The Challenge of Denial

The journey of recovery from sexual addiction includes many challenges. The first perhaps, involves the need to address Denial.

Denial is a natural (and mostly healthy) coping mechanism we use to avoid a painful reality. It serves us well when we are confronted with a situation for which we are not prepared. It gives us the psychological space we need to gather the resources and support required to tackle change. 

Denial hurts us when it prevents from taking action to seek greater health. 

Terry Gorski, a pioneer in addiction treatment, has catalogued a list of denial processes commonly seen among people who struggle with addiction. 

Denial is expressed in many ways. Here his list:


  • Avoidance: “Let’s talk about something else.” The goal is to look past the addiction with the false hope that it will simply go away.
  • Absolute denial: “I don’t have a problem@“ The goal is to remain willfully blind to what others see quite clearly.
  • Minimizing:  “Its not that bad.” The goal is to explain why the behavior as not as bad as it seems.
  • Rationalizing: “I have a good reason for my behavior.” The goal is to arguing one’s way to greater health. 
  • Blaming: “”Its your fault.” The goal is to reduce feelings of shame by shifting responsibility to someone else. 
  • Comparing: “My behavior is nothing compared to THAT guy.” The goal is to claim health by changing standard of the disease state.
  • Compliance: “I pretend to go along, as long as you leave me alone in my disease.” The goal is to feign healing as a means of end the challenge to heal.
  • Manipulating: “I will acknowledge this, if you do that.” The goal is to deflect responsibility for one’s healing be challenging someone else.
  • Flight to Health: “I made an appointment for an assessment and feel like I’ve taken action. I’m much better now.” The goal is to associate healing with limited, incomplete action.
  • Recovery by Fear: “Can’t have created impossible problems!” The goal is to use fear as a substitute for addressing the problem. 
  • Strategic hopelessness: “I’ve tried everything and nothing works!” The goal is to claim surrender before sufficient investment has been to heal.
  • Democratic Disease State: “I have the right to behave the way I want.” The goal is to embrace one’s disease as an act of defiance. 


Overcoming denial is a significant challenge for the person who struggles with an addiction, but also for the partner. Because denial serves as psychological protection, one way to overcome denial is to broaden ones circle of emotional support. 

When I feel well-supported, and able to break the denial that limits my willingness to seek greater health.

Image by Chris Brown

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