To cast one’s behavior after the fact in a favorable light. To justify and explain one’s conduct or, more often, misconduct by resorting to “: rational, logical, socially-acceptable” explications and excuses. Rationalization is also used to re-establish ego-syntony (inner peace and self-acceptance).
Though not strictly a defense mechanism, cognitive dissonance may be considered a variant of rationalization. It involves the devaluation of things and people very much desired but frustratingly out of one’s reach and control. In a famous fable, a fox, unable to snag the luscious grapes he covets, says: “these grapes are probably sour anyhow!”. This is an example of cognitive dissonance in action.
The alcoholic is deluded by rationalizations and other self defenses of pathological proportions. On the top of that he is under direct influence of toxins generated in the process of erratic alcohol metabolism. Memory is also messed up. Thus it is impossible to analyze his behavior by questioning him directly. Intellectual defenses rise to justify the emotional cost. These are entirely unconscious rationalization. The alcoholic may say; “ I know why that happened,”—I did that on empty stomach. Rationalization will hide self sabotaging and the alcoholic will be soon out of touch with reality. The rationalizations work. The tragedy is that this form of defense will continue to operate even more successfully as the illness progresses. Normal people also rationalize but finally they accept the responsibility. However, in alcoholics, their rationalizations simply rise to meet the progressive demands of the disease.