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Psychological Defense Mechanisms Protecting the Addict’s Core


I was just reading an article about a former pro football player named Ryan Leaf. It appeared that he had the world at his feet with a professional football career and a hopeful future. Then it all came crumbling down with some unfortunate issues he had with drugs. Now I don't know if he suffered from any of the following defense mechanisms but it may be possible. Please read the following defense mechanisms which should explain the plight of the person who struggles with addition.


Denial – This is not to be confused with outright lying or the distortion of the truth. With denial, addicts actually believe that their half-truths are mostly correct and that other people’s views are inaccurate or flawed. This is the reason that confronting an addict with facts has little or no effect on breaking down their denial. They are one of the few groups of people who think that they can walk down the street with a refrigerator on their backs at noon time and be convinced that no one will notice.


Rationalization – Addicts can rationalize any and all behavior as long as it helps them and allows them to maintain their addictive behavior. This is never more evident than just before they decide to re-use their substance. They may think of the negative consequences of getting high but they rationalize their continued use by thinking it won’t be as bad as before. They insanely think of all sorts of self-convincing justifications that allow them to continue on their personal path of self-destruction.


Projection - There are two types of projection that addicts use to justify their behavior. One is called disowning, where an addict takes unwanted or offensive characteristics of their lives and projects it on other people. The other type is called assimilative projection where the addict assumes that everyone thinks and acts like they do so their abnormal behavior appears perfectly normal.


Conflict Avoidance and Minimization - Without the false sense of comfort drugs and alcohol gives, the addict at times will go to great lengths to avoid confrontation and conflict. They will either avoid conflicts or minimize there importance altogether. Because they lack the necessary coping skills to maturely deal with conflict they have little choice except to use minimization. Having never appropriately learned the skills needed to resolve conflicts without anger or rage, they sit idly back as others resort, out of frustration to the addict’s inaction, with threats or reprisals.


Anger – This tactic is used to defend themselves from the world’s perceived injustices. In a constant state of “red alert”, the addict lashes out at everyone and everything. Being in a constant state of opposition allows the attention to be deflected from the real problem which is the addict themselves. It is conveniently easy to fly off into a rage rather than deal with life and its many responsibilities.


Black or White Thinking - Addicts see themselves and their world in only black and white. They cannot tolerate a situation having any shades of gray. They are rigid, inflexible and will look at things in an overly simplistic way to maintain this belief. The advantage for this type of thinking is that if something is either “black” or “white” it can be manipulated fairly easily. The bigger payoff is that black and white thinking is easier to predict. In a chaotic and complicated world, being able to predict and manipulate their world helps the addict to continue their destructive behavior.


Unaccountability - Another ploy used by the addict is to transfer their problems and sometimes even their consequences of those problems elsewhere. They never accept responsibility for their actions. When cornered they adeptly blame other people or circumstances. “If only you would have done this or if only you would behave like this I wouldn’t have had to have done that”.


Selfish and Self-centered - Addicts see the world from a very narrow perspective. Theirs! Being obsessed with themselves, they are only interested in having their needs met immediately! Grandiosity is common but is negated by such feelings of low self esteem that any perceived benefit is nullified. They are continually distorting information that does not fit their viewpoint on things. They reject others opinions and have little or no empathy for people unless they can help them and their addictive behavior to continue. They exhibit narcissistic entitlement, insisting that the world owes them something more than they presently have. Having not had their emotional needs met time and time again in their past, they go to extreme lengths to have those needs met now.


These self-defensive behaviors provide a formidable task for the addict to overcome. The abyss of active addiction is the alternative they are faced with if they don’t conquer them. How do they change a lifetime of behavior in the short period of time given to them while in treatment? Awareness and insight alone can’t change behaviors that are so entrenched in their psyches. They feel as if they seemingly do them without any preconscious thought. This is where therapy comes in. A good therapist can help a client overcome these defenses.


PEACE Ernie R. 954-213-3923



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