How We Lie to Ourselves


A major obstacle to self-knowledge,
and in turn to a flourishing life is the tendency of one part
of our minds to lie to the other. We lie for what might initially seem like a very understandable reason, because we want to avoid pain. But in so doing, we hugely damage
our chances of happiness. There are four things we particularly
like to lie to ourselves about. We lie about all the problematic aspects. It would take so much effort to alter
our jobs, our relationships, our friendships, our health, our
habits, and ideas. We lie because we need
to think well of ourselves, and devoted to imagining that
we are essentially normal, without peculiar loves, hates,
and deviant thoughts. We lie because we don’t
want to feel so inadequate. And yet because
we lack so many good things. We lie because we’re furious with
certain people we’re supposed to love. And we lie because what we furious about feels so minor and pathetically petty
for a grown-up to care about. Given how risky the truth
about us can feel, we had to learn to be masters of deception. Our techniques are wide-ranging, devilish, and often hugely imaginative. Here are some of the leading maneuvers we
employ to pull the wool over our own eyes. Distraction/Addiction We identify something that
can powerfully keep our thoughts away from troubling inner confrontations. Online pornography’s a favorite.
The news another. Alcohol, a third. Work, a fourth. We don’t so much like these elements
in and of themselves. We like them for their ability to
keep us away from what we fear. Manic Cheeriness A sadness we haven’t been able to admit to, is often covered up with exaggerated
doses of manic cheeriness. We aren’t happy, so much as incapable
of allowing ourselves to feel even the slightest sadness. In case we were to be overwhelmed
by our buried grief. We develop a brittle insistent tendency
to say that, “All is very well”,
“This is lovely, isn’t it?” We might press leaving no room
for any ideas to the contrary. Irritability Denied anger with
a particular personal situation often seeps out into a
generalized irritability. So successful is the lie,
we don’t really know what’s up. We just keep losing our tempers. Someone moved the TV remote.
There are two eggs in the fridge. The electricity bill is slightly higher
than we expected. Anything can set us off. Our brains are so filled with
how frustrating, annoying things are. We have cleverly left no space at all for
focusing on the true and very sad issue. Denigration We tell ourselves that we simply
don’t care about something. Love or politics, career success
or intellectual life. That beautiful student or
the house we can’t afford. And we are very emphatic about
our lack of interest and complete disdain. We go to great lengths to make
it very clear to others and ourselves how absolutely unconcerned we are. Censoriousness We grow censorious and deeply disapproving
of certain kinds of behavior and people. What we don’t admit is
that was so full of condemnation, only because we need to ward off awareness that a part of us in fact really
likes the condemned element. We attack certain sexual tastes
as utterly deviant and beyond the pale, precisely because we have known
that we share them, somewhere inside ourselves. So we’re delighted when particular people
are arrested or shamed in the press. What they did was utterly awful,
we insist are outraged shielding us from any risks spotting
the connection between them and us. Defensiveness When there’s unwelcomed news, we may resort
to a highly successful diversionary tactic, taking offense. A colleague tries to give us
a bit of feedback. Instantly, we accuse them of rudeness,
arrogance in a sense of entitlement. A partner points something out. We get furious that they’re piling
pressure on us at a difficult point. Feeling offended takes up
all our attention. It muddies the waters. We no longer have to pay
attention to information that is it heart correct but challenging. Cynicism, Despair We’re sad about particular things. But confronting them would be so arduous,
we generalize and universalize the sadness. We don’t say that X or Y has made us sad. We say that everything is rather terrible
and everyone is rather awful. We spread the pain, in order that its
particular specific causes can no longer be the focus of attention. Our sadness gets, to put it metaphorically,
lost in the crowd. Why is lying to ourselves a problem? We need to tell yourself the truth
when we can, for the simple reason that
we often pay a very high price for the short-term calm of our lies. We miss key opportunities
for growth and learning. We’re not very nice to be around. We develop harmful systems. And not least, the truth will be out. When we don’t let it emerge, it has a tendency to reveal itself through
involuntary often physical symptoms. We become insomniac or impotent. An eyelid starts twitching. We acquire a stutter, and scream
in our sleep and lose energy. We fall into depression. We owe it to ourselves to dare
to start to confront our real nature.

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