The Power of Denial
In Addictive Relationships
By Jim Hall, MS, Author, Love Addiction Specialist
If you're in a romantic relationship and find yourself yearning for your avoidant partner to be who he/she was in the beginning ... you are in denial! --- If you're convinced that you are the reason your partner has become emotionally unavailable, uncaring, or narcissistic ... you are in denial!
If you've convinced yourself that the intense passion, obsession, and infatuation felt in your relationship has represented 'real love'... you are in denial! --- If you've been hooked to the "potential" of who your partner could be, yet has not been… you are in denial!
Denial amid fantasy is the drug of choice for a love addict-- And whoa!... Is it addictive!
Whether an addiction is to drugs, alcohol, sex, love/romance, etc.-- they all share something very potent and consequential: DENIAL.
Denial is a primary psychological symptom that fuels unhealthy, destructive, and compulsive behaviors in addicts. Denial is a defense mechanism used to escape or avoid pain and discomfort when life's realities seem too much to bear.
Denial is a “malignancy” that distorts and literally changes, twists, and modifies an addict’s reality.
Self-delusion is denials confidante. Denial refuses to see and accept reality, as it actually exists. Addicts will often say to themselves, "I have no problem, there's no harm, I'm fine, I’m in total control", all the while their world is falling apart around them. What's more, addicts are often the last to recognize the plague of their denial, often pursuing their addiction into the gates of insanity and the collapse of their health and wellbeing, and sometimes their life.
The baffling thing about denial is that it can mirror itself... when denial faces denial, it denies it.
Denial isn't all bad. It is normal for most people to use short-term denial at various times in their lives. Short-term denial can be a healthy coping mechanism that gives time to adjust to acute distressing life experiences. For example, short-term denial is often used when a person learns of a sudden death of a loved one-- and they go into an abrupt state of numbness, shock, and think "this cannot be true, I am in a dream."
Under normal conditions, these feelings will dissipate with time and allow a person to experience their feelings and go through the grieving process, and ultimately get to a place of acceptance.
However, for addicts, there is nothing short-term about denial. For an addict, denial is a continuous state of mind which keeps them in escape mode; masking and hiding their feelings and operating in a distorted state of reality. Furthermore, continuous denial of an addict prevents them from seeing the real implications and consequences associated with their addictive patterns.
Psychological health depends on accurate perceptions of reality.
Psychological health is correlated to our ability to accurately observe and accept reality (whether positive or negative). When we can observe, acknowledge, and accept life’s difficulties, problems, dangers, threats, or warning signs-- we allow ourselves to feel our feelings about it (vs. denying them). And perhaps more importantly, we are better able to cope and make healthier choices in our lives. And this contributes to our self-care -- which benefits our psychological and even physical health.
Reality is also crucial when it comes to relationships. Observing and accepting reality contributes to making healthier relationship choices, including love and romantic relationships. When we are living in reality, observing and accepting what is, and who someone is-- helps us to better determine whether a potential partner is good for us, or not. Reality helps to establish if a person has the capacity or is capable of meeting our relationship needs; including intimacy and closeness. Reality helps to establish whether an existing relationship is good for us or not, and whether a person and/or a relationship (romantic or otherwise) is worth our time and energy.
When we allow ourselves to look at people and things around us through a transparent lens of reality-- we can make healthier choices (self-care). Reality!-- It matters to psychological health and wellbeing.
How Love Addicts Use Denial (Avoiding Reality) In Addictive Relationships
Caroline (love addict) describes how denial operated in her relationship with Kirk:
“When I started dating Kirk, I felt like we knew each other for years; it was like like the heavens brought us together… I felt such a deep cosmic connection, instantly, with him. Like a deer in the headlights, I was intensely obsessed and focused with his 'amazing' qualities and nothing else. He was smart, successful; so charming, flattering, and gave me lots of attention; like no one else existed in his world, but me. He was open and vulnerable (seemingly, at least) - and I loved this about him.
Very early in our relationship, I made a conclusion within the first two or three weeks of knowing him. I zealously concluded to myself, 'He was the one for me. I know it because I know all of who he is; we are made for each other; he treats me like a Princess; this strong, charming, loving, giving man is forever my bliss.' I was euphoric and felt like the luckiest woman on earth.
My conclusion was heartfelt and felt like a total reality.
Nevertheless, looking back, I am fully cognizant of how deep my denial really was. In my obliviousness, I was looking through a thick-foggy and dirt-coated lens. A lens of who I thought he was. I never fully embraced all his parts as a person. I wanted to see what I wanted to see at the time. I didn't want to see or accept any reality of him that would mess with how elated and alive I felt. I fell in love with a fantasy of what I imagined him to be. I fell head or over heels for 'potential' of who he could be, a potential I fully made up in my head.
