Do these expressions sound familiar?
“I don’t have a drinking problem”; however you binge drink every day. “I am not insecure”, on the other hand, you constantly check your partner’s phone. “I only cheated on you because you didn’t give me enough attention”. “I didn’t indulge more than usual”.
Are you someone who justifies taking the office stapler because you are not getting paid enough? Are you making excuses for your frustrations after coming home from a busy day at work? Are you calling someone a liar, but you lie in the same way? Are you looking for a stable relationship, but you make excuses for running away?
Every single one of us tells lies daily. We are masters at self-deception. Psychologists call it “cognitive dissonance”. The uncomfortable tension between whom we believe we are and how we behave or lie to ourselves. Why do we do that? It is an inherent self-protection mechanism of the subconscious mind. We don’t have enough psychological strength to admit the truth about ourselves and face the consequences that will follow. We would rather deny, rationalize or project our unwanted feelings onto the situation or other people. “That definitely cannot be me” is a natural reaction when we are faced with the uncomfortable truth.
Furthermore, we convince ourselves strongly that the stories we tell are genuine. We are then faced with a situation that will show us the contrary about our beliefs; our subconscious mind will “protect” us by believing our own lies. We do this to cope with our problems, challenges, or difficulties faced with uncomfortable situations. We are not strong enough to admit that we are insecure and vulnerable. We try to avoid confronting the uncomfortable realities of life.
How did we adopt this coping mechanism?
According to Dr. Cortney Warren, self-deception starts in childhood where we observe and make up conclusions about ourselves and our environment. Perhaps you had an absent parent when you were growing up. It may be that a parent walked out on the family. Maybe a parent tried to commit suicide, and you assumed as a child that “you are not good enough” and that “people will always leave you”. Currently, as an adult, you struggle with relationships as you believe that “no one will ever love you and want to stay”.
Perhaps you were teased as a child about your appearance, and you found comfort in eating as a response to emotional pain. As an adult, you still struggle to maintain a healthy weight due to emotional eating. Perhaps you were molested as a child, and today, you struggle to trust and be vulnerable with people close to you.
Irrelevant of our childhood up bring, it still affects our identity today. On an unconscious level, we lie about the painful realities that occurred as a child in order to protect ourselves as adults.
Psychologists like Sigmund Freud said that we use self-deception to protect our egos – the core sense of self – from information that will hurt us.
Below are some of the basic mechanisms of self-deception:
- Denial: Refusing to believe that something is true even though it is. “I am not an alcoholic”; however, you binge drink every day.
- Rationalization: Creating a reason to excuse ourselves or justify our actions. “I know smoking is bad for my health, but it helps me relax”.
- Projection: Taking an undesirable aspect of ourselves and ascribing it to someone else or looking to blame someone else. In saying, “You are not ready for a relationship”, when in fact, YOU, yourself, are not ready to be committed.
- Polarized Thinking: This is when you are thinking in extremes. “I might as well eat the whole slab of chocolate as I have already blown my diet by eating just three blocks”.
- Emotional Reasoning: Thinking that our feelings accurately reflect our reality. “I feel stupid; consequently, I am stupid”.
- Over Generalization: Thinking that a single adverse event is an infinite spiral of defeat. For instance, going through a bad break-up, your thoughts are, “I am always going to be alone”.
We ask ourselves, “Why should we care?”
Self-deception prevents us from living our true authentic selves. Through our lies, we cause massive hurt and pain not only to ourselves but also to those around us. We frequently make choices with harmful consequences that lead to a life full of regrets as we cannot change past decisions.
Some people may use drugs, excessive alcohol, overeating, extreme shopping, gamble, lie, leave people or pass emotional baggage onto those they love the most. Some of us choose not to change, although we are miserable and cause profound harm to those around us. If you do not become aware of your self-deception and consciously try not to continue lying to yourself, you will live an unfulfilling life and keep on repeating the same mistakes until you face your truth.
How do we start acknowledging the lies we tell ourselves? How do we face the truth?
We need to become more self-aware. We have to start observing ourselves and the intense emotional reactions we have when confronted with a choice or difficult situation. When our words and actions don’t correspond: “pause; reflect and face the fear”.
When we are thinking irrational thoughts: “pause; reflect and face the fear”. We should ask ourselves what this emotion or reaction is saying about us? Be honest with yourself, and don’t be afraid of what you have to face about yourself. As we become honest, we take greater responsibility for our choices. If we admit that we are insecure, we choose to work on the insecurity. By choosing not to change when we are confronted with the truth is a choice, and we will have to accept the consequences that will follow that choice.
Asking for help is not a weakness. Reach out to a Counselor or Coach who can help you face your truth and work through it. It takes tremendous courage to become vulnerable and open up to a stranger, but it will be the best investment in your life to become free from self-deception.
Confronting our self-deception is a lifelong journey. We are given opportunities daily to make better choices by facing our lies and not thinking of the consequences. It’s not an easy journey but one that will lead to a more fulfilling life.
Please feel free to contact me for assistance in confronting your lies, inner conflict, or negative self-beliefs.
Debbie Hartmann, Life, Relationship and Teen Coach @ My Kinda Life Coaching.