As much as we are rational animals, that does not mean that we have a reasonable and realistic picture of what we have most at hand: ourselves. It may be paradoxical, but having access to almost all the information about who we are and how we feel does not mean that it is reliable.
In fact, there are many situations in which those who understand us best are others , just because we are other people. The biased view of one’s own self is a burden that each of us carries, while our friends, family and colleagues already have the advantage of observing us from a more distant and, on many occasions, analytical perspective.
In short, there are many ways in which we lie to ourselves so as not to compromise certain aspects of our own mentality.
The importance of cognitive dissonance
Why do we try to remain blind to those aspects of reality that we do not like, if knowing them could be useful to us in solving them? The answer lies in a well-known concept in the world of psychology: cognitive dissonance.
Do you recognize that feeling of discomfort you experience when you realize that two beliefs you are attached to, or at least seem reasonable to you? That’s the key. To summarize, cognitive dissonance is the state of tension that appears when two or more beliefs enter into contradiction , since they are incompatible.
There are several ways to avoid cognitive dissonance or to cease its existence, and many of them do not lead us to a better understanding of reality based on the reflection of what we thought we knew so far. In this case, what happens is that we deceive ourselves. This happens in different ways, as we will see now.
In these ways we lie to ourselves
Although it may not seem like it, most people are more than happy to resort to self-deception to keep the mental image of who we are intact . The fact is that self-image is very delicate and, sometimes, the mechanisms we use to avoid confronting it with reality are automatic.
However, for the same reason that we try to preserve this self-image automatically, it is difficult to realize those moments when we are deceiving ourselves.
To make it easier for you to spot the warning signs of self-deception, here are the 4 ways we often deceive ourselves.
1. Confusing necessity with will
On many occasions, situations in which one party dominates the other are camouflaged under a false image of freedom. For example, there are couple relationships in which the glue that binds both parties is simply the fear of loneliness of one of them. This fear keeps the relationship going even though it is clearly harmful and asymmetrical.
In these cases, the person who is sustained by the dynamics of dependency believes that all those moments of discomfort he or she experiences are due to the sacrifices we are supposed to make for the sake of romantic love. Any indication that what is really happening is that her partner is vamping her, will be ignored by all means.
By the way, something similar often happens in the relationship that newly addicted people have with the substance they use.
2. play with the meaning of words
When it comes to alleviating the discomfort produced by cognitive dissonance, one of the most frequently used strategies consists of modifying our belief system to assign a new meaning to one of the contradictory ones and, thus, to get it to “fit” well into one’s own mentality.
If this results in a deep reflection on our beliefs and we end up accepting that reality is not as simple as we thought at first, that is likely to be a constructive and sobering experience. But if the only objective is to calm down as soon as possible that anxiety born from the uncertainty of not knowing what to believe, we will fall into self-deception.
Specifically, what is usually done in these cases is to “remove” a little of the concepts we use to understand certain plots of reality so that their meaning becomes more ambiguous and the illusion is created that the idea that was previously confronted with them now fits.
For example, someone who may believe that homosexuality is unnatural because it does not favor reproduction but, confronted with the idea that many heterosexual people choose not to have children, defend the idea that homosexuality is unnatural because it is a statistical abnormality, and so on, even give the concept of “unnatural” as many definitions as necessary.
3. Avoiding contact with dangerous ideas
Another way to deceive ourselves is to completely ignore one of these “dangerous ideas” , not to pay attention to it, to make it empty. Thus, it is common that if someone brings up this topic of conversation, the other person will reply with a “well, let’s not argue” or, sarcastically, with a “well, okay, only you have the absolute truth”. These are ways of winning an argument by not winning it, a lazy resource for not being in an uncomfortable situation.
4. Believing that we are the only ones who are unique
This is a very recurrent thought that is used as a shield for our self-image when everything around us screams in our face that we have a problem. Basically, it consists in believing that no matter how much the outside world is governed by objective truths, our case is unique and special , and no one can tell us what is happening to us or what will happen to us.
We see that people who smoke more than three cigarettes a day have serious problems quitting, but we believe that we, who do the same thing, have neither developed an addiction nor would we have problems if we wanted to quit that habit.