How Justifications Impact Our Mental Health

justifications and mental healthIt’s something most of us have done at one point or another. We find reasons to fulfill urges that we know are not necessarily good for us. Maybe we justify having the dessert we know we should avoid; or we find an excuse to buy that piece of furniture we know is too expensive and don’t necessarily need; or we justify having that sushi dinner that’s beyond our financial means; or we talk ourselves into having just one more drink or smoking when trying to quit; and so on.

We’re so good at finding justifications, too. Maybe we’re deciding to celebrate a good day at work; or maybe we’re remembering that time three months ago where we were well ahead of the budget line; or maybe we justify cheating on our partner because we’ve felt so neglected by them, so we feel we’re owed something; or maybe we remember the discount we received a couple weeks ago that saved us $50, so now we feel we can safely spend that extra $50 on clothes.

What Justifications Really Are

Justifications are basically excuses that enable us to do things we know deep down aren’t a good idea. At times, justifications can be helpful to give us a little push when it’s healthy (e.g. maybe a person who works long hours finds a way to justify taking some time off to spend with family, knowing it will be a good thing; or someone who is generally frugal with money finds a way to justify buying something that they’d usually justify not buying.).

But, when we justify unhealthy behaviors, we are essentially hiding from our emotions. The truth is, we may want that sushi dinner, or to have that drink or cigarette, or have that piece of furniture, but we subconsciously know that it’s not a good idea, so we find a way to convince ourselves that we’re actually doing it for other reasons.

Justifications Have Consequences, Even if Delayed

Justifications often get people into trouble, and at a certain point have consequences mentally, emotionally and physically. They can hurt relationships, empty bank accounts, or jeopardize our medical health. Every time we justify doing or not doing something, we actually strengthen the avoidance of emotion. We keep ourselves in denial of the true emotions.

When we give in to our justifications, we are giving ourselves permission to do things that take us away from emotional balance. This makes it easier to do so the next time, especially if the consequences aren’t immediate. For example, if we spend money on a credit card, the impact won’t be felt until having to pay the bill later.

The delay in consequence helps us feel like our justifications aren’t a big deal. However, when later comes around, the consequences lead to greater emotional distress. Depending on the behavior and consequence, we could end up with increased anger, depression, frustration, worry, anxiety, etc.

Justifications also go both ways. People justify not doing things that also have mental health repercussions. Maybe we justify not going out because of tendencies towards social anxiety, which only strengthens our anxiety (making it more difficult to go out next time); or maybe we justify not going on a trip because we don’t want to fly; or maybe we justify not changing careers because we’re afraid we’ll fail; or maybe we justify skipping meals so we don’t gain weight; etc. When we justify not doing something, it’s usually our way of avoiding an underlying emotion — e.g. fear, anxiety, social anxiety, or depression.

It’s easier to justify a decision to do something than it is to admit that we emotionally want to do something that we logically know isn’t good for us, and it’s easier to justify a decision not to do something than it is to face our underlying emotions.

Next time we find ourselves creating reasons to do or not do something:

  • Determine if it’s healthy or unhealthy. If the excuses are helping you to break a bad habit or create balance, then there may be merit to a push with justifications. However, if you’re seeing that you’re really just finding an excuse to give into an emotional urge that you logically know isn’t a good idea, then:
  • Use foresight. Understand what the consequences will be, even if they’re going to be delayed. Remember that consequences add up, so even if you decide small consequences may be acceptable, just remember the impact will be greater each time. (gaining one pound once isn’t a big deal; gaining one pound 25 times may be a big deal).
  • Understand the underlying emotions. There are reasons for the excuses and justifications we make. In order to prevent a cycle of this type of behavior and increased mental imbalance, it is important for us to understand what’s driving this mechanism. If it’s becoming problematic, psychotherapy could be a helpful option.

Breaking through denial takes motivation because we aren’t fully conscious of what we are suppressing. If we’re passive, we’ll remain in denial, until the consequences force us to give attention to the issue. With some effort and courage, we can become aware of our tendencies to enable ourselves to make unhealthy decisions. This would be a positive step in achieving mental and emotional balance in our lives.

Woman eating a donut photo available from Shutterstock

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