counseling, psychology, regrets, self-help

Self Deception: How We Work Hard to Escape the Truth

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People deceive each other all the time but how often we deceive ourselves is less often acknowledged.

The only way others can deceive you is if first you deceive yourself.

We fool ourselves into believing things that are FALSE and refuse to believe things that are TRUE. This is the basis of all self-deception.

We lie to ourselves about the smallest details–about how much we REALLY ate today to how much we weigh on our driver’s license.  We lie to reflect our aspirational goals. We lie to uphold social ideals. We lie about our most important life choices-why we picked a career path or married our partner.

The truth is your mind is inherently self-deceptive. If you ever studied philosophy, you likely studied Rene Descartes. He did an interesting thing in that he began his philosophy by doubting ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING.

Everything would come under doubt, under skepticism. The point is he, like many other philosophers, pointed out something about our mind: it is a self-deception machine.

How often do you question the beliefs you hold as true? Have you ever challenged your thoughts and ideals?

Your own mind…the extent of its self deception..can be incredible. There are many ways our minds deceive us. So many ways that to list them would be endless.

The scary part is your mind has complete power of you. The number one mistake people mistake is assuming their mind can be trusted. That their feelings can be trusted. Both of which are fluid. This is why developing self-awareness and a mindfulness practice can be so pivotal if you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or any ongoing strong, negative emotions.

How do you know what you KNOW is RELIABLE?

Your mind will use every opportunity to deceive you to protect you from pain. Many truths are painful.

In our day-to-day lives, we lie to ourselves about hard truths we do not want to face. Our declining health. Our dwindling job prospects. Our aging reflection. Our growing waistline. Our passionless life. Our unloving family. Our poor financial decisions. Our child’s bad behavior. Our feelings of depression. The list goes on and on.

The truth often hurts. Often if we are forced to face the truth, we attack the messenger. 

In self-deception, we hurt ourselves and those around us by refusing to live authentically.

We lie to ourselves about the way we mistreat others. We lie to ourselves about the way we mistreat ourselves.

The truth is self-deception is a way of escaping from reality. Living in a world where we do not have to fact our real problems. The hard truths. To take a long hard look at how our life has turned out. To honestly look at the state of our relationships–including the most important one we will ever have which is with ourself.

Self deception is a popular mechanism people use to prevent themselves from feeling shame or guilt while at the same time allowing themselves to escape from something that they don’t want to face.

It is a way for people lie to themselves and justify bad behavior. To rationalize inaction and the inability to follow through. The failure to make the call. The excuse for never getting started.

Self deception can take many forms: denial, rationalization, repression, dissociation.  People push away any opposing evidence of a truth they do not want to admit. It is much deeper than outright lying, exaggeration, white lies, or twisting the truth. Self-deception is more complicated and often a subconscious response to a threat.

Consider the following example. A person drinks too much. If someone points out that there is an apparent drinking problem, the person in turn gets angry. Not angry at themself but at the person who points it out. He denies the drinking problem and goes on the attack for the mere suggestion of such a thing.

Yet the person in question drinks every day. Perhaps they have gotten a DUI or been arrested because of behavior taken when intoxicated.  Maybe he drinks on the job or has been let go from a job because of coming to work drunk. This person is not lying when he says he is not an alcoholic but truly believes they are not an alcoholic. Because to admit such a truth to himself would be too painful to bear.  Thus despite all evidence to the contrary, this person refuses to accept the truth.

As a counselor, I am frequently confronted by the fact that people often lie. Not to others. But to themselves. A much harder type of deception to admit or recognize. It takes much psychological strength to be honest with ourselves. I believe self-deception to be a big part of why many people are unhappy in their lives.  The truth is many people don’t have the emotionally wherewithal to face the truth and deal with the consequences of said truth.

Too often people fool themselves into believing something is true when it is false. People lie to themselves about the trivial but also about life altering realities. Refusing to see their job is killing them. That their mother is unloving. That their partner is abusive.

It is much easier to recognize self-deception in others than in ourself. Thus why as long as your mind can fabricate enemies for you to fight against that is great. It is a great distraction from having to look at yourself and the life you are living.  This is why some people seem to always be in conflict with others. It helps keep them from having to face themselves. They keep the focus external to avoid their internal struggle.

