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Lesson 1: Confronting Denial

Dr. Patrick Carnes suggests that breaking through the denial of our addictive, compulsive, and problematic behaviors is challenging. Many people “…hide the severity of the problem from others to delude themselves about their ability to control their behaviors and to minimize their impact on others.”45

For many of us, denial is used as a defense mechanism. Perhaps we experienced something so terrible, so beyond comprehension, that we cannot consciously accept it as truth. In some ways, living in denial protects us. When we live in denial, we escape the emotional harm attached to a painful experience.

Honestly, we may not recognize the extent to which we are living in denial. We may try to convince ourselves that, “What happened in the past, should stay in the past. I’m fine. I’m going to keep moving forward.” Inevitably, the emotional weight of our past will sabotage our forward motion, making each step forward much more difficult than the last. We will continue to trip over the denial we have created in our path.

At some point, we will face a decision: continue to struggle with denial, staying in one stagnant place, never really moving forward, OR confront denial and work to unravel our addictive, compulsive, and problematic behaviors; learning how to manage love, sex, and relationships in a healthy way.

I know something is wrong. Although my husband and I are separated and have not lived together in nine years, when he comes into town once a month, I become a different person. I am a nervous wreck anticipating his arrival, but became flirty and overly affectionate once he arrives, even inviting him to stay at my house. Why did I so desperately want his attention? I want to, but I’m too poor to get a divorce. Whatever this is, it is not healthy.

I originally left my husband because of his drug addiction. He was physically abusive but still claimed to love me, even now. He can’t seem to keep a job and is constantly moving. Even though I know all of this, I am still attracted to him and give in to his sexual advances when he is in town. I can’t explain why I turn into a lovestruck teenager when he’s around. I feel like I’m going crazy.

Despite the fact that I am “legally” married, I continue to have many male friends. I’ve always had more guy friends than girl friends. Men are so much easier to get along with than women. I don’t really have any close female friends. Let’s just say I have many “friends with benefits.” It’s not like I’m having affairs, since I didn’t really feel married.

Lately, I’ve found myself sexually attracted to much younger men. I’m 36 years old and pursuing a relationship with an 18-year-old. The younger guys seem so attentive and willing to spend time with me. Although they don’t know much about my past, they genuinely care about the real me.


Learning to live in truth can feel overwhelming. Many of us haven’t looked at the truth in years, let alone lived in it. We have become so comfortable living behind the wall of denial, unsure if we would even recognize the real version of ourselves.

Without question, confronting denial will be a big job. It will take more work than we think. It will be more painful than we anticipate. It will reveal more truth than we thought possible. It will bring more healing than we ever imagined.

When God wants to work in us—deep, life-changing, liberating work—it’s going to take time and intention. It’s going to take the women in this group to walk with us through the difficult times. It’s going to take a measure of grace that only God can provide.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.


The ability to identify our feelings, in the moment, can be challenging, not to mention the difficulty of trying to identify our feelings after the fact—sometimes many years later. Feelings are one word—happy, sad, energized, grateful. They are a single word that strikes at the core of how we were impacted by an interaction, experience, or event. Whether we recognize it or not, our feelings become placeholders in our memory, waiting to rise to the surface when we least expect it.

Much of the way we think about and process feelings comes from the environment in which we were raised. It has been suggested that we are hardwired with six basic emotions—anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise.46 All other emotions are learned behaviors. If we were raised in an environment where emotional expression was modeled, we will be more aware of our feelings, able to express how we are feeling in many situations. However, if we were raised in an environment where feelings and emotions were not expressed, we will be less likely to identify how we are feeling—in many ways, we will lack an awareness and the ability to describe our feelings.

Regardless of our past experience, it is never too late to start learning how to identify our feelings. Since we know that all of us experience the six basic emotions, we will begin with identifying these specific feelings. We will start off slow but continue to build on this exercise throughout the course of this study.

Consider the following definitions:
Anger: a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.
Disgust: a feeling of revulsion or profound disapproval aroused by something
unpleasant or offensive.
Fear: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is
dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.
Happiness: the state of being happy; exhibiting a positive mood or a sense of well-being.
Sadness: the condition or quality of being sad; affected with or expressing grief
or unhappiness.
Surprise: an unexpected or astonishing event, fact, or thing.

It is important to understand our feelings and how they contribute to our behavior. Our feelings have value. It might seem unnatural or scary to explore this feelings arena, especially if this is a new area of discovery. Don’t back away. Be brave.

Looking Ahead

Complete the Group Check-In, Self-Care lesson, Thoughts/Feelings Awareness Log,
and Change & Growth Analysis in your Unraveled: Weekly Tools before
the next group meeting.