I ignored so many aspects of who he really was. I can see now looking back, how much I denied blatant realities that were so present early on; his problematic qualities, avoidance, his bursts of anger/rage which would often startle me; his indifference and aloofness (I saw as 'strength'), and yes, his vain, selfish, and narcissistic ways. My denial just kept going and going, all the way through our three-year relationship.
And the crazy thing was, the more our relationship progressed, the stronger my denial became. More and more, I minimized, justified, and lied to myself. It is all baffling when I think back on how this denial all played out.
I dismissed the fact that he cheated in his past three long-term relationships: He wouldn't cheat on me, I'd tell myself. I glossed over how he consistently treated people close to him, with disdain; talking harshly behind the backs of his friends and family members: He would never treat me this way, I'd tell myself.
When he would distance and show contempt for me for no reason, I’d blame myself. I’d think his disrespect was my fault. I would think I wasn’t being good enough or lovable enough or perfect enough. I'd constantly minimize so many of his distasteful behaviors. I accepted his justification for why he had ‘zero’ relationship with his six-year-old daughter, who only lived three miles away. I bought into his reasoning for his refusal to pay child support for his own child, blaming his ex or saying he doesn't have enough money (he did). I never considered, if he is like this to his own child (lack of empathy), and takes no responsibility for his obligations; he would surely, eventually, be this way in our life if we had kids, and show this kind of contempt in our relationship. Of course he would, I see now. He was showing me exactly who he is-- reality was right in front of me, consistently. Denial lived in me and a part of my existence in this relationship.
Even when my denial began to crumble, and it would plenty of times, I'd deny it. I’d convince myself that his emotional unavailability and callousness was temporary, though it was frequent. I'd tell myself, 'This is not him; he'll change, things will get better when he gets through this time at work.' I'd think to myself, 'once understands me more, once he really gets how much I love and cherish him; give to him, then he’ll be that ''real man' I know he is." Sadly, it was never, ever, there!
I know they call it love addiction. But I think it could also be called 'denial addiction'. Although I genuinely had feelings that I was deeply in love with Kirk, I truly believe the feelings of love were solely about my denial. I was addicted to my denial and my fantasy I created around denial.
It took me a really solid recovery process, specific to my love addiction (or denial addiction), to break down denial; to do a deep cleaning of the lens I was looking through to gain the clarity I now have, thankfully. If I were able to go back to the beginning of my relationship with Kirk, with blinders off, observing and accepting all reality; all of his reality, the man he really was (the reality I now see)... never, ever, ever, ever would I have chosen him as a partner. Because I would be able to see that he was not a person who had any capacity to meet my needs for intimacy, closeness, safety., and relational satisfaction. I never had that. I'm learning now, it is possible. I'm learning I deserve real love."
As I mentioned earlier, denial is a symptom of most addictions-- but I believe denial is often the strongest and most unrelenting for those struggling with love addiction.
Denial is the quintessential component of addictive love and it is denial which ignites the love addiction cycle. Indeed, the cycle of love addiction cannot occur without denial being in the driver's seat.
Two Primary Ways Love Addicts Use Denial in Relationships:
1 - Refusal to acknowledge and accept the reality of a partner, or potential partner (who the other person really is).
Love addicts enter relationships disregarding or minimizing a partner's reality. This includes emotional walls, aloofness, selfishness, red-flags/warning signs, and/or narcissism. Instead of seeing who the other person truly is, they fixate on positive qualities (real or perceived), then 'make-up' who he/she is, and create a fantasy of a 'Prince' or 'Princess' who will finally make them feel 'enough', whole, and alive.
2- Downplay the negative consequences suffered in their addictive relationship
Love addicts invariably dismiss or ignore the negative consequences they suffer in a relationship. They'll tolerate incessant disconnection, disappointment, heartache, disrespect, and emotional rejection. What's more, while their relational needs go chronically un-met (e.g., intimacy/closeness). Despite this, they'll continue doing all they can to meet their partner's needs. Essentially, love addicts deny how much distress and unhappiness their addictive relationship is causing them; as well as the negative impact it has on their wellbeing.