Recognizing the lies people tell themselves is easy. Have you ever been an argument with someone and they said something totally and utterly false with such conviction it almost took your breath away? Perhaps you could not tell if they were just a truly skilled liar or if they truly believe the lies the were telling. Self-deception can run deep.

Too often we can see where someone else is living a life, but cannot see such in ourself.

We have a basic need to think well of ourself. The easy way to have a positive self-image is to hide our defects.

Understanding the psychology of self-deception can help you to comprehend why some people can do horrendous things yet feel totally justified.

We see this play out often when it comes to discussing opposing political views. You can show someone facts to the contrary of what they believe. Even if the face of undeniable evidence, they refuse to believe it. It is amazing the lengths people will go not to face the truth.

Self-deception can ruin your life if you do not recognize it. The mind wants to a construct a reality for you that keeps you comfortable. To keep you safe. To keep you from experiencing pain.

People need to understand the mind’s ability to self-deceive. It can construct illusions that are indistinguishable from reality.

Your mind governs everything: your motivations, desires, likes, dislikes, emotions, your sense of certainty, sense of doubt, you memories, your narratives, your judgments, criticisms, how you derive meaning, what you focus on, what you consider real, what you consider false.

I ask you to reflect long and hard on the following:

What aspects of yourself are you afraid to take a long hard look at?

What truth about your life are you unwilling to admit?

What lies are you telling yourself about the relationships in your life?

Who in your life have you been avoiding facing the truth about?

What aspect of yourself do you avoid facing?

In what ways do you use escapism to avoid reality? Binge watching tv, video games, drinking, drugs, emotional eating, smoking, etc.

Answering these questions can be painful depending on where you are at in your life.

Overcoming the lies we tell ourselves is not easy.

Ask yourself, how do often do you just believe whatever your mind tells you? Part of cognitive behavioral therapy includes challenging your cognitions–the thoughts you think on autopilot. A central part of CBT is looking at our cognitive distortions: how the thoughts we think DECEIVE us.

Polarized thinking, black and white thinking, all or nothing thinking, jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing, overgeneralizing, emotional reasoning…just a few of the ways our thoughts may deceive us.

We deceive ourselves to avoid the givens of life: we will be hurt, people will let us down, we will let ourselves down, people we love will die, we too will eventually die…

As adults, we will most want to lie about painful psychological realities we experienced as children and how it affects the adults we are today.

Maybe as a child, your parents divorced. The breaking up of your family almost destroyed you…

Perhaps you had a parent who made you feel unwanted or unloved….as an adult, you fear intimacy and are hypervigilant of rejection.

Or maybe you had a parent who made you feel less than. Now as an adult, you make others feel less than to keep the attention off yourself.

Maybe you felt ugly as a child. You learned to eat in response to emotional pain. Now as an adult you are overweight because you eat for reasons other than hunger.

Or perhaps a kid you watched your parents constantly fight making you HATE and AVOID conflict. NOW as an adult, it is a struggle to even acknowledge negative feelings.

Although each of our childhoods are unique, what we learned in childhood will be exemplified in the lies we tell ourselves as adults.

Understanding our self-deception is the most important thing we can do to live a fulfilling life. Only when we accept who we truly are can we begin to change.

We are responsible for our lives. To lie to ourselves is to cheat ourselves of living an authentic life.

Do you compromise yourself to avoid the pain of facing the truth? Reflect on the ways you deceive yourself on a daily basis.

Self deception leads to pain and regret. We make choices with harmful consequences to ourselves and others. We choose not to change even when it causes pain to ourselves and those around us. We use self-deception to justify such behavior.

When we don’t take responsibility for who we are we hurt ourselves and everyone around us.

How do we start acknowledging the lies we tell ourselves and become more honest? The first step is self-awareness. Become an observer of yourself.

When you have a strong emotional reaction—pause.

When what you say doesn’t match how you act—pause.

Learn to respond NOT react.

Recognize when you are thinking irrational thoughts…and pause.

Recognize when your emotions are overriding your rational mind…and pause.

Often we becomes so focused on others in our lives. Why they said this. Why they did that. Never looking at our contribution to the relationship or the role we played.

When you are unresolved about someone or something…pause.

Ask yourself…what does my reaction to this situation say about me? As we become more honest and aware we become more responsible for our choices. The need to self-deceive lessens as we are living a life more true to ourselves.

