Are You a Self-Deceiver?

Self-deception is a concept that has been studied for years by philosophers and psychologists. It is a process in which one denies or rationalizes the reality, significance or importance of a certain piece of information and views the world with a sort of filter, and not in the true way. One sees the world how one would like to see it, and not how it really is. People do this to themselves so that they can convince themselves of a specific reality in order to escape disappointment from themselves or from others. It is fundamentally lying to yourself. We lie constantly to ourselves about how smart we are, about how we can do no wrong, about how our political party will always be right. But to what extent can we believe our own lies? And how long can we go believing our own lies before we can no longer tell a truth from a lie?

Robert Trivers, an evolutionary biologist, has been studying self-deception for years. The Trivers Theory highlights the idea that humans are more susceptible to self-deception because they often have emotional or physical attachments to certain concepts and ideas. It must be kept in mind that some of these concepts and ideas are completely irrational or unhealthy. For example, smoking is a practice that we know to be unhealthy, but many people still smoke. This is often because people have a physical attachment to smoking. So, in order to be able to continue smoking, they convince themselves that it isn’t unhealthy and are thus able to continue. And this is, in truth, exactly what Trivers theory states: “One deceives oneself to trust something that is not true as to better convince others or themselves of that truth. When a person convinces himself of this untrue thing, they better mask the signs of deception.” 

Animals do this too. For example, an animal can use self-deception to act over-confident in order to attract a mate, or to act under-confident to escape a predator. Following the concept of self-deception, if an individual is able to cover up their own feelings and convince themselves of a given fact, it is more likely to deceive others too. There are many examples of self-deception. Some common occurrences include: the alcoholic that is convinced his drinking is under control, and a person in an unhappy marriage convinced they still love their partner and many others. We use self-deception constantly, most of the time not even noticing it. A larger example of self-deception could be the sinking of the Titanic. If the crew had not been using self-deception as a way to convince themselves that the ship could in fact go faster than recommended, maybe the Titanic never would have sunk. 

But how exactly can we analyze self-deception in order to truly be able to understand what it takes to become a self-deceiver? Are you doing this to yourself and others without even realizing it? There are two traditional methods for analyzing self-deception, the first being interpersonal deception. Interpersonal deception is when one person, A, consciously gets another person, B, to believe a fake piece of information. However, person A knows truly that the given piece of information is false. This is the traditional way of lying, and in this case the self deceiver must do two things: 1) Intentionally hold a belief that they know is untrue 2) Hold contradictory beliefs. The second way in which one can analyze self deception is by the process of rationalization. This is when a person who knows that the information is false consciously makes themselves believe or continue believing that the information is, in fact, true. As a result, this person unconsciously misleads themselves into truly believing the information, and ultimately deceives themselves through a way known as self-deception. The problem with this is that the person is so persuaded of their own lie that they are ready to convince other people of it. Two things can happen after that: the other person believes the lie and proceeds to spread it, meaning that many people find themselves believing a lie, or the other person does not believe it, and the self-deceiver’s own credibility is at stake. 

As you can imagine, self-deception has been criticised immensely by psychologists as something negative and damaging to yourself and others. It is after all lying to yourself then using this to lie to other people. Self-deception is as often involuntary as it is voluntary. Have you ever used self-deception? Were you aware of what you were doing? It is a common practise and nothing to be ashamed of, but be aware of it. You don’t want to find yourself incapable of telling the truth from a lie. Living in a fake world you have created, unable to see things as they are. 

-Tess Barbey

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