Credit to Eranda on this:
Understanding The Process of Self-Delusion
We know that the same principles for intervening also hold true for a person caught up in sin, any sin, controlling his or her life.
Because the same process of self-delusion occurs. Unless a person is totally corrupt and just doesn’t care what is right or wrong, he must delude himself into believing the sinful behavior either isn’t sin or is a much less serious sin than it actually is. Intervention with an alcoholic aims itself at overcoming self-delusions, making the person face the truth about his or her behavior. At the very moment a person accepts that truth about himself, he usually accepts the path of healing offered by those who brought about the realization. The intervention leads the person to the point of accepting help. That process works just as well with someone enmeshed in adultery or addicted to gambling as it does with a person addicted to alcohol or drugs. Break through the self-delusions and you have the opportunity to put the person on the path to recovery.
To understand how to intervene, it is important that one understand two major points about self-delusion. First, the self-deluded person cannot rescue him- or herself from the addictive sin. Second, the self-deluded person is usually very adept at keeping people from effectively dealing with his sins by adroitly diverting them to dealing with his delusions. That’s why we explain below the four phases of self-delusion to you. We don’t intend to make you experts—it isn’t necessary that you understand all the psychology or nuances—but only need to make you aware of what the process is. A person with average people skills can master intervention when equipped with an awareness of how the addicted sinner operates.
The First Phase of Delusion—Rationalization
Rationalization is an unconscious process that keeps a person from feeling bad about his or her actions. Of necessity, the person doesn’t recognize the rationalizations because recognizing that he is rationalizing means that he can’t rationalize any longer. As Johnson wrote, "First, all people rationalize when their behavior has caused them some kind of legitimate discomfort. This is the function of rationalization: to help us feel better about ourselves when we have done something of which we’re not especially proud. Second, all rationalizations must be unconscious in order to work. We cannot be aware that we’re rationalizing as we’re doing it; in fact, the more aware we are, the less successful our rationalization will be."
Self-delusion differs from normal rationalization in that when a normal rationalization is confronted, "a dose of the facts is usually enough to bring him or her back through the rationalization to reality." But in self-delusion, "rationalization becomes integral to his or her life. Every [inappropriate] behavior is rationalized away, and the person is swept further and further from reality and further into delusion . . . The intellect continues to suppress the emotions and defend against reason until the truth is buried beyond reach."3 A kind of pathological mental mismanagement takes over. "The more the individual believes in his or her own rationalizations, the further into delusion he or she goes.
It will get worse.
Rationalization is only the first phase of self-delusion. The person convinces himself on a conscious level that his actions aren’t wrong, no matter what anyone says, but on the subconscious level something quite different happens. "His bad feelings about himself have been locked in at the unconscious level by a secure, high, and seamless wall of rational defenses. This is why he can believe what to everyone else seems patently unbelievable. Because of the wall, he cannot get at those bad feelings about himself. He is not even aware that they exist. But they are, nevertheless, chronically present in the form of a free-floating mass of anxiety, guilt, shame, and remorse."5 Without intervention, those negative emotions lead to the next phase.
The Second Phase of Delusion—Projection
The free-floating negative emotions caused by intense rationalization need some outlet. Usually they express themselves by attacking others. The deluded sinner attacks spouse, children, parents, friends, church leaders, church members, authors, or anyone else who gets in his or her path.
Naturally, a common projection is to blame the entire problem on the spouse. "If he had only . . ." or "Nobody could live with someone like him . . ." When others respond to those attacks—either to agree or disagree—they only make the projected charges more real to the deluded person. Responding to his projections helps him convince himself that he is right; it is all his spouse’s fault. Those who agree give credence. Those who disagree harden him in his position as he battles to convince them.
