Getting Past the Illusions
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | November 2016 (edited January 31, 2021)
We self deceive, deflecting responsibility to distract from our wretched condition, temporarily providing relief and postponing change.
As a group of concerned passengers assisted a young man off the floor of the local rapid transit train, he began to bark obscenities, condemning the well-meaning citizens for their interference. Soaked in urine, and stained from vomit, he lifted his head off the floor, “Stupid people,” he cussed, “you think I can’t get up by myself.” He continued his ruthless slander, verbally attacking those making eye contact. The once helpful passengers, moved away, leaving the mean-spirited drunk to his own ruins. When I asked about his life and how he ended up homeless and alone, he blamed his parents, teachers, and the government. Amazingly, even with a drug induced high, he spoke with articulate explanations and respectable intelligence. He was smart; but far from wise. Sophisticated in words; but foolish in action. His intelligence manipulated words, infused them with meaning, and deceived himself.
With his interpretations, he disavowed responsibility for his current state. He blamed his development on parents that didn’t love him, teachers that ignored him and authorities who didn’t understand. Certainly, all these notable models have an impact and as society we need to work to reach those failing because of systemic failure. However, this young man skirted the entire burden, discounting the human ingenuity to create our own future, escaping the nasty trajectories early life subjects on us.
See Create Your Destiny and Trajectories for more on this topic.
Self deception is accepting false self protecting or self enhancing explanations, feelings and ideas as true without supporting evidence.
Taking Responsibility for the Work of Change
We know experience impacts our lives, rotten parents, unskilled professionals, and abusive officials interfere with development, damaging the tender souls relying on their direction. But we must live with the results; not them. Blaming the past doesn’t correct the present. When we don’t like what we see in the present, instead of excuses, we would do better by directing our attention to solutions, inviting cures rather than blaming the damning causes from the past.
Intelligent Self Deception
Intelligence can work to our advantage, thoughtfully integrating experience into helpful lessons for improvement. But when we use intelligence to formulate justifications and blame, our skilled words are powerfully destructive; we convince ourselves of victimhood. How does these deceptions serve us?
See Fooling Ourselves for more on this topic.
Self Protecting Deceptions
The mind’s power to twist experience into logical excuses protects the ego. This practice is hurtful. The further we drift from normalcy, the more distorted the excuses. Though his bank account is empty, his relationships are in ashes, and his employment on the edge of termination, the drug addict insists he is not out of control, pointing to others that are in worse condition then their selves. This dull grasp on reality conceals opportunity for escape, inviting continued languishing and accumulating defeats. A imaginary claim to innocent victimhood may temporarily ease the psychological burden of failure; but until explanations lead to corrective action, the explanations only frustrate progression.
See Victim Consciousness and Learned Helplessness for more on this topic.
These protective deceptions impact all of us, not just those whose lives are in ashes. Self deceptions limit our relationships, exercise programs, job promotions and budgets. While the facts are clear—we are failing, we continue to justify errant courses. We keep giving subpar effort and blame the disappointing results on someone or something outside of our control.
"Nothing is more usual than for a man to impute his actions to honorable motives when it is nearly demonstrable that they flowed from some corrupt and contemptible force." ~William Godwin
Exposing Our Self Deceptions
Successfully exposing self deceptions requires a continual search for concrete facts when soothing explanations prevent self improvement.
The young man lying face down on the floor of a dirty transit bus because of drunkenness suffered from the debilitating disease of alcoholism. His alcoholism is a fact he must face before change can begin. Our failure to be promoted may be because our failure to properly present ourselves to management. Our failing relationships may be because we ignore our partner's needs.
Directing Attention to Elements We Control
The causes for dissatisfying results are many. Life is complex. Each consequences has multiple causes. Find the elements within your realm of control. When we narrow our assessments, eliminating fruitless finger pointing, we learn what actually can be done to redirect our lives.
To escape the distortions of self deception, we need objective measurements—feedback immune to self-protecting manipulations. These measures may include professional help, journals, and goals broken down into actions rather than vague hopes. Finances are measured with net-worth statements; health is measured by the scale, blood tests and blood pressure readings; relationship success can be measured by number of dates, time together, number of heated disagreements.
Obviously, objective measures can still be deceptively applied. Couples can go on more dates and still emotionally disconnect. However, improving objective measures often leads to improving less easily measured areas of our lives. More dates, more time together, typically creates more closeness. To avoid self deception, gaining deeper insights into our selves, we must implement objective measures.
We live one-day-at-a-time, but those single days accumulate, pointing towards a life we desire or decaying into something we dread. We must drag ourselves off the floor, honestly look circumstances in the eyes, take the hit to our ego and scrap the self deceptive practices so we can begin the wonderful work of change.
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