What is Meant by Denial?
Dear Dr. Steve:
Never in my life have I met somebody as pigheaded as my brother. I have tried every way
imaginable to reach him but I cant get through to him. His life is crumbling around
him. Everyone seems to see it but him. No matter how I try to get him to deal with the
facts of his drug use, he has an uncanny ability to sidestep the truth. Whats with
this guy? Does he just not care? Is he just plain stupid? Or, is his head buried too
deeply in the sand to even notice?
There is nothing more frustrating than
banging ones head against the brick wall known as denial. Denial enables a
person to continue using despite negative consequences and fail to recognize the overt and
covert changes in his or herself. It's been said that chemical dependency is the only
disease that tells you that you don't have a disease. The chemically dependent individual
wants to hold onto the belief that drinking and drugging is the solution, not the problem,
and that their alcohol and other drugs still work. Alcohol and other drugs use may
temporarily provide relief from some problems, but it always results in generating new,
more serious, problems. Denial allows addicts to hold onto such ideas as:
1.) Their drug use
isn't contributing to, or responsible for, the problems in their lives
2.) Their drug use isn't that bad or cause them to compare themselves to someone
else or a stereotypical image of an addict
3.) They can quit anytime they want
4.) They can handle it
self-deception becomes deeply entrenched as the chemically dependent individual seeks to
capture what alcohol and other drugs once provided, protecting their right to
continue using. Because denial is an ever increasing narrowing of perceptions, you can
understand how a narrowing of your brothers perceptions would make it difficult for
him to fully comprehend the scope and breadth of the problem his alcohol and other drug
use may be causing.
presents itself in many forms, many of which I imagine you have already encountered with
your brother. Your brother may out and out deny that he has a problem with drugs and
alcoholhe lives his life much like the three monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil,
speak no evil. He may minimize the severity of his drinking as well as minimize the
impact his drinking has on himself and others. He may rationalize his drinking by
alibying, justifying, and/or making excuses. For example, he drinks as a way of relaxing
or its necessary that he drink to fit in to his peer group or fit in at his
workplace. He may use blame as a way of justifying his drinkingblame an
unreasonable boss, blame a wife who doesnt understand him, blame his children who
dont respect him, blame ad nauseum. He may use lying, deceitfulness, and secretiveness
as a way of hiding from you and others the extent of his drinking and drugging. There is
nothing more frustrating than dealing with the intellectualization of a person in
denialthe avoidance of the truth by dealing only with generalizations or theories.
Is your brother an expert at deflecting the subject of his drinking any time you bring it
disease of chemical dependency progresses and his drinking begins to cause more and more
problems in his life, what youre experiencing first hand is how your brothers
denial increases as well. Despite the fact that his life is spinning out of control,
despite the problems that your brothers drinking may be causing him, he continues to
be in denial about how the current circumstances of his life have any connection to his
drinking and drugging.
same time, his acts of denial, whether it be lying, hiding, keeping secrets, or just
refusing to talk about his drinking with you is evidence of how troubled he is deep down
inside about his drinking. Your brother is covering up because at some level of his being
he is aware that there is something different or wrong about him and his drinking.
Somewhere inside he realizes that his drinking means more to him than he is willing to
a saying that youre only as sick as your secrets. For your brother, only the
rigorous honesty of Recovery can relieve him of the burden he has created by his denial
you, only the admission that you are powerless over an alcoholic can return sanity to your
life. Until you acknowledge to yourself that you are powerless and that your life has
become unmanageable, you will continue to feel frustrated as you attempt to dismantle the
walls of denial, deceit, and blame that your brother has constructed. Your will is no
match for the willfulness of an active alcoholic. Your sanity relies on you making such an
admission of powerlessness.
how to prevent and recover from chemical dependency as well as the aftereffects of
chemical dependency on you and your family. Read Dr. Frischs, Psy.D. series of
Insanity to Serenity.
1.) Get a copy of Al-Anons handbook.
2.) Go to an Al-Anon meeting.
3.) Get yourself an Al-Anon sponsor.
4.) Read my columns about enabling and detaching with love.