Why do we lie to ourselves?

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.”

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  1. Blossoming Consciousness and Positivity Carnival: 1st Edition said,

    January 27, 2008 @ 9:59 pm

    [...] CJ presents Why do we lie to ourselves? saying, “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).” [...]

  2. kayleigh said,

    January 2, 2010 @ 9:50 pm

    this is ahhhhhhhhhhhhhmazing news!!!! thanks for your help!!!!!

  3. Asher Bond said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

    Someone posted a question in a semi-private Business Intelligence technology career forum asking if Lying about your Salary is ethical. I answered the question philosophically… using the same syllogism you used here:

    I wish I would have copied down my argument because…

    I think the person who created the thread deleted my comment, because I followed it up with a question “Was my comment censored?” and I couldn’t find that comment either.

    So in effect what happened was, the person asking the question decided that only certain answers could be public. But why? I was blunt, but tried to be courteous. I think I said, “If you are asking yourself whether lying in a particular situation is ethical, maybe you should ask yourself whether lying in any situation could theoretically be ethical.” It wasn’t phrased quite that eloquently, but I guess I’ll repost with the question “Does anyone know what happened to my original comment?” I think they get email updates when people follow up (like on Facebook).

    I think the social problem is that people are too concerned with fear and what they aren’t allowed to do and what they can take and get, so they don’t have time for things like:

    Learning to be honest and building relationships through artistic or scientific integrity and using those relationships for credentials…

    So the market might have taught the person that the credentials are the dollar amounts of the salary and the paper certificates and diplomas and other paperwork.

    I think there is a market for honest business. What a great way to differentiate ourselves in the market while being spiritual!

  4. Asher Bond said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 6:21 pm

    Which is more valuable, knowing the truth about yourself or others?

  5. Asher Bond said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 6:26 pm

    Oh wait maybe I should ask whether it’s intelligent business to lie to a Business Intelligence employer.

  6. Asher Bond said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 6:27 pm

    Oh wait that’s the question that confused them, because they didn’t have the logical understanding or spiritual compass.

  7. Educative and mind developing said,

    August 19, 2010 @ 12:19 pm

    it is true that all human beings lie as a matter of maintaining esteem, get what he or she needs from sombody, show pride of personality in a terse situation. Deceiting or deny facts is helpful in that present condition but what comes forth is somewhat painful.

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