go so far back into our collective make-up; they are rooted in cultural norms, family dynamics, or are imposed on society by the ruling parties; therefore they are deeply rooted in my being and probably will not change.”
We are hoping that we sound so impressive that people can see how smart we are. Clearly, if we are intelligent, we would not be exhibiting whatever they want us to realize. We desperately hope that people perceive us as smart since intelligent people do not have this problem.
Rationalization and Justification
When confronted with our alcohol/drug/behavior problems, we can talk ourselves and other people into believing that it is okay.
- “I do not think it (whatever) is as bad as other people do, and I just don’t feel it’s that big a deal”.
- "Studies show that a glass of wine is beneficial", however, you fail to disclose that your glass is never empty.
You Are Different Justifications
- “I do not drink/use/or behave as bad as so and so, and they aren't even in trouble.”
- “I know someone who has a possession charge, or is anti-social and they are not in trouble.”
- “I am fully aware of the impact of my drinking, but I can learn to control it better."
Deciding That You Are Too Far Gone to Get Help
- “I have gone too far to get any help.”
- “How can you expect a dilapidated old drunk/junkie to change”?
- “I have acted this way all my life and I cannot change my ways on such short notice.”
I Do Not Need Any Help; I Now Have all the Answers
- “I have been sober/clean/acting differently for twenty-five minutes now, and I understand what my problems are and it is no longer a problem."
- “Thank you for your help; you have confirmed what I was thinking.
- “I know so much about it, I do not have to pay you to tell me anymore, thank you very much.”
I’m too Old to Have that Problem
- “I am retired, financially secure and come from a good family.”
- “I only take things that my doctor prescribes, thank you.
- “Alcohol is good for moderating blood pressure, but I’m sure you didn't know that.”
- "I didn't start drinking until I retired. There, that shows how responsible I am."
Pretending and Placating to Avoid
- I'll just look like I'm listening; I'll let them get it off their chest, and then go on about my merry way."
- “I see your point and I’m going to do whatever you tell me to do.” (Then you do whatever it is that you wanted to do besides follow the directions.)
The thinking that accompanies pretending and placating is:
- I hoped that worked, and they will move on to someone else in the group that needs help.
- Once you are off my back, I will feel so relieved that I will forget what I promised to do."
- Glad they believed me; I have always been good at pulling the wool over someone’s eyes and here they think they are trained counselors.
- I will show them, I will say one thing and then do what I want to do.
- “I know I cannot drink/use or act this way ever again because I will get sick and die.”
- “These consequences will scare me into recovery.”
- “I know that I am scared enough of my addiction now, and I know that I will never drink or use again.”
- “I do not need to do any other type of recovery work as this fear will do it all.”
Dropping the Facades, Listening to Others and Seeing Your Past
Denial, avoiding, rationalizing, and justifying protect you from embarrassment and exposure. However, that means that as long as you are operating from any of these, you will not make see the necessity for making changes. You'll continue to see your life from your limited perspectives and perceptions.
Rather than feeling exposed when people try to penetrate the denial, view their engagement with you as helpful and positive. With a change in attitude and a willingness to break through the denial and stop the avoidance, you can find a new reality and an opportunity to improve.
Your future does not have to be a repeat of your past, and changing your behaviors means you will no longer have to make excuses for avoiding your problem.
Twenty-six years ago, when I was the subject of an intervention, I had the good sense to listen for a change. For once, I heard the care and concern, not the condemnation.
I would encourage you to listen, look at your life from alternative perspectives, and hear what others say is their perception of you. Being open to what they are saying may save your life.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Nikki on August 21, 2015:
How exactly is 'scared sobriety' a justification? You are not in denial of the health consequences or the emotional consequences and it only promotes a healthier lifestyle, so why is it considered a justification exactly?
Crystal Tatum from Georgia on October 05, 2013:
Me again. I think I'll be reading your whole body of work here on HubPages. I need to -I have tried recovery and failed and failed and I know I haven't dealt with my denial. I believe I don't have time to do all I have to do due to my job, but I know that line of thinking is never going to get me well.
Marilyn L Davis (author) from Georgia on July 15, 2013:
25 years ago when I got into recovery, my mentor was a 74 year old Native American with 34 years of recovery. When I asked him about principles necessary to take a Step, this was his response. I have only further defined, broadened and explained how these principles are applicable to each Step.
I'm sure there are others out there that would have other Spiritual Principles that would work equally well, but these have worked for me and the populations I have worked with. Marilyn