Self-deception is a defense mechanism.
And defense mechanisms exist for this sole purpose: to protect you from whatever your mind considers dangerous or painful.
And if the truth is going to be painful, or if it’s going to hurt your ego or self-esteem somehow, it’ll be flushed down the toilet without a second thought.
There’s a part of your brain that doesn’t care about what’s useful, correct, true, or beneficial. It only cares about what’s safe and what feels good at the moment (instant gratification).
Whenever something doesn’t feel safe or doesn’t feel good, whenever something threatens your self-esteem or ego, and whenever something feels like it takes a lot of work and requires facing discomfort, this part goes crazy!
It goes into the defensive mode. It uses all the defense mechanisms it has to protect you. To protect you from this seemingly dangerous, and uncomfortable, situation that requires you to enter the dark corners of your brain and call yourself ugly names sometimes.
And there you have it, self-deception and self-delusion.
In a nutshell, when the truth is too painful to admit, for whatever reason, it won’t come to the surface. It’ll be hidden beneath thousands of layers.
And that’s how most people live their lives. It hurts to see yourself where you actually are if you’re not proud of that place.
We’re living in a world where we can easily compare ourselves to millions of people through social media and internet. And it’s pretty easy to feel inferior and inadequate. It’s easy to feel bad about yourself because it’s not hard to find someone out there who is killing it.
So, it’s not the best option to look inferior or admit that something is wrong with your behavior or attitude. Trying to look perfect seems like a better option. And the interesting part is that we don’t only try to look perfect in front of other people, but we also try to look perfect in front of ourselves.
The tendency to look perfect, in front of other and in front of yourself, doesn’t allow a place for questioning yourself, motives, intentions, behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs. And without this questioning, everything will stay the same (and gets worse every day).
We weren’t raised to admit that we sometimes suck. And more importantly, we weren’t raised to realize that admitting that we suck sometimes doesn’t make us bad, inferior, weak, or inadequate. In contrast, it makes us stronger because it opens the door for improvement, change, and growth.
Read that again and let it sink in!
To say that I suck, to say that I have a specific problem, to say that I lack a certain skill, to say that I have no clue what I am doing with my life, to say that I suffer in a specific area in my life, doesn’t make me bad or inferior. It doesn’t mean that I’m not worthy. It’s a room for improvement. After all, I’m not perfect, no one is.
Look, it’s your sense of shame of having problems that will cause you to deny them (and make them grow bigger). It’s your belief that having problems, flaws, or issues means that something is wrong with you. That you’re worth nothing, or that other people are better than you because you have those problems and they don’t (they do in fact). After all, why would you deny something unless you think it’s shameful to have it in the first place?
You have to accept the fact that we all have our own flaws, mistakes, imperfections, rooms for improvements, or whatever you call them. And admitting that you have some doesn’t necessary mean that you’re an alien, it means you’re a human.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to preach the notion “accept yourself the way you are!” What I’m trying to say is “forgive yourself for having flaws, mistakes, and imperfections so you can fix them.” You admit them so you can work on a solution, so you can improve and grow, goddamn it!
And, counter-intuitively, denying and hiding these flaws will make them grow bigger and bigger. Acknowledging them will give you, for the first time, the chance to overcome them and improve.
Self-awareness and honesty are the first steps to turn these flaws into chances for growth, period.
As you can see, we can safely assume that at the core of self-deception lies fear. We’re afraid of something and that’s why we delude ourselves.
So, courage is needed. Courage is not the opposite of fear, the opposite of fear is recklessness. Courage is acting despite the fear. Without fear, one can’t be brave.
This is the ugly part. Self-awareness and honesty with one’s self require facing whatever fears you have. That’s painful. And you have to be OK with that pain, knowing that it’s the price that you must pay in order to change.
How to overcome self-delusion
We’re talking about honesty. So, I need to be totally honest with you.
I can’t show you an exact step-by-step plan to be honest with yourself. There’s no such thing.
All I can give you are a few tips that will help you do that. If by now you’re aware of how important it is to be honest with yourself, and you’re willing to taste that bitter honesty, then those tips are going to be helpful.
Here you go:
- Ask yourself the most dangerous question that has ever been asked: “what if?” is a very powerful question. What if you were wrong? What if you were deluding yourself? What if you’ve been doing it wrong all this time? What if your strategies/mentalities are wrong? You don’t have to wrong yourself, but at least consider the possibility and imagine for a while that you’re wrong. What scenarios would happen if you were wrong? How should you act if you were wrong in order to make things right? You see, if you can’t admit that something is wrong, you’ll not work on fixing it and thus no change will happen.
- Examine your past: I’m sure there have been times in your life when you were wrong about something. We’re only humans. You’re not always right. Recall these situations to remember that you can do wrong, that you might be wrong, or that it’s not that bad to be wrong. It’ll even help you look at your current situation and ask what if I’m wrong this time as well. Note that you’re not doing this to shame yourself, you’re doing it to admit what’s wrong to improve, that’s the intention that should guide your actions.
- Develop a thicker skin and some courage: when you’re unfazed by the pain or fear of being wrong, you’ll be more honest. When you’re not afraid of pain, uncertainty, unknowns, or whatever, you’ll expose yourself openly and bravely.
This article is an excerpt from my book The Art of Change.