How Psychological Scotoma Keeps You Trapped in Addiction

Head in the Sand (image by Sander van der Wel)

Head in the Sand (image by Sander van der Wel)

In Any Dispute with Reality, We Will Always Lose Eventually

The more our thinking is out of sync with reality, the more we suffer. The reverse is also true. The closer we can get our thoughts to reflect reality, the more inner peace we enjoy. This is why many rehabs now offer mindfulness and CBT training - these therapies include tools to help us escape delusional thinking patterns.

Denial of reality is a battle we can never win - so why do we do it? Unfortunately, it is usually not something we have decided consciously. It more often happens due to an unconscious effort by our ego to protect itself from parts of reality it finds threatening. One way it does this is through a process known as ‘psychological scotoma’.


What is Psychological Scotoma?

The word ‘scotoma’ is most commonly associated with vision, and it refers to a blind spot in the eye. A ‘psychological scotoma’ is another type of blind spot only this one occurs in the way we view reality. It means there is information in our experience that is inconvenient for our ego, and it responds by turning a ‘blind eye’ to it.

Psychological scotoma usually arises as a response to cognitive dissonance. This refers to a situation where there is some type of conflict between our beliefs, opinions, and our behaviour. Our ego doesn’t like there to be any obvious inconsistency in our thinking, and it responds to such a situation by using strategies such as psychological scotoma.

Dangers of Psychological Scotoma

• It may mean we fail to see solutions to our problems because these options don’t fit in nicely with our current beliefs and worldview
• This blind spot can keep us trapped in maladaptive behaviour
• It puts us in a conflict with reality that we can never win
• Our blind spot may be obvious to other people, and this may mean they lose respect for us
• If we resist attempts to shed light on these blind spots, it can make it hard for people (e.g. therapists) to help us

How Can Psychological Scotoma Keep You Trapped in Self-Destructive Behaviours?

Those of us who are caught up in addiction are almost sure to have at least some psychological scotoma around our behaviour. It will be mixed in with other egoic strategies for ignoring reality such as denial, projection, intellectualisation, and repression. It is just not possible for our thoughts to accurately reflect reality, our ego won’t allow it, while we are abusing alcohol or drugs.

How to Avoid Psychological Scotoma

• Become more sceptical around your beliefs, opinions, and ideas – learn to think critically
• Develop the courage to face your psychological blind spots – it is important to understand that these blind spots don’t mean you are bad person
• Listen to other people, especially those you respect, as they may be better able to see your blind spots
• Practice mindfulness as this will allow you to develop a much better understanding of your mind and how it is tricking you