The most vitriolic attacks aren’t always directed at the spouse. They usually aim themselves at anyone who tries to convince the sinner that his or her actions are sinful or that he or she should stop the sinful behavior. He quickly assigns them evil motives and/or evil actions and responds emotionally in proportion to the threat he perceives from them. He sees the spouse who begs him to come home and work out the marriage as conniving, self-serving, and uncaring. "Yeah, you want me home now? Well what about the way you’ve treated me in the past? Why would anyone believe that I should stay married to you after you’ve . . . " He sees church leaders who try to convince him to stop the sin as controlling, unqualified because of their own sins, or heretics. "Those people don’t really care about me. All they care about is controlling the people in their precious little church. And how does so-and-so think he could ever have the right to say anything to anyone after he . . . " He sees his children as brainwashed, pawns of the spouse, and unaware. "You don’t know it now, but you’ll be much better off after the divorce. You just aren’t thinking clearly. After all, I know you’ll be happier not to have to live in the misery our home has been while your Mom and I were fighting every day . . ."
While these projections appear to be mean and spiteful, the self-deluded person sees them as vindicated and just. Just as rationalization must be an unconscious act to benefit the self-deluded, so must projection. He actually believes he is "standing up for himself" or even, in extreme cases, "standing for the truth of God!" (We often see a sinner rationalizing his behavior by yanking various scriptures to justify himself and/or to condemn those who try to intervene. In these cases, the sinner usually seeks out other Christians who will justify his position—there is always someone out there who will—and tries to evoke a battle between his recruited gladiators and those brethren who love him enough to try to stop him.)
When responded to in the same spirit or tone he or she manifests, the sinner becomes more adamant and more focused in his attacks. The defense of self becomes part of the delusion. Now the "addict" can focus on another person (or group of people) instead of having to deal with self, giving even more power to the delusion within. The "fight" with them keeps him from having to "fight" with himself.
Wise church leaders refuse to fight with him or any sympathizer he recruits. Argument isn’t intervention, as you will see.
But after a while even projection isn’t enough for the sinner. If intervention doesn’t occur now, the delusion evolves to the next phase.
The Third Phase of Delusion—Repression
The sinful behavior controlling the person tends to escalate during Phase Two, leading to more involvement in the sin that moves the person into the more dangerous Phase Three.
Whatever the level of actual sinful actions, the person moves past self-imposed barriers and violates personally held values. That puts her in an impossible position because she can’t live with herself if she continually violates her belief system. The stresses of her own inconsistency will lead her to a kind of personality "meltdown" as well as overwhelm her with guilt, shame, confusion, and a host of other negative emotions. She must do something to reduce that self-conflicted stress.
Past rationalizations begin to unravel but unless she’s become completely corrupt she can’t emotionally afford to abandon them. She sticks to her arguments and justifications for her behavior but they aren’t enough anymore. She has to find a new way to cope with her sin. Without awareness of what she is doing, she moves into Phase Three—Repression.
"They literally shut it out of their minds. They continue to rationalize some of their behaviors (those they can bear to face), and they repress those they cannot rationalize . . . Like rationalization, repression is a human survival skill. None of us could endure the memory of every shameful or embarrassing moment we’ve experienced during our entire lives; the sheer enormity would overwhelm us. When a normal person represses a specific memory, it is usually of no great consequence, since the behavior that led to the memory is unlikely to be repeated. But when [an addict] represses, it is because those actions that produced the pain and shame have occurred more than once and are likely to recur and worsen with the passage of time . . . It works to push [the addict] deeper into the [delusion] until the truth becomes virtually unattainable—unless it is brought back forcibly through intervention or a fortuitous grouping of crises."
The addicted sinner still justifies his or her actions, but in Phase Three some actions just aren’t justifiable, even in his or her well-woven rationalizations. Every action he or she can no longer justify now just disappears from memory. She doesn’t remember doing anything or saying anything contrary to her values. It isn’t that she can’t remember, that she’s had some kind of physically induced amnesia. The "amnesia" comes from completely psychological origins. She chooses not to remember, but the choice isn’t made with the conscious mind; it’s made in the subconscious. She’s keeping herself from facing her own contradictions.
Intervention at this point becomes more difficult but not impossible. The job of intervention is to make those repressed actions reappear and to reappear with powerful results.
Before we tell you how to do that, we examine the last phase of self-delusion.
The Fourth Phase of Delusion—Altered Memory
Nearly every person who reaches marital crisis rewrites marital history. Events from the past get interpreted differently. For example, it isn’t unusual to hear, "I never loved her. I’m not sure why I married her but I know that I never did love her."
