Deceitful behaviour is common in both humans and other animals. The temptation is apparent. I could write an article detailing the drawbacks of such dishonesty, but instead I wish to focus on a more specific issue: why do we lie to ourselves?
Although most people do this on a regular basis, the behaviour is quite insane. Whereas lying to others is selfish, lying to ourselves is plain stupid. How is it even possible to fool ourselves? How can we be both the deceiver and the deceived?
We may not initially recognize how much we do lie to ourselves. It is an easy thing to deny because there is no solid evidence that we do so. We do not utter the lie aloud, and no-one is there to hold us accountable. Thus, it is easy to pretend that it never happened (thereby lying to ourselves yet again).
The reason that we lie is to stop ourselves being hurt, usually to protect our self-esteem. There are thoughts that we find unacceptable, and thus we simply refuse to think them. We hope that soon the reality will change and that the lie will be inconsequential. For example, we may deny that we are depressed, hoping that soon the depression will go away. Our reasoning is that if it does go away then our lie will no longer matter, and we will have avoided dealing with a painful reality. However, it is never a good idea to sacrifice our integrity, and it is never a good idea to lose touch with truth. Just as lying to others will lose their trust, so does lying to ourselves compromise our own trust. We lose the ability to understand ourselves clearly and to be sure about what is true and what is not. The result is the insanity that currently pervades society.
In an effort to stop lying, it is worth asking ourselves what thoughts we find so unacceptable, and why. This tells us what issues we must work on to cease this harmful habit. We should also make sure that we talk to people who will tell us the truth, instead of those whom we know will support or believe our lies. Other people are valuable for telling us the truth about ourselves. Their view is warped through a lack of information, but our own view is warped through self-deception. We can assume that the reality lies somewhere in between.
At the end of the day, regardless of why we lie to ourselves, we must stop. Although understanding the reasons for our self-deception is helpful, we can still break this habit through sheer willpower alone. When we find ourselves blaming others for our own problems, or talking about ourselves in an effort to sway their opinion of us, we can be sure that self-deception is taking place. This is our cue to stop. In the words of Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true.”