Not changing when confronted with the truth is a choice. We worry about what facing the truth may mean.

The best way to overcome self-deception is counseling. It will be probably the only relationship in your life that exists solely to benefit you.

Confronting our self-deception is a lifelong process. If we are courageous enough to change, life will offer us new opportunities to understand ourselves. There is always more to learn.

Be more honest. Choose to become more honest with yourself. Choose to live the most fulfilling life you can–you only got one.

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822

etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

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anxiety, counseling, goals, humility, psychology, regrets, relationshipadvice, self-help

Who is Your Ideal Self? 2019 is the Year to Be Happy and At Peace with Yourself

Hello, 2019!

We are officially in the kickoff of the New Year. It is the year before we head into the Roaring 20’s and you can bet next year will be a doozy, old sport.

New Year’s Day can feel surreal. Many of us are probably in the midst of setting our 2019 resolutions. (Or recovering from the night before–a time well spent with family and friends celebrating the end of 2018).

Goals are important. Setting goals give you a long-term vision and short-term motivation. Goals are what move us forward in life.

Personally, I am a big believer in writing down your goals. Research has shown that people who write their goals and dreams down on a regular basis achieve those desires at a significant higher level than those who did not.

I spent some time dedicated solely to jotting lists broken down into categories of different goals: Financial, Career, Health, Emotional Life, New Experiences, Intellectual Life, Relationships, Volunteer, To Do Around House, Family, Life Vision, etc. (Not going to lie, I LOVE making a good list).

Everyone would have different categories based on their life circumstances and values.

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It can be an emotional day come January 1st.

Mixed emotions may come about. We may feel overwhelmed about what are realistic, worthy goals to set for yourself.

While hope and motivation may be at the forefront of your mind, for others, there can be something so unsettling about the start of another new year.

Perhaps you are asking yourself, how did a whole year fly by just like that? That in and of itself can feel unreal. Time seems to be moving more quickly with each passing year. It can seem like we were JUST starting 2018 not too long ago. It is a bit wild how the years seem to fly by, blurring together.

For others, they can be facing feelings of melancholy about another year coming to pass. Another year where they did not achieve any of the goals they set out to accomplish. Or a realization that their life has long become stagnant. They cannot remember the last year where they did something new or different. They may feel unmotivated and uninspired realizing they have spent not just the last year but the last SEVERAL years procrastinating their goals. Many goals may have been lost along their journey through life.

The hard pill to swallow is a New Year can bring about the hard realization you may be stuck in a rut. Your life has become stagnant and you didn’t even realize it was happening.

As a therapist, the last couple weeks of the year, I find clients will often share renewed goals for the new year. But more commonly they will share with me the disappointments of the previous year.

Many of us view the beginning of a new year as the best time to make behavioral changes and overcome unhealthy habits. I know I buy into this time of year being an opportune time to catalyze change in my personal life.

Each new year is a blank slate.

Emotionally, a new year can be trying. It can feel upsetting IF we are not any closer to our goals or becoming the ideal person we hold in our mind (we all have this so-called ideal self–possibly a thinner, richer, smarter, more successful, more athletic, more charming, healthier, more ambitious version of ourself). If you feel this way, instead of building yourself up, you may spend New Year’s day beating yourself up over the failures of 2018.

The fact is we can never get rid of ALL the negative aspects of ourselves because those are very real parts of us. We all have parts of ourselves we struggle to accept.

We all have dreams we are chasing whether we share them with others or not.

The end of the year can turn into a tailspin.

Perhaps the last few months you have shelved even TRYING to become the ideal person you hold in your mind.

Perhaps you have even forgotten what your ideal self even looks like.

Yet goals that connect with our “ideal self” are most effective. The New Year presents an opportune time to connect with that ideal self.  When we RESOLVE to change, we feel better—more in control, more hopeful, more confident.

According to Carl Rogers, one of my favorite theorists, we ALL are constantly working towards self-actualization. According to Rogers, self-actualization occurs when we achieve our goals, wishes, desires.

According to Rogers (1959), we want to feel, experience and behave in ways which are consistent with our self-image and which reflect what we would like to be like, our ideal-self.  The closer our self-image and ideal-self are to each other, the more consistent or congruent we are and the higher our sense of self-worth.

