Denial Is an Inside Job

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Erin Snow

Most people think of denial as the lies addicts tell and the secrets they keep to protect their addiction. And these external manifestations of denial are certainly part of the process. But they are hardly the start of the process. Denial begins inside the addict.

For starters, addicts lie to themselves, repeating their lies over and over until they believe them. Think about cable news channels espousing the opinions they want viewers to buy into as facts. They do this loudly and repeatedly until their viewers start to believe that those opinions are indeed the truth. Denial works the same way. If porn addicts repeatedly tell themselves that looking at porn isn’t cheating and isn’t harming their relationship, they eventually come to believe it.

Addicts can also keep secrets from themselves, a psychological process known as compartmentalization. Once again, we can use cable news networks to illustrate. What Network 1 is reporting as a top story, Network 2 may ignore completely, acting as if Network 1 is making things up. For viewers of Network 2, what Network 1 is reporting becomes a false narrative—easily overlooked, ignored, and even forgotten. Viewers of each network hear, believe, and remember only what they want to hear, believe, and remember.

Addicts are the same. When addicts engage in behaviors that create shame, they open a box in their mind, shove the memory of what they’ve done into the box, slam the lid, and slap a lock on the box. Then, they shove the box into the deepest, darkest corner of their mind and ignore it. Until their addiction pushes them to engage in that same behavior again, at which time they repeat the compartmentalization process.

The important point of this discussion, whether denial occurs with lies or secrets, is that denial is an inside job. Addicts lie to and keep secrets from themselves first. It is only later that those lies and secrets are externalized. And when that happens, addicts sincerely expect others to believe them. Because they swallow their own dishonesty, their behaviors, no matter how crazy, seem utterly reasonable to them, and they fully expect the rest of the world to agree.

The rest of the world, of course, can easily see through an addict’s smokescreen, but addicts either cannot or will not, instead remaining mired in the murky muck of denial until their functional world disintegrates into a continually escalating series of addiction-related consequences. Porn addicts do not intend to distance themselves from their families, friendships, and lives, yet they end up in these very circumstances, arriving there incrementally as their denial overwhelms their better judgment.

Over time, courtesy of their denial, porn addicts become less able (and less willing) to see the connection between their increasing personal problems and their porn use. Often, they are deaf to the concerns, complaints, and criticisms of those around them—even those they profess to care about—and they correspondingly devalue and dismiss (or blame) those who try to point out their problem. Instead of accepting that they may have a serious issue, they ignore attempted interventions and accuse others of nagging, being prudish and restrictive, not understanding them, or asking too much of them. They do this not because they don’t care but to protect their addiction.

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If you or a loved one are struggling with sex, porn, or substance/sex addiction, Seeking Integrity can help. In addition to residential rehab, we offer low-cost online workgroups for male sex addicts and male porn addicts new to recovery. Click HERE for information on our Sex Addiction Workgroup. Click HERE for information on our Porn Addiction workgroup.