Denial starts early for love addicts. As time goes by and more reality is faced about a partner and the state of a relationship, denial does start crumbling and cracking; yet, the grip of denial is sticky and can often endure, even after a breakup occurs, as withdrawal sets in. *
Getting help is the key to overcoming
The moment a love addict meets a particular person who triggers all the right feelings of intensity, excitement, and sexual passion-- denial comes rushing in and the fantasy of who their partner is, and will be for them, is formed. With denial they quickly idealize a person-- then blatantly, yet unintentionally, disregard obvious walls, aloofness, and potential or real red-flags (e.g., addictions, unfriendly relationship history, affairs, selfishness, dishonesty, love-bombing behaviors, etc.).
To keep denial alive they develop many excuses and justifications—“I know he wants to be there for me, he is just been so busy”; "She really does love me but has a hard showing it”; “Once we get past this stressful time, he’ll be that man I fell in love with in the beginning.” Sometimes denial is so powerful, love addicts may even tell themselves, “I might as well stay in this relationship, heck, it's better than being alone; and I probably won’t do much better anyway; this is how all men/women are."
Distorted and Shame-Based Beliefs Love Addicts Often Use to Support Denial:
- A belief that ”I cannot live without him/her”.
- A belief that "The man/woman I first met, is who he/she truly is"
- A belief that “It’s my fault he/she distances; is cold, critical… if only I'm diferent”
- A belief that “If I become a better partner, I'll recapture the person I had in the beginning”
- A belief that “He/she is better, stronger, more deserving than I"
- A belief that "My needs/wants aren't that important"
- A beleif that "I'm just too needy and if I stop having needs, he/she will love me"
- A belief that “I can’t tolerate dealing with another failed relationship, I must make this work"
- A belief that “If I am alone/single, it’s bad, pathetic, and proves I’m unlovable/worthless”
- A belief that “I’ll never find anyone who will 'love’ me like him/her-- this is my only chance”
- A belief that “All men (or women) are this way; I might as well deal with it"
- A belief that “When things are good, they are so good and amazing, I know it's love”
- A belief that “He/she says he loves me, cares, is committed; so it must be true", (despite blatant behavioral inconsistencies)
Love Addicts Denial of Self
Not only do love addicts deny a partners reality and the consequences in their relationship-- they deny their own truth. They deny their needs and wants (e.g., intimacy, closeness). They deny their own feelings— and may even go so far as shaming and blaming the self for having feelings. They deny their intuitive senses-- which are usually more accurate, than not. They deny their own identity— a romantic partners identity becomes their identity , and lose a sense of themselves, which significantly becomes apparent during breakup. Moreover, love addicts go into relationships in a one-down position and deny their true worth and value in relationships in comparison with their romantic partner.
Awareness is the first step to breaking denial.
Reality is fundamental to healthy transformation and change. To overcome denial in love addiction means facing the truth head-on.
True healing occurs when denial begins to burst and a love addict becomes open to receiving help.
There are times a love addict will experience the crumbling of denial in the midst of a relationship. What will happen during these experiences is they will feel anxiety, fear, pain, and/or feelings of abandonment-- for example, when they notice their avoidant partner is frequently emotionally walled up. But once their partner gives them the tiniest bit of attention, denial of their partner swiftly comes right back.
Denial cracks further as a relationship comes to an end or a breakup occurs. But even still-- denials power and resistance will often continue even after a breakup. Many love addicts will reach out for help at this point, as withdrawal sets in. Or, they will avoid reality and move on to find another person to try coping, and further repeat the unhealthy relationship pattern.
Reaching out for specialized help, I believe, is the most important step to break free from denial and allow healing to occur.
As an expert in this field, when I first begin working with a person to overcome their love addiction (love addiction coaching), he or she is not typically denying that love addiction is a problem; they usually are quite aware of this. Where denial is profound is in how they continue seeing their partner; and how they view their relationship they were in with their partner-- including the consequences they've suffered, and continue suffering as a result.
With denial in command, their fantasy continues to have them convinced he/she is "the one", despite their experience with a partner who was consistently emotionally unavailable, narcissistic, and unable to meet their needs for intimate connection; and sometimes verbally and/or physically abusive. For some in denial, they're convinced the relationship with their partner is their 'last chance'; and if it doesn't work, they feel doomed. For others, denial has them intensely convinced (and genuinely feeling) "I love him/her so much"-- Not to say this can never be true. However in most cases, once a client breaks free from denial and comes to accept the reality of 'who their partner is'-- what they discover is how little they genuinely loved or respected about their partner--- and that they never could have been happy or satisfied given the reality of their partner.
The process of moving into reality and overcoming denial is not an easy task. But when it does happen-- it is an amazingly transforming experience. Breaking denial is what opens the door to authentic healing and recovery, something you and all who are challenged with this problem, fully deserve.
“Love Addiction Recovery is About Living in Truth… Where Peace and Serenity Become Possible"