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When Coping Becomes Harmful: Breaking the Cycle of Denial blog post

When Coping Becomes Harmful: Breaking the Cycle of Denial

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“I’m in control. It’s not an issue. Others do it all the time. What problem?”

These are the hallmarks of denial – a natural defence mechanism that can temporarily shield us from pain. But left unchecked, denial can reinforce maladaptive behaviours such as substance abuse and prevent us from addressing underlying issues.

In this article, we’ll examine how denial manifests in addiction and trauma, the importance of recognising its symptoms, and its connection to recovery. Understanding denial is the first step towards breaking free from its illusory comfort and embarking on a path of genuine healing.

Denial and Addiction

Denial is a critical factor in an addict’s lack of awareness about the impact of their addiction. Even those who recognise the problem may struggle to acknowledge its full extent. Common reasons people deny their substance abuse include:

  • Unconscious denial – inability to recognise the problem
  • Conscious denial – fear of facing consequences
  • Personal shame about the addiction
  • Lack of motivation to change
  • Self-image – belief one doesn’t fit the “addict” stereotype
  • Aversion to seeking help or submitting to discipline
  • Perception that bigger problems drive their addiction

This level of denial can distort many aspects of an addict’s life, from rewriting situations in their mind to constantly lying to avoid confronting the scale of the problem. It acts as a defence mechanism, preventing them from acknowledging the severity of their addiction and obstructing any efforts towards recovery. Without recognising and addressing this denial, the path to healing remains blocked, often leading to further emotional and physical deterioration.

The consequence of a distorted reality

When denial becomes habit-forming, it affects not just the addict but their entire support system. Turning a blind eye to the problem puts partners, family, and friends in a circle of dilemmas and hurt.

Years of rewriting events and hiding fears means the collective history gets warped to the point where everyone lacks a clear sense of reality. Denial becomes a subtle force that marginalises and divides loved ones.

Avoiding the trap of enabling

While families and friends play a vital role in intervention and recovery, it’s important not to inadvertently enable the addiction. One of the key dilemmas in this scenario is that there is a thin line between supporting and enabling a loved one’s addiction. Enabling behaviours may include:

  • Supporting the addict’s denial – saying that the problem is “not that bad” or “it’s only temporary”
  • Silence and avoidance – fear of confrontation
  • Allowing substance use at home to provide a “safe” environment
  • Taking on the addict’s neglected responsibilities

Although these actions come from a place of love, they ultimately shield the addict from consequences and allow the addiction to continue. Helping a loved one requires open, honest communication to face the realities, discuss causes, and find healthy solutions together.

Denial and Trauma

Experiencing degrees of trauma is a normal part of life, whether it’s losing a loved one or facing stressful situations at work. While it’s natural to initially respond with denial as a reflex to avoid painful sensations, for many, the effects are temporary, allowing them to cope in a healthy way.

However, just as with addiction, denial can also extend to trauma. For some, especially those who have experienced major or prolonged trauma, denial can turn into a harmful defence mechanism used to bury and suppress the event, preventing them from processing the experience and moving forward.

Symptoms of trauma denial

Trauma denial includes emotional avoidance behaviours that can undermine mental health, relationships, and can fuel addictions. Some common symptoms include:

  • Downplaying the severity of the trauma
  • Believing others have suffered worse
  • Making excuses for the perpetrator
  • Feeling numb or detached when reminded of the event
  • Becoming irritated when the subject is brought up

When left unaddressed, denial in trauma can lead to worsening mental health issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), adjustment disorders, and even personality disorders like dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), where individuals develop alternate personalities to cope with the trauma.

Treating Denial in Addiction and Trauma

Since denial frequently co-occurs in both addiction and trauma, an integrated approach is important. Trauma-informed therapy specifically addresses the complex impact of distressing events on an individual’s ability to cope. Rather than a one-size-fits-all intervention, it tailors treatment to each person’s unique trauma history and triggers. The therapy incorporates psychological techniques like Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which helps people identify and change negative or distorted thought patterns and behaviours. 

Physical techniques are included as part of a holistic healing process. Overcoming the stigma of seeking comprehensive, personalised treatment from medical professionals is key to long-term recovery.

The Dawn Thailand – A Safe Haven for Recovery from Denial

The Dawn Thailand – A Safe Haven for Recovery from Denial

If you or someone you love is trapped in a cycle of denial related to addiction, trauma, or both, The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand offers a way forward in a supportive environment that is far from the stressors of everyday life, allowing you to focus fully on recovery.

We understand the complex nature of denial and how it can prevent individuals from seeking the help they need. That’s why our personalised programmes guided by our Treatment Roadmap, delivered by compassionate Western-trained clinicians, are designed to address the unique underlying causes of each client’s challenges. Through a combination of evidence-based and holistic therapies, we help clients break through denial, confront the impact of addiction and trauma, and develop essential coping tools for lasting recovery. 

As the only CARF-accredited facility in Asia and with over 1,000 individuals helped, The Dawn has a proven track record of guiding people towards transformative healing.

Contact us to learn how we can help you or your loved one break free from denial and embrace a brighter future.

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