For example, smokers know they are slowly killing themselves but they keep on smoking. The mind invents justifications to get around this conflict by defining smoking as ‘helpful’ – “It helps me relax”, “It helps me think” and the like. All of which are utter nonsense but these justifications allow the mind to reconcile the two opposing beliefs: “smoking will eventually kill me” and “I choose to smoke”.
Not only that, if one of your beliefs is later shown to be wrong, you are more likely to defend it, and this can cause people to strengthen their beliefs in the face of conflicting evidence.
Justification is a common defense mechanism which the mind uses to deal with unconscious anxieties. In a common example, when a person would like to do one thing, but instead can’t seem to help but do another, it indicates that there’s a conflict between the conscious mind and some part of their subconscious mind. In other words, part of you is aware that another part of you is doing something of which you don’t consciously approve – something that may even interfere with your goals, needs or conscience.
Justification is often unconsciously used to avoid admitting disappointment: “I didn’t get the job that I applied for, but I really didn’t want it in the first place”
As you’ve probably noticed, these success laws work together. To illustrate this interplay, let me use our previous example of a weight loss goal. You make a conscious decision (Law of Determination) that you’re going to start a strict weight loss regimen and yet repeatedly fail to stick to your diet and exercise plan. Each time you start on your program you find yourself battling overwhelming junk food cravings that are much stronger than the ones you get when you’re not on a ‘diet’ (Law of Reversed Effect). So, what does your mind do to help you solve this crisis? Justification kicks in! You end up convincing yourself that you actually deserve this chocolate as a reward for your brilliant presentation at the board meeting this morning (Law of Justification). You know you shouldn’t and try to stick to the plan and feel very upset for caving in yet again! Most probably, even before you started, you had a ‘feeling’ (Law of Expectation) that you wouldn’t make it.
One of the common challenges in today’s world is the ‘entitlement mentality’. Here, one can expects things simply by virtue of being alive and existing. It is not a case of them having to earn what they want or to put any effort into achieving their goals.
So, to solve their problem, one approach is to steal what they want. If they get caught, they then justify their actions by saying that what they did was right because they had no other way of getting it. The behaviour then becomes ‘right’ in their eyes.
In another example of relationships, while most people agree that cheating is wrong, it doesn’t mean that it will stop them from doing it. To have this outlook at an intellectual level it is one thing, but if one is emotionally unstable for example, right and wrong can go out of the window.
This means that when someone does cheat and they knew it was wrong to begin with, guilt and shame are likely to appear and wreak havoc in their psyche. If this person then chooses to take responsibility for it, then justification might not be used. But if responsibility is not taken, their inner angst could be dealt with by justifying the behaviour.
Justification could become so natural and habitual that the inner pain could soon become disconnected and unknown to the person who cheats. As soon as it arises, a kind of conditioned reflex takes over to cut out the pain. Then they justify their wrong by saying that their partner was not attentive enough and so they had to get the attention from somewhere, that the person they cheated with didn’t mean anything or that their partner cheated too, so that makes it fair.
The above are just some examples of how justification can be used. In some situations, it will be appropriate but in most cases it has the potential to hinder your success and cause you to avoid taking responsibility for your own behaviour.
While such mechanisms may be helpful in the short term by alleviating suffering that might otherwise incapacitate the individual, they can easily become a substitute for addressing the underlying cause and so lead to non-achievement. The solution, therefore, is to address the underlying causes of the pain the justification is used to deflect.
No matter what defence mechanism is being used, they all have the same purpose. And that is to stop us from being overwhelmed by what we are experiencing. We use them when the arising pain is too much for us to handle.
Pain, unfortunately, is part of life and therefore can’t be avoided. There are always going to be times when it’s necessary to use one or more defence mechanisms to survive life challenges. If a defence mechanism is used and one is not aware of it, it can result in one avoiding responsibility; either in a specific situation or as a way of life, which often leads to failure or a life of excuses.
The key factor is how you apply justification. If you tend to use justification when you should be taking responsibility, it might be necessary to change. Otherwise you run the risk of having success remaining just a pipe dream.