Why would a person rewrite history?
To justify current actions.
If one can convince himself that his spouse has always been a bad mate, or that life has been a man-made hell for years, or that his spouse is totally impossible to live with, then it’s easy to rationalize that leaving that spouse isn’t a sin; it’s survival! No wonder those justifying themselves nearly always alter memories. Altered memories give credence to current rationalizations.
A person in Phase Four doesn’t alter memory about just the distant past: they’ve reached a stage of self-delusion that alters memories of things that happened recently. It’s the next logical step after Repression. If he can’t forget an act, he alters the interpretation of what happened so that it justifies the act.
From people in Phase Four we’ve heard things like, "No one in my church cares about me. Not one of them has even bothered to try to contact me!" when we knew absolutely that someone from their church spoke with them just days before. No, they aren’t lying. They really believe what they’re saying is true. They’ve reached the fourth stage of delusion where they have to change actual occurrences to justify their behaviors. Their rewriting of history is completely subconscious but it serves its purpose well. It continues to insulate the sinner from the guilt and shame of his own actions.
Nothing his spouse did in the last few months—maybe even years—carries anything but negative memories. That negative history justifies leaving her.
Likewise, interactions with friends or church leaders take on a different light. The conversation yesterday with a buddy or a minister isn't remembered as "I care about you and want to help" but as "You dirty so-and-so, why don’t you just curl up and die!" Why? Because it’s easy to disregard the rantings of a mean-spirited enemy than the genuine concerns of a caring friend.
Even in this stage of self-delusion, the addicted sinner can still be rescued. The process, of course, is intervention.
Now That You Understand Something About the Addicted Sinner’s Self-Delusion
We pray that now that you understand that addicted sinners are self-deluded, you will stop expecting them to come to their senses. You’ll let go of the notion that you could help them if they would just quit lying. You’ll forget that old, terribly wrong concept that there’s nothing anyone can do until the addicted sinner wants help. Addicted sinners can’t want help because they can’t allow themselves to admit that what they’re doing is sin! Because addicted sinners are self-deluded, they don’t know they’re lying. Their delusions make them believe everything they’re saying is true. That means that they cannot help themselves and they will not overcome their capturing sin without help from someone who loves them and who isn’t deluded about their sin.
Also, now that you understand the phases of self-delusion, you won’t allow yourself to be sidetracked by them. You’ll know not to let the addicted sinner goad you into an argument or debate. You’ll know not to believe—and therefore, be discouraged by—statements like "I never loved her" or "Do you know what she did?" You’ll keep on task to rescue the sinner from his sinful ways without allowing him to focus on the wrong things. You’ll never accept his or her interpretation of anything, not even what happened yesterday, because you know that he or she must alter history to justify current behavior. And you’ll know that there are things just under the surface, being repressed, that if you can bring to light you can use to momentarily stop the sinner from his or her sin so that you can set them on a path of spiritual and marital healing.
That, as you recall, is the whole purpose of intervention.
Remember, intervention doesn’t stop the sin; it leads the person to a point of admitting her own self-delusion, that, as a result, will lead her to accept the next step in overcoming the sin. Properly done intervention breaks through the rationalization, leading to a period of lucidity where the person is willing to find help to stop the sin.
Illustrating the Four Phases
If you feel you have a good enough grasp of the four phases of self-delusion to understand why the addicted sinner does them and to know not to let her lure you into reacting to her rationalizations, you may want to skip this illustration section. We’d rather you be comfortable with the concepts and act than to become immersed in their intricacies and not act. Nevertheless, we know that some folks like specific illustrations of principles they’re learning. For that reason, we illustrate in this small section how an addicted sinner might evolve through the four phases.
While we could choose any number of sins to illustrate how self-delusion works, the most common addictive sin we encounter in our work at FDI is an adulterous relationship.
