The Mechanics of Denial
This was written as a message board post,
in response to someone who was wondering about a
friend of his who was having a divorce. When
questioned about the affair that led to the
divorce, the friend apparently just sort of
shrugged and said, "It just happened." The
fellow to whom I was responding was wondering
how in the Hell something like that could 'just
happen.' What follows is my answer.
Posted 20 April, 2006, by Cat Grey:
What we're basically talking about here are the
mechanics of denial. Everyone likes to think
that they're the hero of their own story, or at
the very least that they're one of the Good
Guys. So, when confronted with the fact that
you've done something hideously, horribly,
unforgivably wrong - something deeply hurtful -
the first instinct is to look for reasons why it
wasn't your fault. "I couldn't help it." "We
were overwhelmed by passion." "I was
drunk/sad/worried about my cat's health/out of
my mind at the time." "It just happened."
Summary: "It wasn't my fault."
The obvious and nearly inevitable follow-up
to this is: "In fact... it was your
fault." Then pick a reason. "If you weren't out
of town so much..." "If we had sex more
often..." "If you were meeting my emotional
needs..." "If you paid more attention to me..."
"If we weren't working on different shifts..."
"...Then this would never have happened."
(Yeah. Right. Believe that if you want to.)
Affairs almost never "just happen." There's a
long, careful courtship ritual in which both
parties move closer and closer, all the while
studiously maintaining the pretense that nothing
is going to happen. Then, when it does happen,
they can both act surprised. "My G-d! How did we
wind up in bed together with a bottle of wine, a
box of condoms, and thirty yards of surgical
tubing? I would never have seen
Yep. That's right. No one would have seen it
coming, except for anyone who happened to be,
An affair - not a drunken one night stand, but
an actual, ongoing affair -
requires scheduling, even if no real attempt at
secrecy is being made. It might be more
flattering (to oneself) to think, "Oh, I just
made a mistake - a bad mistake, to be sure, but
that doesn't make me a bad person... Oops, I
just made the exact same mistake again. And
again. And again. And..." but the truth is that
at some point the adulterer made the decision to
go back. You might tell yourself that you were
really just going back to talk to the Other
Person, or that you were going to tell them that
having sex was a mistake and it wouldn't happen
again. You might even convince yourself that
your intentions were honorable. But if you keep
putting yourself in a situation where you end up
sleeping with someone you shouldn't be sleeping
with, then your intentions weren't honorable.
Denial and Rationalization. (I picture them like
one of those "tastes great! less filling!"
commercials.) All these excuses are basically
just ways to try to hold on to your image of
yourself as a Good Person when you've just done
something seriously evil*.
*From either a
"G-d would disapprove" perspective, or from an
"I've just really hurt someone I care about"
perspective, take your pick.