Deep down inside people with addictions know that what they are doing is wrong. They know that their behaviors, choices, and actions are hurting them and their loved ones. But the need to feed their addiction supersedes everything else in their life.
To perpetuate their addiction they must deny that the substance, compulsion, or habit has anything to do with what is going wrong around them. That is why they become very defensive when confronted with their behavior. There are a variety of defense mechanisms used by those with active addictions.
Denial is a defense mechanism in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true. The ability to deny that he or she has such a strong emotional attachment to his or her addiction of choice is largely what enables an addict to continue the addiction despite overwhelming evidence. The more severe the problem, the more denial there usually is.
Repression is the conscious mechanism those with addictions use to completely tune out the fact that they have a problem. They simply stop acknowledging the addiction to themselves and others.
With minimizing, those with addictions will acknowledge that something is wrong but not want to make a big deal out of it. When confronted by others they rationalize that others are placing too much emphasis on the problem; that it’s not nearly as bad as others are making it out to be.
Toxic shame is used by those with addictions to avoid taking responsibility for their problem. They see themselves as flawed and never measuring up; like their whole life has been a mistake. They believe they are victims of their past. Because they feel defective, they seek something that will make them feel better, but it is a hole they can never fill.
Blaming and Shifting Blame
Blaming is similar to toxic shame in that those with addictions avoid taking responsibility for the problem. They may accept some of the responsibility for their problem but believe that others are more to blame for it. They may act like victims, shifting the blame for their addiction onto the situation they are in or the people they are with. They don’t look at how they contribute to the problem. This gives them a sense of entitlement to use their substance since they are not to blame for doing it.
Rationalization is used to explain away the consequences of their addictive behavior or choices. They rationalize that whatever happened would have happened regardless of their addiction. For example: The factors that led to the car accident would have caused it to happen whether he or she was intoxicated or not.
When confronted about their addiction addicts may use deflection to take the focus off of themselves. They do this by bringing up the other person’s shortcomings, similar activities that the person may partake in, or behavior the person may have exhibited in the past. For example, alcoholics might remind people that they have no room to criticize their drinking because they drink too.
Wanting to feel normal, since they feel so shameful for their behavior, they surround themselves with others who abuse the same substance and have the same level of addiction.
Most people with addictions suffer from low-self-esteem. Aware and shameful that they are messing up their lives, they use “Grandiosity,” the unrealistic inflation of their sense of self, as a defense mechanism to hide their feelings of vulnerability and low of self-worth. They may have low self-esteem yet still believe they are better than other people.
By compartmentalizing their addiction they are able to display the behaviors expected of them for windows of time. This fools them and others into thinking that they have control over their lives.
Those with addictions try to control everything and everyone around them, believing it will get them what they want. When others don’t cooperate they become even more controlling. It is delusional; they believe that what they are doing is going to work even though it rarely does.
People with addictions will demonstrate destructive behavior and then try to “undo” it by apologizing, offering gifts, or promising that they’ll never do it again. They do this to distract others from the real problem; from the fact that they have an addiction.
If you recognize signs of an addictive personality in yourself there are steps you can take to prevent it from spiraling out of control.
- You must admit that there is a problem. Take responsibility for your thoughts and actions. Be honest and objective in your assessment of it. Surround yourself with a good support system.
- Learn to face your feelings whether good or bad. Don’t put them on the back burner, stuff them inside, ignore them, or medicate them. Allow yourself to experience whatever emotions come up.
- Arm yourself with knowledge; research your problem so you will not have to fear it.
- If you can discontinue the addictive behavior without needing medical intervention, begin weaning yourself off of it. Cigarette smoking and overeating both fall into this category. If you are addicted to a substance such as drugs or alcohol, get professional help immediately. You cannot stop these habits without medical supervision.
- Join a support group with people who share your particular addiction. It helps to know that you are not the only one dealing with it. If you would like to try attending a twelve-step meeting, find out where and when they meet in your area. There are 12-step support groups for every kind of addiction imaginable. To find one search “List of Twelve Step Programs.”
Be kind to yourself. Replace negative or destructive behaviors with positive ones. Set goals and reward yourself for reaching them. Find healthy ways to be happy whatever they may be. Take a class in a hobby or something that interests you. Surround yourself with positive people; weed toxic people out of your life. Learn how to reduce stress in your life in ways that are beneficial to your overall well-being. Learn how to meditate. Take long relaxing baths. Take a yoga class or learn how to practice it on your own. Take walks. Go to the gym.
If you want to head in the right direction, all you have to do is keep walking forward.