The Longest River: Denial
A hallmark of someone who is engaging in this addiction pattern, but who has not accepted that their behavior is out of their control, is denial. Denial is a psychological defense mechanism that enables a person to continue to engage in a behavior in spite of relatively obvious negative consequences on their life. It’s a way to protect ourselves from seeing or feeling things that are unpleasant.
In the case of the gambling addict, there may be repeated warnings from his or her spouse that they will not tolerate continued spending of household savings, job loss, and constant harassment by creditors. In light of this, the gambling addict will still deny that they have a problem with gambling and will believe that they have complete control over their actions. Denial permits one to distort reality, a very powerful psychological defense; it can have devastating consequences on our life, and the ability to disregard such negative consequences while continuing the behavior is a hallmark of denial.
Denial is present, to some extent or another, in all addictions. It’s necessary, in the development of an addictive process, to experience a sense of denial while the addiction is beginning to take hold. Otherwise we would not continue with the addictive behaviors. Because of denial, the impact of our negative behavior is never fully appreciated until the consequences become so overwhelming that they can no longer be ignored. This is sometimes referred to as “hitting bottom.” People may continue their behavior indefinitely, with no recognition of the negative consequences of their actions, in spite of numerous personal disasters. Often an individual will not seek help for a specific problem, unless they’ve recognized that they are no longer in control of the situation and need help. This usually happens at a point when the negative impact of their addiction has become grossly obvious and their denial is broken. It is a process that cannot be rushed. Each person has to discover their own time frame for how and when to deal with their addiction. This, of course, can be very frustrating for family and friends of the addict, who often notice the problem long before the addict does.
Negative consequences of Internet use vary considerably. I have been consulted on Internet cases where employees have been caught using their work computer for personal Internet access (in some cases wasting considerable company time and/or downloading sexually related material onto their computer). In some cases, individuals could be charged with sexual harassment as a consequence of exposing fellow employees to sexually explicit material against their will (even accidentally!). There may even be a legal liability for employers who allow (even unknowingly) their employees to use the company network to send personal email or other material that might be seen as objectionable by others. I’ve also seen numerous cases of couples with significant marital or relationship problems due to Internet abuse; at times even resulting in child custody investigations!
Everyday I hear or receive stories of people who are getting into trouble with their online behavior at home or at work. It may take the form of abusing the Net by staying online longer than you had planned, having cybersex/cyberaffairs, or spending too much money online by gambling, stock trading, shopping, or auctioning. . I fear that as broadband access increases from the current 6% level, that we will see an increase in compulsive Internet use; The increase may occur because just as the faster modes of absorption of a drug increases the addictive potential a drug. Broadband Internet access could provide the “hit” in a much more rapid manner enabling a faster psychological impact and effect. This may translate into a more habit-forming experience.
Few people, except for those who have had a problem, recognize the power and attraction of being online. This is changing rapidly however. Although it is probably not an epidemic, I have little doubt that millions of people are experiencing a negative impact in their lives because of their compulsive use of the Internet and I believe that number will continue to grow. Recognition of both the dark and light side of the Internet will enable us to be served by technology, instead of ensnared by it!
This article was excepted in part from the book “Virtual Addiction: Help for Netheads, Cyberfreaks, and Those Who Love Them” (New Harbinger Publications, 1999) by Dr. David Greenfield. Dr. Greenfield is the President and CEO of the Center for Internet Studies (www.virtual-addiction.com), and is the Founding partner of Psychological Health Associates in West Hartford, CT. He currently serves as President of the Connecticut Psychological
Copyright, 2000 Dr. David Greenfield, The Center for Internet Studies