The starting point in change, healing, and much of our growth, is coming to a realization stated by Jesus Christ in his Sermon on the Mount: “You’re blessed when you are at the end of your rope…” (Message Bible). That is not a pleasant place to be. The 12 Step tradition states its first step as “We admitted we are powerless over substances, people, and circumstances and our lives are unmanageable.” Our denial (a short term defense mechanism designed to buffer paid) works against our recognition that we are making choices that have painful consequences. Dr. Dallas Willard states, “We delude ourselves about the sustaining condition of people and evil deeds because we wish to continue living as we love now and continue being the kinds of people we are. We don’t want to change. We don’t want our world to be really different. We just want to escape the consequence of its being what it truly is and our being who we truly are.”
The years of counseling I have done has shown me hour after hour snapshots of the denial (A few minutes reading over my journaling plays for me a full length video of the same.) “I don’t have this repetitive behavior I can’t stop doing.” Carol Tavres and Elliot Aronson’s “Mistakes were made (but not by me)” chronicles the process of self-justification beautifully (or painfully). As we make choices that lead to discomfort our mind excuses, blames others, or dismisses our role in the choice. Very rapidly the brain begins to cite examples of why we are right in our conclusions. We develop quickly an entrenched system of neural connections that foster our perpetuating this and make it increasingly difficult to change because we are comfortable in our denial and delusions.
Critics of the 12 Steps cite the first step as a passive, victim stance. Properly applied it serves as a great vehicle to flip the light switch on in an otherwise very dark room. It helps us be deliberate in naming those issues, choices, examples that portray our unmanageable pain.