How Denial and Defense Mechanisms Work Against You (or a Loved One) in Finding Recovery for Problem Gambling
Denial is not letting yourself know what reality is. What we deny most often is a problem, a feeling, or a loss. Writing for Simply Psychology, Saul Mcleod, Ph.D. defines defense mechanisms as “psychological strategies that are unconsciously used to protect a person from anxiety arising from unacceptable thoughts or feelings,” and according to Freudian theory, “involve a distortion of reality in some way so that we are better able to cope with a situation.”1
Denial allows compulsive gamblers to stay safe in a world they instinctually created, removed from realities they are not ready to confront. Unfortunately, it works under the person’s normal level of awareness and gets in the way of leading a healthy and honest lifestyle. It is a form of self-deception that progresses along with gambling addiction and works to build an elaborate system of lies and defense mechanisms, so that the problem gambler starts to truly believe in what they are saying or doing, no matter how irrational. Denial functions as a barrier to prevent admitting and accepting that there is a problem – also known as the first step on the path to recovery, which the FCCG reflects in its HelpLine number: 888-ADMIT-IT. As the disease progresses along with the denial, the compulsive gambler will start structuring their lives in such a way that supports the denial within relationships, careers, friendships, and social circles.
The 8 Types of Denial
- Simple Denial: Maintaining that something is not so, such as insisting that gambling is not a problem.
- Blaming: Denying responsibility for behaviors (and the consequences) and maintaining that the responsibility lies with someone else.
- Minimizing: Admitting to only a small part of the problem, just to satisfy oneself or others.
- Rationalizing: Gives excuses and justifies the gambling behavior.
- Anger/Hostility: This is used to get people confronting them about the gambling problem to “back off.”
- Diversion: Changing the subject to avoid a topic that is threatening.
- Intellectualizing: Avoiding emotionally searching out the gambling problem by theorizing or generalizing.
- Humor: This is a way to avoid any painful feelings associated with the seriousness of the gambling problem.
Maybe some of these behaviors resonate with you and your gambling habits, or those of a loved one. If so, ask yourself, “Can you walk away?” As you can see, denial and defense mechanisms can keep a problem gambler imprisoned by his or her addiction. It is all an effort to avoid the scary alternative of confronting the damage he or she has done to his or her self-esteem, family, children, finances, and spirituality.
The 4 Stages of Change for Recovery
- Stage 1 – Total Denial: Refusing to accept or admit the problem.
- Stage 2 – Admission: Admitting to another that the gambling is a problem, even if just a form of “lip service” to appease others, will cause the gambler to admit the disease, but he or she is not interested in making any changes yet.
- Stage 3 – Acceptance: Once in recovery, the gambler starts to accept and believe they have the disease of addiction. This may be 3-6 months into recovery.
- Stage 4 – Surrender: The gambler finally totally accepts the addiction as a disease and is willing to fight and do what is necessary to continue his or her recovery.2
No matter where you see yourself or your loved one, it is never too early or too late to seek help! The key to unlock your recovery is to call or text 888-ADMIT-IT (236-4848), the only 24/7, Confidential, and Multilingual Problem Gambling HelpLine in Florida, where you can connect to free support, resources, and direction for you and your loved ones.
1. Mcleod, Saul. “Defense Mechanisms In Psychology Explained (+ Examples).” Simply Psychology. June 15, 2023. https://www.simplypsychology.org/defense-mechanisms.html.
2. Marcy, Nichols. No-Dice: Safety Net to Recovery. Self Published, 2005.