Why do we engage in Self Deception?


From time to time we find ourselves in unpleasant situations that we could have certainly done without. We may look around for something or someone to blame when infact it was simply our fault and no one elses. We often go to great lengths in order to deceive ourselves into believing the source of our stress, shame, guilt, loss or sadness originates from elsewhere instead of accepting the facts and deriving a solution so we can move on. In the Cognitive Dissonance post, I highlighted the torments internal conflict brings us, but I feel that it’s important to delve deeper into this topic. It’s often easier to see the signs of self deception in others, so, why are we doing this? What can we do to avoid the troubles and time loss this causes us?

Stop lying to yourself. When we deny our own truth, we deny our own potential – Steve Maraboli

Self Deception

Self deception is the action or practice of denying or rationalizing away the significance of a feeling, idea or situation. It involves intense psychological forces that prevent us from acknowledging a threatening truth about ourselves or a situation. Evidently, this seems inimical, but time and time again we try to pull the wool over our own eyes. The 4 basic types of lies are:

  • Prosocial: Lying to protect someone, to benefit or help others.
  • Self-enhancement: Lying to save face, to avoid embarrassment, disapproval or punishment.
  • Selfish: Lying to protect the self at the expense of another, and/or to conceal a misdeed.
  • Antisocial: Lying to hurt someone else intentionally.

Why do we engage in self deception?

Social psychologists say people deceive themselves in an unconscious effort to boost self-esteem or feel better. For some, the tendency seems to be an inborn personality trait. Others may develop a habit of self-deception as a way of coping with problems and challenges. Though, many people deceive themselves to avoid making difficult decisions.

The process of rationalization, however, may conceal the intent of self-deception in certain circumstances. When a person disbelieves they have put on a stone in the last month and intentionally try to make themselves believe that they are simply ‘big-boned’ and continues to indulge in a Big Mac meal every lunch break; consequently he misleads himself into believing or continuing to believe he is infact big boned (confirmation bias), which is appropriate for self deception. This form of rationalization can be modified in both positive and negative fashions e.g. convincing yourself that your abusive ex is to blame for your continuous failed relationships.

From Tom Hussey - Reflections

From Tom Hussey – Reflections

Other reasons we lie to ourselves include:

Maintaining an addiction or compulsion: Smoking is the only thing that calms me down’

Fear of loss, rejection, conflict or change: ‘It’s ok if my husband sleeps around, I’ve been too busy with work anyways’

Self-preservation from negative feelings such as jealousy, anger, sadness, rage, fear, inadequacy, shame or guilt

Shedding responsibility onto someone else: ‘My father was a raging alcoholic, so I must resort to violence to resolve all my issues’. Events in the past may have influenced you, but they don’t need to continue to do so.

Avoidance of judgment from others: ‘Oh yeah, that makes so much sense’ , when infact your cluelessSometimes our pride may obstruct us from owning up to our wrongs or flaws. The fact that someone else has identified a flaw in us may be damaging to our egos, thus denial seems the best way to avoid this issue.

By ignoring the truth we’re simply preventing ourselves from seeing our own true beauty.

Consequence of self deception and white lies?

  • Living in a false reality
  • Identification with a false sense of self/ego: The mask you wear to protect yourself from the truth
  • Arrested development of the authentic self and stunted psycho-spiritual awareness of others and the world around you
  • Prevention of deeper intimacy with others
  • Previously denied feelings eventually leading to an explosion of intrapsychic or interpersonal conflict
  • Suffering silently in pain, as a result of the hidden torment of the conscience.

What should be done?


Ask yourself:

Do I have the courage to take full responsibility for everything I think, feel, and do, while avoiding the blame game?: Be willing to scrutinize the less desirable aspects of your personality, especially when you’re being defensive. Nobody is perfect; true friends and family can be sources of honest feedback. One should detach from their ego and concentrate on the desires of their soul.

Am I deluding myself into thinking that I’m accomplishing something when I’m really just doing what is comfortable and convenient at the time?: Identify the enemies of progress in your life. Candy Crush? Snapchat? Youtube?

How much more could I produce if I put some positive, proactive energy into prioritizing, organizing, and streamlining the daily activities that currently diffuse my focus?: Construct a nutrition, exercise, work and leisure timetable. Balance it out, ensuring your goals are realistic and attainable.

What behaviors are preventing me from making progress toward becoming my very best?: You should engage in honest relationships consisting of those who want the best for you and remain there for you in times of need.

How quickly do I recognize I’m in a troublesome situation? How quickly do I get out? How can I strengthen my ability leave and resolve such issues?: One should learn how to process and manage negative feelings rather than avoiding them. This may be through prayer, meditation, taking a walk etc..

Make sure your words match what you feel in your mind, your heart and your gut: This requires self insight and reflection until it becomes acquired behaviour. Preoccupation with achievements or public image and dodging a chronic problem by telling yourself you’ll solve it in the future are danger signs.

From Tom Hussey - Reflections

From Tom Hussey – Reflections


Facing the truth even if it means temporarily feeling unpleasant is often a necessary tunnel on the path towards enlightenment and cognitive consonance. It is amazing how far we’ll go to put off doing the things we would benefit the most from. Self-deception is not limited to our desires, motives, and moral cogitations: we can deceive ourselves about the state of the world, the people in it, and even our own personality and bodily flaws.

Self-deception, when practiced regularly, can serve as a form of global anesthetic that immunizes us against the maladies of life. This can lead to disastrous results if done in excess. However, mild and localized cases of self-deception that simply boost a person’s ego e.g simply blocking out negative thoughts, envisioning yourself enjoying future successes or adopting an optimistic view of your abilities have the tendency to improve performance or persuasive ability.

Don’t get caught up in your own mind games, the moment you feel yourself falling into that trap, take a step back and analyse your decision rationally.


Economics and Finance student. University of Southampton. Autodidact. INTJ. Psychiatry devotee. To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me - Isaac Newton. Any Questions? Email: theoceanofknowledge@hotmail.com

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Posted in Psychology

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