If it feels like life is on an unpleasant tape loop from which you can’t escape, perhaps you are indulging in the addictive practice of self-deception.
According to some experts and psychologists, self-deception is an unavoidable human trait that has allowed us to survive as a species. We tell ourselves we are invincible to motivate ourselves to overcome “adversaries”; we tell ourselves that things aren’t so bad so that we can “carry on.” However, some wise folk would argue that just the opposite is true. Bertrand Russell once wrote that “no satisfaction based upon self-deception is solid, and however unpleasant the truth may be, it is better to face it once and for all, to get used to used to it and build your life in accordance with it.” There is a saying that if you remove the rock from the flower that it will grow all on its own, and self-deception is certainly one of the biggest “rocks” we have going.
Lying to oneself can be used in the service of paranoia as much as it is denial, and if it becomes habitual, our lives become constricted, stuck and usually miserable. Perhaps it’s time to throw out some old perceptions in order to plug into your own life force; perhaps you’re ready for some inner feng shui so that your life can be the gratifying experience it was meant to be. What follows are some signs that you’re on the self-deception treadmill and what you can do to get off it.
1. You’re constantly telling yourself you’re not good enough. Unfortunately, we’re pelted all day long with messages from the media that we’re never thin, pretty or rich enough. Compound that with negative messages we received as children from family or school, and there’s a recipe for lifelong low-grade depression. Cut down on television and fashion mags. Take note of all the positive things people have said about you, and keep them in a folder so that you can refer to this information when you feel low. Be your own mother, the one you’ve dreamed of, and refute the negative voices that keep you down. Talk to supportive friends as a reality check. Take on small projects and goals, and validate yourself for taking them on, as a good parent would.
2. You’re better than them, and it’s always “their fault.” If you find yourself constantly remarking internally on the idiocy and insensitivity of others, perhaps it’s time to look in the mirror. Blame is incredibly addictive and allows us to bypass the truth of our own motivations. If this blame enables rages or tantrums, you’re now using your perceptions of blame to manipulate and control others around you, which then empowers the self-fulfilling prophecy that indeed they “don’t like” you. Slow down, and breathe. Make sure you’re eating properly and keeping hydrated. Are you in some physical pain that’s making you irritable? Are you expecting people to take care of you in ways you need to take care of yourself? Write an inventory of your own behaviors. Try communicating before blowing up. Try delegating tasks instead of controlling the situation.
3. You have a drug or alcohol problem. Your spouse or mate has a drug or alcohol problem. The very core of addiction is denial of reality, an insidious form of self-deception that is actually deadly. If you have a full-blown habit going on, you’re masking old hurts and resentments that are taking their toll on your physical body and exponentially hurting those around you. Ask for help. Go to an AA or Al-Anon meeting. You can’t do this alone. Seriously.
4. You make sweeping generalizations about “how people are.” Generalizations make us feel safe from the uncertainty of life, but it is a deadening safety that closes off our minds and spirits. We are taught to generalize from a young age, so it is a hard habit to break. Interacting with people on an individual-to-individual basis, recognizing that they need and feel all the things you do, is hard but liberating work and effortlessly opens up new possibilities.
5. You’re incapable of trusting yourself. Nothing is as dispiriting and lonely as being unable to trust your own perceptions. Self-deception in all its forms estranges us from ourselves and similarly from others. We are born with a sense of what and who is good or bad for us, and over time, trauma and misunderstanding can strip us of our own intuition. As cliched and mushy as it sounds, acquainting ourselves with and loving “the inner child” can bring us back to the right place.
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