Defense Mechanism Series – Humor, Compliance, and Minimizing

a sign with here, there, everywhere to reinforce the lack of direction involved in compliance for a person in substance abuse recovery

Defense Mechanisms (Denial Series)

Humor, Compliance, Minimizing

In a series of blog posts, we are highlighting and discussing in detail defense mechanisms of addicts and persons with a substance use disorder. To help concerned family members and loved ones understand the forms that “denial” takes, we are looking at the various ways an addicted brain finds to protect the addict’s use of drugs, alcohol, and addicted behaviors.

Last week, we looked at denial, lying, silence, and withdrawing. This week, we’ll look at 3 seemingly and deceptively mild tactics: humor, compliance, and minimizing. Later weeks will feature more aggressive responses. While this week’s may seem “mild,” they are no less toxic and are not to be dismissed as less harmful. 


Humor may be especially confusing to respond to. In an addict who is by personality generally witty and charismatic, humor can be a confusing tool because the family member wants to respond with the affection that may exist in part because of this trait. Let’s look at humor in more depth as it relates to addiction and defense mechanisms.

a sign that says all you need is lol to refer to the defense mechanism of humor in substance abuse

Addicts using humor respond to the content of the concern by taking the information and turning into a joke:

  • Wow! You think I have a problem! That explains the dark circles under your eyes.”
  • “I’m not an alcoholic. Alcoholics go to meetings.”
  • “What? You’d rather I didn’t have a sex drive?”

 Usually said with laughter, these types of statements are confusing. They aren’t classically “funny.” They have an edge. But they are said – on the surface – with a laughing tone and with a smile and the words SEEM to be lighthearted. But they FEEL hurtful and dismissive. They serve the same purpose at the denial featured in another blog post (gaslighting) in which the concerned family member feels invalidated. They are often experienced as gaslighting.


Another defense mechanism that serves a similar purpose – to mute the severity of the accusation of addiction – is compliance. It’s a crafty defense mechanism. Think about it; if the addict admits (minimally) to a problem, what more can the concerned family member do or say? If they continue the topic, they risk the addict moving into a more aggressive defense mechanism and therefore losing what seems like progress. Compliance is a small, outward admission while the addict holds onto the power and decisions.

  • “Yea, you’re right.”
  • “I’ll stop.”
  • “It’s too much, I agree.”

a sign with here, there, everywhere to reinforce the lack of direction involved in compliance for a person in substance abuse recovery

The problem with compliance is that it is a pseudo-admission and does not lead the addict towards action; it’s meant only to divert the family sufficiently off course, so the addict can return to using.


On the same continuum of compliance is minimizing. It’s a tiny, small admission – perhaps just enough to make the family member be quiet but lobbies the ball back to the family member with a counter: it’s a yes, but not really. It’s a fake “I hear you” followed by their insistence “but you’re wrong and here is why.”

  • “The other engineers in the Professional Engineers Happy Hour Friday Club drink way more than I do.”
  • “I know guys who use a lot more porn than I do.”
  • “I only use at parties (or at home, or for special occasions…”
  • “I never use at family events, at church events, work…”

Minimizing can take many specific forms – sadly it’s a versatile defense mechanism!

 Minimizing and humor tend to be “soft” mechanisms in that they are not overtly adversarial or hostile. They appear to be responsive – at least in part – to the concern of the family member. As such, it makes it difficult for the family member to communicate their strong concern when the addict is being so seemingly reasonable, or even playful, funny, or logical.

It’s a tactic that confuses and frustrates the family member, which is perfect for the addict. The addict is then more likely to move along with their addiction path and the worried family members stay immersed in their concern, worry, and without resolution.

More Information and Help

As with my first post in the series, I want to encourage you (the family member) to seek help and support FOR YOU. It’s the only power you have. I agree and understand that your addicted love one needs and requires help. Getting an addict to admit the need for help and accepting that help is a complicated process because addiction is a complicated disease. If you are in Katy, Houston, or Texas and love someone with a substance abuse problem, I am available to give you support.

Next week, the next post in the series will feature and explain Manipulation, Accusing, Judging, Projecting.

Speak Your Mind


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