An Emotional “Hot Potato” (more thoughts on self-deception)

This is “part two” of a post on “twisted self-deception”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines self-deception as: “the acquisition and maintenance of a belief (or, at least, the avowal of that belief) in the face of strong evidence to the contrary motivated by desires or emotions favoring the acquisition and retention of that belief, (Self-Deception, 2006).”  Twisted self-deception on the other hand can be defined as, “instances [in which]…people deceive themselves into believing things they do not want to be true” (Mele, 1999, p. 117).  Two questions have perplexed me greatly about this issue of twisted self-deception:

FIRSTLY, how can someone act as both the deceiver and the deceived? 

SECONDLY, Why does someone believe something they don’t want to be true?  

I feel I managed to address these questions to my own personal satisfaction in the first post.  However, my ultimate goal was in attempting to apply this insight to the issue of addiction.  How does twisted self-deception pertain to instances of recovery from addiction?  While completing a reading assignment for my future internship, I uncovered some useful information worth commenting on here.

Mistaken Beliefs About Recovery…

Gorski & Miller (2013) discuss “Mistaken Belief’s About Recovery” in Chapter 5 of their book “Staying Sober” and make the following comments:

“There are a great many mistaken beliefs that trap relapse-prone people into a state of hopelessness. Many people have these mistaken beliefs and act as if they are true…Mistaken beliefs about relapse create self-fulfilling prophecies. When mistaken beliefs become ‘true’ to you, you act as if those beliefs are true (Gorski & Miller, 2013, p. 103).”

This insight provides an explanation for how we can deceive ourselves.  By failing to get that beliefs act as self-fulfilling prophecies means, our handling of them is one-sided.  Rather than examining them critically, we utilize life experiences as evidence & support for our belief system, (when in fact they are byproducts of it).   What follows is an overview of common mistaken beliefs about recovery according to Gorski & Miller, (2013).

Role of Substance Use…

Gorski & Miller (2013), state that it is common for many in recovery to believe that recovery means abstinence and relapse simply means using.  Consequently, the primary goal is to not use as a matter of conscious and deliberate choice.  Gorski & Miller, (2013) note that addiction is a biopsychosocial process with many sobriety based-symptoms that linger after a person has quit using.  Managing and understanding these symptoms is essential if one is to succeed in recovery

Relapse Warning Signs….

Gorski & Miller (2013) caution that “a common mistaken belief is that relapse just suddenly and spontaneously occurs without warning signs” (p. 107)…Or, they might believe that warning signs only pertain to usage of alcohol or drugs.  Interestingly, Gorski & Miller (2013) caution the role of denial in blocking one’s awareness of critical relapse symptoms.  As I reflect on my own experiences with twisted self-deception discussed in the previous post, I can appreciate the power of denial in this instance.  I was so caught up in my own emotional survival during “the it years” that I couldn’t see how my life was spiraling out of control.

Relapse & Motivation…

Many people in recovery believe that “if I relapse, I am not motivated to recover…I have not hurt enough to stay sober (Gorski & Miller, 2013, p. 109-110).”  The fact is, those in recovery may understand that they need to quit and know this is the solution.  Much as I understood during “the it years” that the solution to my situation was leaving, the pain of unresolved traumas was overwhelming.  In a mirror-like sense, Gorski & Miller, (2013), note that “most relapse-prone [addicts] are in terrible pain…the pain is so severe it prevnets them from functioning when sober” (p. 110).  In other words, it isn’t about motivation, (or a lack thereof).  A failure to get this fact can produce feelings of great shame.

Beliefs about Treatment…

“Many people who are recovering from addictive disease work very hard to recover…yet they fail” (Gorski & Miller, 2013, p. 111).  Consequently, they believe that treatment is either ineffective or 100% effective. and that failure is a byproduct of being “constitutionally incapable of recovery” (Gorski & Milller, 2013, p. 111).  This final insight is also helpful for me in better understanding the nature of addiction.  Individuals struggling with recovery can struggling with feelings of helplessness & hopeless as I did when trying to leave “it”.

What is Your Emotional Hot Potato????

The above video comes from a book by Shel Silverstein titled “The Missing Piece”.  I think it effectively communicates a core issue underlying the notion of self-deception.  The purpose of self-deception is so we can live in our own preferred version of reality.  This version of reality supports our preferred system of beliefs.   It also edits out those things we do not wish to understand & hate to accept.  It is like an emotional “hot potato”.  We would prefer to willfully deny this fact through an array of cognitive mental gymnastics, than accept reality as it exists.

Sometimes the truth can truly hurt & facing it can appear an overwhelming & impossible task…

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Gorski, T. T., & Miller, M. (2013). Staying sober : a guide for relapse prevention. Spring Hill, Florida: Herald Publishing.
Mele, A. R. (1999). Twisted self-deception. Philosophical Psychology, 12(2), 117-137.
Self-Deception (2006, October, 17).  Retrieved from:
Shapiro, D. (1996). On the Psychology of Self-Deception.  Social Research, 63(3). Retrieved from:

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