But sometimes we lose ourselves on our journey to self-actualization.

This is why counseling can be a great first step to helping you get back in touch with the person you aspire to be. It can help you close the gap between your ideal self and your actual self. It can help get you back in touch with the REAL YOU, not the you who has been operating on auto pilot. A person is said to be in a state of incongruence if some of the totality of their experience is unacceptable to them and is denied or distorted in the self-image (Rogers).

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Steps to Achieving your Ideal Self

1)Reflect on your current self vs. your ideal self. What don’t you like about your current behavior? What accomplishments are you proud of? What are parts of your current self you would never want to change? What are parts of yourself that you have never seemed to be ABLE to change?

You are the life you lead–so choose your path mindfully.

How do you handle adversity? How you handle conflict? Can you keep your cool under pressure? How do you talk to yourself when you mess up?

What standards would you like to uphold going forward? What kind of person would you ideally like to be? Most importantly: WHY is it important to make these changes? Having a strong why is a MUST for lasting change.

2)Reflect on COMPETING GOALS. The fact is many of us have competing goals vying for our attention and time. We need to not be so hard on ourselves when we have to shift focuses. Life is truly a balancing act. It can be hard to strike a balance between being a good parent with a demanding career. Being social while being on a strict diet. Traveling the world while saving money. Managing our various goals can be TOUGH. You need to have flexibility in your expectations depending on what is taking precedence at any given time. Let go of absolutes in your thinking patterns–ALWAYS, MUST, SHOULD, NEVER.

3)What would you do–if money— was not a concern? For many people, money is a defining factor in their life. For others, it is a limiting factor. How differently would you live your life (if different at all) if money was not a factor? The answer can be telling.

4)What do you want people to say about you and your life at your funeral? Great parent? Good friend? Successful? Well-traveled? Kind soul? Did a lot of good for others? No answer is right. But how you answer this question reflects much on what you value in life.

5)Remember you ARE the life you lead. Ask yourself–what is your day-to-day life like now? Are you a dedicated parent? A career driven professional? Someone who makes time for loved ones? A fitness fanatic? Dedicated to healthy eating? Are you kind? Are you thoughtful? Are you having an impact in a positive way the lives of others? Are you well-read? Do you travel? Do you do the right thing? Do you sit by silently when you see someone being mistreated? Do you mistreat others? Do you mistreat yourself?

6)Remember you ARE how you spend your money. Ask yourself–do you value experiences over materialistic objects? Do you pour all your money into living the most extravagant lifestyle you can or do you live below your means saving for the future? Both are reflective of YOU AND YOUR VALUES. Do you spend more than you should? Do you save? OR do you feel well-balanced between the two?

7)Remember you ARE what you eat. Ask yourself—do you eat like you love yourself? Do you far too often indulge in processed food, sugar, and fried food? Are you committed to healthy eating? Are you committed to your health, period?

8)Revise your goals to better reflect your limitations and true capabilities. It is important to be honest with our positive and negative qualities. We ALL have limitations. Often our goals feel because we do not take said limitations into account. Be kind to yourself but be realistic. All unrealistic goals do is set you up for failure (and pain).

Most importantly: Our daily life IS who we are. How do you spend your days? If today, was your last day on Earth, could you say you are proud of the life you led? Are you happy with your day-to-day existence?

These questions may seem like a lot to think about and reflect on. The answers will be unique fo all of us and a reflection of our values. One caveat to keep it mind is we are ALL human. Do not expect to tackle EVERYTHING you set out to do all at once. We cannot expect to be our IDEAL self 100% of the time. Life happens (stress happens). None of us are always in a total state of congruence. If you are feeling overwhelmed, consider speaking with a therapist who can help you unload and process through some of those feelings.

Make 2019 the year you work hard, but work JUST AS HARD on self-compassion and being kind to yourself, as you stumble along the way to achieving your ideal self.

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To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

 

counseling, goals, psychology, regrets, relationships, self-help

Regret: Are You Living or Merely Existing?

Who among us can say they have lived a life without ANY regrets?

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I would be suspicious of anyone who says they do not have at least a few regrets to their name (if they are passed a certain age that is).

Regret is an emotional state I wish on no one. Yet regrets are inevitable in life as we are all fallible human beings who make mistakes.

Thus maybe the best we can hope for in life is to have the right regrets.

