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):
Erin Doyle Theodorou, M.Ed, LPC, NCC
Anew Counseling Services LLC
617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649