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Self-Deception: Do We All Do It? Is It Good, Bad, or Both?

(1526 words)

Self-deception has been a recent mind-provoking concept to me. I needed to read and write about it. How we lie to ourselves and accept the lies and overtime we believe they are the truth and not the root of our sufferings. 

With self-deception, we try to hide our flaws and make a good self-image that makes us feel like a better person.

But don’t we often say, “Fake it to make it”? Are there occasions that self-deception can play a positive role? When old beliefs create a barrier and try to convince me that I am not good enough and I believe it because I don’t know better, maybe fake confidence can help me to break through the barriers! 

Self-deception like any other phenomena in life has both sides of the coin. It’s that how we draw the truth from either side.

Bringing a systematic and integral approach to self-deception, we want to be able to recognize the act of self-deception and bring a perspective to it to see the bigger picture. The bigger the perspective becomes, the better it shows us that we don’t have to be fake, and our real self is as accepted as possible. We will be able to see that everyone has flaws and that is just simply being human or any creature. Do we question a tree’s appearance because of a few dried branches? 

In an integral approach, we see ourselves as part of a bigger system and try to remind ourselves of the interconnection between us and the system we live in, the impacts of the system on us and the impacts we create on the system.

If I lie and pretend to myself and others that I am wealthy, then others’ expectations will be different, and I have to lie more every day. If I pretend that I am physically strong while really feeling weak and tired, others count on me as strong and when I break, it impacts others’ lives who counted on my support. If I pretend that I am always right and never make a mistake, after a while other people don’t trust me and my relationships become shallow, and I feel lonely. If I deny any tension in a relationship and pretend everything is smooth, would the tension go away? How about the wrong relationship I stayed in longer that I should have? We know the true answer to most of these questions but there are many times we prefer to be self-deceiver and choose a shortcut to avoid being distracted from our distractions in life; especially when we think we know everything!

And not only that, despite the quick gratification we gain, constant lying to ourselves could create anxiety and release excess cortisol and adrenaline that impact the health of our nerve system and physical being. It takes away the energy that we could spend on actualizing more of our potential. 

In dealing with self-deception, we could live with outdated beliefs and values. So, we may force our environment to follow us or at least we make it uncomfortable for others who have other beliefs and values. Our outdated beliefs create habits that are mostly disturbing, and we think our beliefs are the truth.

In the 70s and 80s working long hours and being busy on a job was established as a value to be a great employee. Today newer generations value work-life balance and would like to get more out of their potential in different ways other than focusing only on their jobs. How many of us deal with this conflict of value in our work environment? 

Self-deception has so many layers of complexity especially when it reaches some life routines. I know my cell phone that I touch every minute of my life is made of material that is mined by child-labor, I look for opportunities to raise voice and support organizations against child-labor. And yet, I need a newer phone because I live in a society that is filled with status-oriented advertisements that falsely convince me a happy life full of merchandize is what I need! Is it? You see the paradox? 

How about voting for a political figure who could create more harm for the society as a whole but do one good thing in the small community I live in?

You see how complicated it could be especially under the current economic system we live in!?

Anyway, self-deception is a self-defense mechanism that is supposedly to make us feel better about our life. But it doesn’t work, it back lashes, and eventually makes us feel dissatisfied, uncomfortable, and even unsafe.

Here are examples of self-deception mechanisms that we subconsciously and habitually use in our everyday life. This is extracted from Self Deception – Part 2 – 60+ Self-Deception Mechanisms by

  • I think I got reality figured out
  • I think my mind never lies to me
  • Underestimating the power of self-deception in my everyday life
  • Current science is all the fact and if I don’t understand something scientifically it doesn’t exist
  • Or I believe in all of thoughts my mind creates.

In his book Thinking, Fast & Slow, Daniel Kahneman says, “The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little.” In simpler words it means we assume our perception of the world is the ultimate reality and there is no other reality other than what we see. Where, in fact, there are countless realities or aspects of a reality based on people’s perception.

Our perception – explained in How Emotions Are Made book review – is constructed based on our survival beliefs – many of them have been shaped as our cognitive biases, life experiences, distorted memories, cultural norms, and social realities, which are usually very subjective and narrow. Kendra Cherry explains the cognitive biases and how to deal with them in this article very well. It is up to us to take responsibility and bring those unconscious biases to the consciousness of our lives.

The more we can clean our lenses to reality and practice self-awareness, the better we can work on the self-deception beliefs in our life. We can enhance our perceptions. It is a lifelong practice that we need to commit to with self-compassion. The gentler we are with ourselves, the better we see the beliefs that lead us to lying to ourselves. Then with more self-kindness and self-acceptance, we can try to gradually change those beliefs and their related habits. Small

steps are always more doable and eventually will make a long path. The more we bring our subconscious to the light of consciousness, the freer we live. 

And why self-compassion? Because research studies show that self-deception could be mostly based on subconscious beliefs and even part of our biological evolution to survive that is witnessed in other mammals too. So, let’s be kind to ourselves and find how we can contribute to the rest of the evolutionary process since in so many cases, self-deception no longer serves us. It probably did as a survival mechanism many thousand years ago, but it is time to begin the change to survive in the new era. It is beyond me and you and belongs to all of us. Let’s all try to do our best. Evolution continues… 

We just have to make sure we don’t mistake self-compassion with justifying our deceiving behavior. 

Here is my suggestion to deal with this phenomenon. Next time we hear the soft voice coming from our hearts on any of our actions, let’s pay attention to it rather than silencing it. Look at the questions below. Allow the voice to get louder by contemplating on these questions.

Repeating this cycle and answering these questions can widen our perspective to help changing our old habits and obsolete beliefs over time. Using our analytical skills and critical thinking will help us to make a better world for ourselves. Don’t worry about doing it perfectly the first time. Just try your best and repeat it every time you hear the inner voice. Listen to it. Awareness is the first step. We can do it! 

Awareness part:

  • Am I experiencing a powerful unpleasant feeling? Am I uncomfortable?
  • Am I feeling like a victim?
  • Am I feeling guilty?
  • Am I feeling powerless?
  • Am I feeling too anxious about the matter?
  • Am I trying to change someone else?
  • Am I responsible for any part of this problem?
  • Am I justifying my action feeling a short-lived pleasure or confidence?
  • Am I self-deceiving?

Analysis part:

  • What does my reaction say about me? 
  • How can I see other aspects of this event? From others’ point of view? Imagining different outcomes?
  • How much do I know about other characters in this story? (If there are any)
  • Is my action along with my values? My morality?
  • What habits are behind it?
  • What beliefs support those habits?
  • Do I agree with those beliefs?
  • Where do I sense it in my body?
  • What can I do? What skills do I need to develop to change those beliefs? What’s the next first small step for me?

I will be honored, if I can be a help as a coach to company you through this journey.

Including a few good links to read and watch on the concept of self-deception:

The Psychology of Self-Deception

Self-Deception 23/30 The Problem of Not Knowing You Have a Problem

To get more to the philosophical side of it, read Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Self Deception

Seeing it from Jungian analyst point of view as the Trickster archetype 

Let’s create more clarity on our reality,


Photo by Ron Lach on