It’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 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.
Many people are good at finding justifications, too. Maybe you’re deciding to celebrate a good day at work; or maybe you’re remembering that time three months ago where you were well ahead of the budget line; or maybe you justify cheating on your partner because you’ve felt so neglected by them, so you feel it’s your turn; or maybe you remember the discount you received a couple weeks ago that saved you $50, so now you feel you can safely spend that extra $50 on something else.
What Justifications Really Are
While justifications help you reason your way into gratifying an urge, justifications are essentially enablers. At times, justifications can be helpful to give us a little push when it’s needed in a healthy way (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 justifying unhealthy behaviors, we are essentially hiding from our emotions. The truth is, we may want that expensive dinner, or to have that drink or cigarette, or have that new car, but we subconsciously know that it’s not a good idea. Rather than listen to the voice that explains why we should stop ourselves from an unhealthy behavior, we instead find a way to convince ourselves that we’re actually doing it for good 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.
When we give in to our unhealthy 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. This 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, you could end up with a stronger addiction, weight gain, anger, depression, frustration, worry, anxiety, etc.
Justifications also go both ways. People can justify not doing things that 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, depression, or vulnerability.
It’s easier to justify an unhealthy decision than it is to admit that we just want something that may be unhealthy or not a good idea.
Next time you find ourselves creating unhealthy justifications :
- 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 and compounded each time. (gaining one pound once isn’t a big deal; gaining one pound 25 times may be a big deal; or having a drink today may not be a big deal, but what about the other days you have a similar urge).
- 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, it is important to understand what’s driving this mechanism. If it’s becoming a pattern, therapy could be a helpful option.
Breaking through denial takes motivation because we aren’t always fully conscious of what we are suppressing in these moments. It can often take the severity of the consequences to finally force our attention towards the justification issue. It’s possible to become aware of our tendencies to enable ourselves to justify decisions that work against us. This would be a positive step in achieving mental and emotional balance in our lives.
Contact Nathan Feiles to inquire about therapy.