Most continuing adulterous relationships didn’t start out with the intention of becoming adulterous.7 Our experience in working with thousands of couples shows that the most common source for a paramour is from couples who are best friends. The second most common source is with a fellow employee. In both situations the relationship usually begins in innocuous ways and gradually grows to sinful proportions. No defense barriers erect themselves because neither person sees danger until it is too late. By then, they don’t want any defenses. They move into Phase One—Rationalization—as fulfilled needs and desires drive each to subconsciously find ways to justify the relationship. Sentiments like the following, either spoken or mentally rehearsed countless times, provide the budding sinner a kind of justification for the sin:
"My spouse doesn’t understand me"
"God wanted us to be together so we could be happy"
"You don’t know what it was like living in that marriage"
"I’ve studied my Bible and come to the conclusion that I’m not really married to my current spouse!"
Instead of being surprised to hear rationalizations, we should expect them. How could otherwise godly people sin repeatedly if they couldn’t find some way to rationalize the behavior?
As they move into Phase Two—Projection—the interaction between the addicted sinner and her lover intensifies. As she projects her subconscious negative feelings onto others, the addicted sinner eliminates relationships with friends and family, either reacting to their negative view of her situation or fearing they will negatively react in the future. Because of disengaging those significant people from her life , the addicted sinner feels a need to be closer to her lover. If the affair hasn’t been overtly sexual to this point, it now takes on a physical dimension. For some it doesn’t evolve yet to sexual intercourse, but it definitely moves past actions that the person could justify as holy and good.
If the adulterous relationship has already turned sexual, an interesting transition often occurs at this point. Most long-lived adulteries began as friendships, which means the strongest aspect to the relationship involves emotional bonding. As a person moves into the latter stages of Phase Two and the beginning stages of Phase Three, the emotional part of the adultery often becomes secondary to the sexual aspect. That happens because different needs are now being fulfilled by her sexual encounters with her lover. Instead of providing a sense of warmth, closeness, and intimacy, their physical union evolves into an intense "you and me against the world" fantasy. Although this kind of sexual interaction is not as fulfilling in a romantic sense, she finds herself craving it. It provides an escapism from reality because she has a sense of being encapsulated with her lover, separate from the real world around her.
Her escalating involvement becomes so intense that the addicted sinner can no longer rationalize all her actions. She must move into Phase Three—Repression. Her claims to self that "this isn’t about sex" loses some of its persuasiveness as sex finally becomes a primary factor in the relationship. If her life spirals out of her rationalized control, she may move rapidly from her original values and morals. The breech caused by the adultery widens to include other sins. She may start drinking, change her appearance and lifestyle, or participate in sexual activities that she previously viewed as taboo.
When that happens, those changes may alter her into a different person, unlike anything she has ever been or thought she would be. Of course, those changes in her also affect her relationship with her lover. She and the lover may start to argue or disagree. The affair itself may be endangered, though no one should sit back expecting it just to end on its own in the not too distant future. Affairs that self-destruct usually self-destruct slowly.
Phase Three evolves into Phase Four—Altered History. The addicted sinner’s transgressions exist only in favorable light: "God’s forgiven me for what I’ve done" or "I only did that because of how difficult it is to live with you." Her memories of the spouse’s shortcomings carry a much different hue: "You’ve done so much damage to me" or "If everyone knew how you really are."
The most fascinating part of this phase is the altered memory of sinful acts. She may remember last night’s sexual encounter as only holding and kissing. Think that impossible? We’ve seen even more bizarre altered memory from adulterous couples. For example, she may have no memory of the tremendous argument she and her lover had when they last sneaked off together. All she remembers is how she felt being with him—protected, secure, loved—even if nothing that transpired in that rendezvous communicated any of those feelings. We’ve seen adulterous relationships break apart where one paramour couldn’t stand the degeneration into constant arguments and insults while the other paramour remembers little to nothing of bad things happening while they were together.
I am living that right now. Doh so painful but the info helped me in that it made me realize it is was not me but someones perception of me that has been built up over a long time. The constant at this point I can do nothing right attitude directed at me most of the time. I am going to focus on what I know is right and good to do for me, my wife, our M, and our DD and if she notices and realizes these perceptions of me are delusions great if not OK too becuase I will be a better person and have really been trying to better myself and the people around me.