Denial and lack of honesty are all around us and always have been. It may feel worse right now in lockdown and political mayhem. There are so many different points of view about what’s going on that it is no surprise  confusion reigns. What is the truth amid all this gaslighting and spinning?Do you feel  surrounded by liars, people who are afraid to tell the truth, and people who deny the truth?

Are you frustrated that you can’t be honest right now? Do conflicting versions of the truth in your own family cause mayhem? And worse, are people around you in denial about all the things that threaten everyone’s peace of mind and security: Like the virus, political dirty tricks, health insurance, racism and fair pay. We have a lot to think and worry about right now, and passions are running high.

Denial is nothing new in the addiction and mental health department. In fact, denial is what fuels family dysfunction and even addiction itself. So what is denial and what can we do about it?

Denial definition

Denial is a coping mechanism that gives you time to adjust to distressing situations — but staying in denial can interfere with treatment or your ability to tackle challenges. If you’re in denial, you’re trying to protect yourself by refusing to accept the truth about something that’s happening in your life.

Denial about global warming, for example, prevents us from taking specific action to stop it. Denial about the dangers of Covid 19 and its spread, prevents people from wearing masks and social distancing. Denial about addiction in the family is another way we protect ourselves from reality and pretend we’re okay when we’re not.

Denial is human but damaging

In all forms of denial everyone is impacted. Only by accepting reality can we truly recover both as families and as a nation. That means we have to take an honest look at how denial is impacting us and creating conflict. Meanwhile, denial will do everything in its power to prove things are fine. Politically we can say, “It’s not that bad.” Or worse yet, whatever happened: “It was just this one time.” You can cut through denial and face the truth with these three steps.

We’re going to talk about behaviors as an example of ending denial

Whether you are the person struggling with addiction or you love someone who has an addictive behavior, destructive conditioning has created a false reality that damages everyone. Did you know that substance and behavior use disorders are a family disease that affects generations, and everyone in the family needs recovery?

Recovery begins by breaking the denial cycle (and this is true of everything) with awareness that things are not right. Honesty in recovery, for example, begins with the evidence of use. This may be the facts you have seen for yourself or that others have pointed out for you. You may have seen the effects of substance use disorder in your dad, or uncle, or a sibling. You may be seeing it right now in politics with people you admire. What do you do?

Being willing to see the facts

No one wants to see the facts and the consequences that accompany unhealthy behaviors, like lying. Trying to cover up or make excuses is the first warning sign that you are in denial. But research tells us that ‘Secrets keep us sick.’ Covering up what is really going on, only prolongs your misery and makes your recovery harder.

Step One: Be Honest With Yourself

Your first step is to be honest with yourself about what’s really happening. If you’re lying to yourself about addiction or anything, you won’t be able to be honest with anyone else. You can stop minimizing the impact by keeping track of real events. Do you like to journal. You can keep a log of any relevant facts including:

  • How often substance or another risky behavior is occurring
  • How much substance or alcohol is used. Or how many hours are spent in addictive behaviors
  • How often is someone lying to you

Step Two: Be Honest About The Consequences

The next step is to examine the consequences. You can begin writing down these consequences such as missing work, getting a drunk-driving charge, spending money on the substance. You can do this with other consequences about lying that threaten your well being.

  • Costs associated with addiction, including doctor’s appointments, ER trips, meds, counseling, lack of income, short-term loans
  • Frequency of arguments or altercations with friends and family
  • Amounts consumed or hours spent pursuing the addiction
  • You can examine political strife this way, too. Don’t just accept what you hear

Step Three: Get the facts and listen

It’s really hard to open your mind when you’re in denial. If your identity is tied to a political party or the facade or a happy family, it hurts to accept the truth that all is not well. If you love your country and learn it has done something very wrong, you want to protect yourself from the pain of knowing, accepting, and maybe even doing something about it. It’s easier and natural to cling to comfortable beliefs.

Say your kids are drinking and smoking pot, and you can’t bear to think addiction will follow. And your kids get angry when you bring up the subject. To avoid the pain, you may say, “I did it and I was fine, so I’ll just let it go.” This is the time to have some honest talks, show your children the facts about how substances can damage their developing brains, and yes, even drug test them and get professional help early on. Getting the facts means paying attention, doing some research, and learning from others. And feeling the pain. It hurts to grow.

With new understanding and acceptance comes grieving the loss of your innocence

We don’t talk about this much. If you let go of denial and accept reality, you will lose a part of your belief system and that hurts. Here’s an example: What I longed for and believed and wanted to be true is not true. And now I have to accept new painful feelings. My dad was a drinker, and it hurt me in so many ways. My political party has done some terrible things, who do I identify with now? Who am I if I learn the facts and they’re not what I want? How do accept them? Denial can keep you alive and active for a while, but in the end only by accepting reality can you grow and be better than you were.

Honesty is taking off the mask

Being honest is a life-time process, and means accepting that you are not perfect. And that’s okay. It is a way to live a life of integrity and growing and healing. The first step is getting honest with yourself and once you do this, you may find it is easier to now get honest with others. Some resources to practice honesty and good relationships: Al-anon, Nar-Anon, 100 Tips for Growing Up.

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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