Denial is extremely frustrating to deal with, especially if you can see the damage that’s being done but the other person refuses to accept it. Your friend or loved one may not want to talk and may even become angry with you for suggesting anything is wrong. Although this is incredibly challenging behaviour, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a slight on you, but a natural part of any kind of abuse or addiction. Try not to take it to heart and don’t keep repeating yourself if they’re clearly not ready to listen – just let them know that you’ll be there for them when they are.
If you’re finding yourself constantly faced with denial it might be worth changing the record and finding a different way to approach the problem. In order to do this, it helps to understand the nature of denial. For many people, it’s a coping strategy that helps them avoid facing an uncomfortable truth. If your partner or family member is in denial, it could be that it’s easier for them to overlook their problems and play them down instead of having to do something about them – a bit like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. Nobody likes to be criticised, and this can be particularly challenging when someone is dealing with addiction or abuse because they are so often linked with low self-esteem.
Addiction or being the victim of abuse can be a source of terrible shame and embarrassment. For this reason, it feels much safer and more comfortable to simply ignore it rather than facing up to the problem. That’s why staging interventions or highlighting the issue can be so tricky, because it means drawing attention to the thing that the individual is most ashamed of. Instead, try approaching it from an impartial, non-judgmental perspective, so you let them know you’re there but they have nothing to be ashamed of. This can be challenging if you’re very close, but changing your language and thinking carefully about how you approach the subject can be much more effective than going in all guns blazing and telling them they’ve got a problem. Here are a few tips:
- Use “I” instead of “You”. If you approach the other person with a comment like “You’ve got a problem you need to deal with” chances are the conversation will go badly. But if you change it to “I’m worried about things and want you to know I’m here” you’re creating a much less confrontational situation.
- Ask what they want to happen. Often, when supporting loved ones through abuse or addiction it’s easy to come at it from our own perspective and concentrate on how the problem affects us. This just adds to their feelings of guilt and shame, so approach it from their point of view instead.
- Listen, rather than talk. Creating a situation where your loved one feels they’re being listened to, rather than talked at, can be a huge help when it comes to dealing with any kind of abuse or addiction. You may well feel desperate to interrupt and get your own point of view across, but try to take a deep breath and just listen while they express their own problems and fears.
- Let them know they’re unconditionally loved and supported. It’s common for victims of abuse or addiction to lash out at loved ones, which can be very upsetting to deal with. Remember that this reaction is about them, not you, and tell them that you’ll always be there for them.
Crucially, you have to also look after yourself. Loving someone unconditionally shouldn’t mean making yourself ill. It’s important to get plenty of rest and eat well, and if you find yourself struggling with depression see your doctor. You can also get support from an organisation that helps families and loved ones of addicts, such as SFAD.