The Psychology of Self-Deception

with all that which a person allows to appear one may ask what is it meant to hide what should it divert the eyes from how far does he deceive himself in this action humans are adept at deception throughout our lives we deceive others as to our intentions our beliefs and our actions but more impactful may be the ways in which we deceive ourselves in this video we will examine the phenomenon of self-deception looking at why we do it the dangers that arise from it and whether we can rid ourselves of harmful deceptions and in the process improve our lives humans are imperfect beings each one of us is flawed in a diverse number of ways we make it countless mistakes are unsuccessful in many of our endeavors and are victims of numerous bad habits yet despite all this we have a basic need to think well of ourselves we want to believe that we are good people and that the path in life we have chosen is a noble one the easiest way to reconcile our need for a positive self-image with the existence of our many flaws and shortcomings is through hiding our defects both from ourselves as well as others in this pursuit we are often far more successful in deceiving ourselves than we are at hiding our flaws from those close to us this has been expressed by many thoughtful observers of the human condition across cultures and throughout human history a famous passage from the New Testament reads why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye while an ancient Japanese proverb conveys a similar message so you see the seven defects of others we do not see our own ten defects deceiving ourselves as to our flawed characters sometimes referred to as internal masking but self-deception takes another form called external masking whereby we deny aspects or events of the outer world which pose a threat to our self-image for example someone who believes they are a well-liked person may remain oblivious to social cues pointing to the fact that others dislike them the use of internal and external masking creates what can be called our noble lie this is the fictitious story we tell ourselves to maintain a positive self-image in the face of our many flaws while having a positive self-image is beneficial problems arise when it is too reliant on the use of internal and external masking for if our self deceptions become too flaunting of reality we become akin to an individual walking over a deep chasm on a pearly constructed bridge the chasm was life itself wrote Leo Tolstoy in his book Anna Karenina the bridge that artificial life while the bridge of our self deceptions may hold for many years we always face the risk that the bridge will break and we will be forced to confront the chasm of life which after years of lying to ourselves and denying rather than dealing with our weaknesses we will be ill-equipped to cope with there are many instances in every life where oneself deceptions begin to falter presenting an opportunity to break down the false self a process which while difficult is extremely beneficial in the long run however at such times faced with the terrifying prospect that one’s character was in many ways built on a lie it is far more likely that people will flee further in the opposite direction piling deception on deception to do this we run to the comfort of our daily routines busy ourselves with social concerns accumulate more material things and turn to the security of conformity there are insects that protect themselves against attackers by raising a cloud of dust wrote Kierkegaard likewise man instinctively protects himself against the truth by raising a cloud of numbers while conformity and the playing out of social roles can help shore up our bridges of self-deception this may in the end turn out to be more of a curse than a blessing forgiving the brevity of life it is far better to become aware of our deceptions while we still have time to change but sadly it is often only when one is at death’s doorstep that they come to recognize the vanity and falseness of their existence up to that point this idea is illustrated in the death of Yvonne Ilyich one of Leo Tolstoy’s masterpieces the main character in this work is a Russian magistrate who attains great success in rising to the top of Russian society however while enjoying the fruits of his labors he becomes afflicted by a terminal illness and reflecting deeply on the meaning of life is haunted by a nagging feeling that his life was wasted it is as if I had been going downhill while I imagined I was going up and that is really what it was I was going up in public opinion but to the same extent a life was ebbing away from me and now it is all done and there is only death this passage by Tolstoy strikes at the root of the danger of living at the mercy of our self-deceptions maintaining our illusions requires a massive amount of time and energy and often diverts our attention to vain pursuits therefore our ability to engage in projects and strive after goals which would lead to a more fulfilling life is greatly restricted to ensure that we don’t face a similar fate as Evon Ilyich it is crucial that we take a more honest look at ourselves and the life paths that our deceptions have led us down while most of us have spent years if not decades relying on our many self-deceptions it is still within our ability to break down our false self self deceptions are rooted in beliefs which at some point in the past we seriously entertained as it was awareness of our faults and the pain that accompanied them that produced the deceptions in the first place thus deep down it can be said that we all know the manner in which we deceive ourselves nietzsche suggested that one way we can make our faults more palatable is by viewing the development of our character as analogous to the creation of a work of art in its initial stages a work of art contains numerous flaws however an artist who deceives himself regarding these flaws never creates anything of worth instead a true artist must learn to observe the flaws and make the necessary Corrections some flaws may be beyond the artists ability to correct but instead of pretending they do not exist the artist can strive to find a purpose for them that contributes to the work as a whole in a similar vein with an awareness of our own flaws we can attempt to overcome them or when this is not possible accept them and see them as an expression of our uniqueness to give style to one’s character wrote Nietzsche a great and rare art it is practiced by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and then fit them into an artistic plan until every one of them appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye to succeed in this approach according to Nietzsche we should sculpt our character under the constraint of a single taste selecting a life project to act as a guide for our creation without this constraint we run the risk of losing ourselves in possibility that is of becoming overwhelmed by the myriad of choices regarding what to do and who to become but before we can choose an appropriate life project we must become aware of the weaknesses and flaws our deceptions are masking for a clearer vision of who we are will allow us to survey what options are realistically open to us so the seeker of his truest strongest deepest self wrote William James must review the list carefully and pick out the one on which to stake his salvation all other selves thereupon become unreal in bringing to fruition this new self of our creation Nietzsche suggested that the use of deception may still be required however the deception in this case would not be rooted in the need to mask our weaknesses as this only leads to stagnation rather than becoming what Nietzsche called the true poets and continuous creators of life he advocated the use of a subtle form of deception as a tool to initiate our transformation into the self we are striving to become Nietzsche understood that very often it is our actions which precede a change in our emotions and belief structures thus if one is striving to remake themselves initially they will need to act in a somewhat fraudulent manner or in other words they will need to act as the person they have not yet become but wish to be or as Nietzsche advised in human all too human when someone fervently wants for a very long time to seem something it will eventually be difficult for that person to be anything else the profession of almost everyone even of the artist begins with hypocrisy with an imitating from outside and a mimicking of what works effectively one who always wears the mask of friendly expressions must eventually gain power over benevolent moods without which the expression of friendliness cannot be affected and finally these moods gain power over him and he is benevolent there is no doubt that taking this route and trying to remake oneself is risky it requires enduring great pain in the unmasking of our self-deceptions and opens us up to the potential for ridicule however the alternative of remaining on the shaky bridge of our self deceptions may in the end entail far more suffering for like yvonne Ilyich and Tolstoy’s novel we risk wasting our life and only coming to the realization that we were in fact going downhill as Tolstoy put it rather than up when it is too late thus while we still have time to change we would be wise to heed the advice of the great Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky above all don’t lie to yourself he wrote the man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him or around him and so loses all respect for himself and for others you