NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rationalization as a Form of Denial and Self Deception

I've written about denial in other articles (Overcoming Denial About Family Problems and Discovering Overcoming Your Emotional Blind Spots).  In this article, I'm focusing on rationalization as a form of denial when you're with someone who has an addiction.

Rationalization as a Form of Denial and Self Deception

As I've mentioned in prior articles, there are many forms of denial, including  

Rationalization is a form of denial often used by people who are in relationships with someone who has an addiction.

It's  understandable how this could happen because most people want to be in a relationship with someone that they can trust.  But often this wish to be able to trust can become so powerful that it leads to self deception.

Rationalizations as Denial and Self Deception
Here are some examples:

"I know he really doesn't have a drinking problem.  The stress on his job makes him drink."

"Living in New York City, where the pace is so fast makes him anxious and this causes him to drink.  If we moved, he wouldn't drink."

"My boyfriend really doesn't have a sexual addiction.  It's not his fault if women throw themselves at him."

"He's hanging out with the wrong crowd.  That's why he's abusing drugs."

"She's constantly having sex with other man because I'm not satisfying her sexually.  It's not her fault."

Rationalization as a Form of Denial and Self Deception

"She has been arrested several times for shoplifting, but I know that the police are exaggerating her behavior."

"Even though she cheats on me with lots of other men, she always comes home to me and that's all that really matters."

"I don't really mind if he spends a lot of time on sex chat sites as long as he doesn't get physically involved with another woman"

"I know she's abusing Xanax, but she told me that she can stop at any time and I believe her."

On the Surface, Rationalizations Seem to Make Sense
While rationalizations seem to make sense on the surface, there are usually underlying reasons, sometimes unconscious, that prompt these rationalizations.

A fictionalized scenario demonstrates how rationalizations can be used to avoid dealing with underlying issues:

Tania started therapy because she was having problems in her marriage.  She would have preferred to attend couples therapy, but her husband refused to go.

During her first session, Tania felt uncomfortable talking about her marital problems, but as she continued to go to her therapy sessions, she began to talk about the sexual problems in her relationship (see my article:  The Importance of Talking About Sexual Problems in Your Therapy).

Rationalization as a Form of Denial and Self Deception

Overcoming her embarrassment, Tania began discussing her sexual life with her husband--or lack of sexual life.  She talked about how passionate their sex life used to be when during the first few years of their marriage.  But then their sexual intimacy began to dwindle until it stopped altogether.

Then, one day Tania told her therapist how her husband stayed up most nights on the computer after she went to bed.

After a few weeks of this, Tania became curious about what her husband was doing on the computer at night, so she looked up the history on the computer and discovered that her husband was looking at pornography at night.

Although Tania didn't like it, she told her therapist that she didn't have a problem with it.  She preferred for him to look at women on porn sites than to have an affair with another woman.

When her therapist attempted to explore this further, Tania deflected her therapist's questions by changing the subject.  When her therapist pointed this out to her, Tania insisted that she didn't think her husband watching porn on the Internet had anything to do with the problems in her marriage.

But as time went on and her husband spent more and more time on the computer at night, Tania became increasingly concerned.

Then, one day, she became curious about the sites that her husband was visiting, so while he was out of the apartment, she spent time looking at the history on the computer and discovered that her husband wasn't just looking at porn, he was emailing several women to meet up with them to have sex (see my article:  Infidelity: Married, Bored and Cheating Online).

Rationalization as a Form of Denial and Self Deception

This was so startling to Tania that she confronted her husband and told him that unless he got help in therapy, she would leave him.

After her husband began therapy, Tania talked to her therapist about how betrayed she felt by her husband.  She wondered if she should leave him even though he was getting help (see my article: Relationships: Should You Stay or Should You Go?)

Rationalization as a Form of Denial and Self Deception

Gradually, Tania's therapist began to explore with Tania's original rationalizations about her husband's  viewing of pornography and how it, initially, prevented her from seeing that the problem was much worse than she suspected.

Tania's therapist helped Tania to see that she wasn't ready initially to see what was happening and how it was affecting her marriage.  At the time, it would have been too overwhelming for her, so the defense mechanism of denial protected her from seeing the truth.

It took a while for Tania to overcome the shame that she felt about her denial.  But, over time, she developed a compassion for herself.  She also realized that her husband had a sexual addiction and he would need to continue in therapy to deal with the underlying issues.

Over time, Tania and her husband remained together and eventually went to couples counseling to put their life back together again.

Although defense mechanisms are often perceived as being negative, defense mechanisms, like rationalization, serve a protective function.

People often use defense mechanisms unconsciously because dealing with the truth is often too overwhelming at the time.

But, like other defense mechanisms, after a while the protective function of rationalizations get in the way of emotional healing.

In the fictionalized scenario above, if Tania had continued to use rationalizations about her husband's behavior, she would never have faced what was really happened, she wouldn't have given him an ultimatum and he wouldn't have gotten help to overcome his problems so they could start to do put their life back together again.

Getting Help in Therapy
Defense mechanisms, like rationalizations, are usually unconscious.

An experienced therapist need to use tact and clinical skill to help clients who are defending against seeing problems in their lives.

Self deception, in its many guises, is a common problem for many people.

If you have a sense that you've been stuck with intractable problems, possibly due to denial on your part, you could benefit from working with a therapist who understands this process and can help you to explore the underlying issues involved.

Overcoming rationalization as a form of self deception can be difficult at first but, ultimately, it can free you to lead a more fulfilling life (see my article: The Benefits of Therapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.