Acceptance is vital to accepting and understanding reality, making changes, and planning for the future. When we are in a content state, acceptance comes naturally. But when we are hurting, acceptance can be much more complex, and we may enter a state of denial.
Acceptance is necessary to begin the recovery process
What Is Denial?
Denial is a state where you deny or distort what is happening. You might ignore the problem, minimize people's concerns, or blame others for any issues. In terms of addiction, whether it's to alcohol or drugs, or gambling, denial is a powerful coping mechanism to delay facing the truth.
Denial is very common, particularly in those struggling with addictive behaviors. No one wants to admit they are struggling with alcohol, drugs, or gambling; denial allows them to make the reality more flattering. In denial, a person may resort to various behaviors, including:
Minimizing: If the addiction is brought up, the person may act like you're blowing things out of proportion or exaggerating. They may say something like, "It's not that bad," or "People do way more than I do."
Rationalizing: People with addictions will rationalize their addiction, saying they are stressed and need a little help getting through or earning a reward for their hard work.
Self-Deception: Self-deception is a powerful denial mechanism where the individual convinces himself that things aren't as bad or severe as they are.
People with addictions use denial to continue engaging in addictive behaviors. Continued denial can cause destructive consequences, from health issues to harmed relationships.
How Denial Can Be Overcome
Unfortunately, overcoming denial is not an easy process. It was often thought that people with addiction had to "hit rock bottom" before they could begin to cope with the reality of their problems. This allowed the person to accept the situation, seek help, and move forward. However, we now know we can intervene before the person reaches this state of despair.
Other methods can help end denial by stressing reality, such as:
Therapy: An addiction therapist can help people face their problems
Journaling: Keeping a journal on addictive behaviors, whether writing down how many drinks you have each day or how much money you spend at the casino, can give tangible proof of the extent of the issue.
Consequences: Negative consequences, such as the depletion of a bank account, the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job due to addiction, can be a significant wake-up call
Education: Many people do not realize they have an addiction, but by reading educational materials on specific addictions, they may recognize particular behaviors in themselves
Denial is a powerful coping mechanism that people can use to justify or rationalize their addiction. This state can vary in duration; for some, it may be just a few weeks. For others, it can be months or even years. As long as this state persists, treatment cannot begin earnestly and will often end in relapse.
With therapy and support, the person with an addiction can begin to accept reality and take the first vital steps toward a full recovery.
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Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, Ph.D. is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.