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We are in the full swing of the holiday season. The holidays are a time of retrospection. If one struggles with regret, this time of year, it is sure to come to the surface.

Regret is common. Whether we acknowledge our regrets, to ourselves or others, is a separate issue.

Every one of us make mistakes in life. We ALL veer off course, make blunders, and fail. It’s is human nature.

Regret is a negative state that entails blaming ourselves for a bad outcome, feeling a sense of loss or sorrow at what might have been or wishing we could undo a previous choice that we made. 

Regret can be beneficial. It can push you to take corrective action–to attempt to right a past wrong. But some times there is no making right certain actions previously taken….and if that is the case you are likely to have chronic stress and ruminate over the past.  It is hard to move on when you cannot correct the mistakes of the past. In life, we don’t always get do-overs. This feeling of powerlessness and helplessness to change the past is one of the most horrendous aspects of regret.

We may regret how certain relationships unfolded. Most likely we will feel regret if our actions are to blame. Whether through not making the effort to stay in touch or from burning bridges. Inaction and undesirable action can both lead to feelings of regret.

Many of our chosen behaviors can lead to regret. Telling lies. Taking your loved ones for granted. Damaging a work relationship by blurting out something in the heat of the moment. Not following through on a promise to a client. Acting out our anger. Putting pride before those we care for.  Putting work before family. Putting our kids before our marriage. Perhaps we deny others happiness.  Or deny ourselves happiness. We may act against, not for other people. All sources of great regret later in life.

The thing is you see you reap what you sow. We all have the freedom to choose but we are not free from the consequences of those choices. This includes the emotional consequences of our choices.

Often times in counseling, I see people firsthand, face up to the emotional consequences of how they choose to live their life.

Regret comes from how we choose to live our life. Choices we made. Behaviors we executed. Or failed to execute. Regret is a painful emotion to face.

Here is a great article on the difference between regret vs. remorse.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/stop-caretaking-the-borderline-or-narcissist/201507/regret-vs-remorse

Our regrets may arise from living unconsciously. We forget to live in the moment. We follow the goals set forth for us by our parents, society, anyone BUT us. We live a life pretending to be someone we are not. We do not stand up for ourselves or others. We disregard our health and wellness. We hold ourselves back. We refuse to let go. We resist change getting ourselves stuck while the rest of the world moves on.

Sadly as people we are not very good at predicting what will bring us most happiness in the future. We are not able to accurately think about our future selves (hence why so many people do not plan for retirement or watch their weight/monitor their health–because their future selves do not seem REAL to them).

In Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness, Gilbert shows how terrible we are at predicting what makes us happy. If you don’t listen to your own deepest values, one day you’ll regret having taken life too seriously and worrying too much about what others think. You will regret living a life that was not true to who you are.

Regret arises when we engage in forms of self-sabotage.

How do we self-sabotage? Procrastination. Acting out our anger. Self-injury. Comfort eating. Avoiding the doctor. Inaction. Self-medicating. The list goes on and on.

Just because we are adult does not mean our dreams just go away. Yes, we get older and our priorities and responsibilities change, but we still have things we want to be and goals we want to fulfill. We all have an idealized version of our self in our mind,  and while we will never be able to achieve every goal we imagine, we can’t even begin to approach our ideal self without giving it a try.

So…what does YOUR ideal life look like?

If you had a second chance at life, what would you do differently?

It is never too late.

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So take a moment to reflect.

What goals have you never been able to pull the trigger on? What dreams have you started to pursue only to quit? People are far more resilient than we give ourselves credit for.

What people do you regret losing touch with? What bridges did you burn that you regret? People are amazingly forgiving, especially if you take all of the right steps, to rectify such behavior.

Counseling can be a helpful avenue to pursue to help you or someone you know cope with feelings of regret. When people spend years fixating on a regrettable choice they often need professional help to move past it, and seeking counseling can help people talk through, understand, and move beyond regret.

It is time to take responsibility for your own life and your own happiness.  All the often we merely exist instead of live. We all have hopes, dreams, and things we’ve always wanted to do in life, but we put them off until “tomorrow.” And tomorrow often never comes. Everyone experiences challenges, but we all have choices. It is up to you to get the ball rolling. Or live with regret. The choice is yours.

Ask yourself. Are you LIVING or merely EXISTING?

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com