May 6

Self-Deception

May 6, 2015

Personal Growth

As I talk to people who claim to want a change in their lives, one of the biggest obstacles to their growth is a tendency to insist on being right.

Oddly, it couldn’t be more obvious that they’re NOT right, so why do they persist in their insistence that all is well? Because we human beings tend to have an unnatural talent for deceiving ourselves. We believe we have qualities we do not have. We believe in principles that are not true but rather simply serve to confirm our own feelings and behaviors.

I do not feel critical or impatient with people who are self-deceived. By definition, in fact, self-deception MUST be blind. If we have truly deceived ourselves, we cannot know that we have done it. Once we become aware of our self-deception, it becomes a simple lie.

People who are self-deceived cannot help but share their lies with others. They are utterly convincing, because they believe their own lies. And their self-deception proliferates, one lie spawning another and another. Self-deceived people tend to lie all the time, about everything.

Let’s look at a practical example of self-deception. Years ago I read a research study which reported that 100 percent of high school students believed they had above-average ability to get along with others—an obvious impossibility—with a stunning 25 percent believing that they were in the top one percent of this ability. Yet another study found that 94 percent of college professors believed that, when compared to their peers, they were above average.

A few memorable quotes about self-deception might be illuminating:

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman
“The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions." Leonardo da Vinci
"Who has deceiv'd thee so oft as thyself?" Benjamin Franklin
"We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves." Eric Hoffer
"The worst of all deceptions is self-deception." Socrates
"Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day." Bertrand Russell
"The easiest person to deceive is one's own self." Edward George Bulwer-Lytton
"A man who lies to himself, and believes his own lies, becomes unable to recognize truth, either in himself or in anyone else, and he ends up losing respect for himself and for others." Fyodor Dostoevsky

Because self-deception is blind, almost uniformly we require the help of others to recognize our self-lies. We need wise men and women who can see us clearly and who can love us enough that we can feel safe while learning the truth. And thus we break the destructive cycle of self-deception.

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