Have you ever been so frustrated about something someone did that you made up excuses as to why they did that behavior — even if your reasoning was not true?
That my friend is self-deception.
Self-deception is defined as intentionally convincing yourself of something that is not true, and oftentimes we use this as a form of justification for our actions, feelings, and thoughts.
At first glance, self-deception may not seem all that bad and oftentimes we aren’t even aware that we are doing it!
However, when self-deception becomes an unconscious habit of ours, it can really break down our relationships and cause serious damage.
Say for example, that you are laying in bed next to your significant other thinking about what you need to get done the next day.
As you lay and ponder, your child starts crying for you and your significant other. Typically, you have no problem getting up and attending to your child, but you have A LOT on your plate tomorrow and want to get a great night of rest, so you’re banking on your significant other to help out.
As the seconds tick by, you get more and more frustrated that they aren’t getting out of bed to tend to your kid. As you get more frustrated, you start to think “they are selfish, they are a horrible partner and a horrible parent, why can’t they just get up and take care of our kid?!?”. These intrusive thoughts begin to cycle over and over and over in your mind, until you believe them wholeheartedly — even if they aren’t true.
This new image you have created of your significant other will carry on into your everyday life. You start to notice the moments where your partner is being horrible to you, or being a bad parent, and this facilitates resentment towards them — effectively changing your behavior towards them and driving a wedge in your relationzxship.
This also happens in more minute cases, where you may have not even met someone yet, but you create false assumptions about them as people to justify your feelings or behaviors.
Think about the following example and how it will affect future interactions with this person in a way that is similar to our previous example:
Say that you have asked your team to reserve times to use the board room, and you have also requested that any materials on the white board be left up. One day as you walk past the room, you notice that there is someone working in there who did not request a time slot for the room. Additionally, the diagrams you drew on the white board the previous day are now gone.
You are infuriated and begin to think that the person who has done this is simply incompetent since they cannot follow the expectations you have outlined for the team. You walk in and chew them out, and then impose even stricter guidelines for the team regarding the use of the room.
The next time you interact with this person, the idea that they are incompetent will be present in your mind, impacting how you interact with them and building a barrier in your relationship.
So, it is pretty clear that self-deception can have some crippling impacts on how you perceive others, but what about how they perceive you?
Self-deception directly affects the way you interact with others and often pivots your behavior to compensate for the negative image you have of a person in your mind. Your mentality and feelings towards the other person will likely cause you to be more brash or aggressive, ultimately painting yourself in a negative light.
So how can you mitigate this damage?
Think of self-deception as a box.
When you are in the box, you are actively practicing self-deception (whether you know it or not) by focusing on yourself and your needs, simultaneously failing to see others for who they are wholly.
When you step out of this box, you are able to take people for who they are. Their desires, passions, motivations, quirks, shortcomings, and needs.
The key to this is that when you are outside of the box of self-deception, you are able to better understand the other person’s behavior, and the reasoning behind it.
This greater understanding allows you to transform the way that you view the other person, so that you can have a better understanding of the dynamics within your relationship, where you can identify where and how you can support them.
Stepping out of self-deception also allows you to take ownership of your thoughts, feelings and actions. Rather than displacing the blame of these onto the other person (or even the situation), you get to be responsible for them.
Finally, stepping out of self deception allows you to be authentic and vulnerable with others. If you are constantly feeding your mind with negative attributions about someone else, you don’t create a space where you can be authentic and vulnerable with the other person. Stepping out of the box of self-deception allows you to do so!
Brenda Lee is a Leadership Development and Team Building expert to some of the world’s most exciting entrepreneurs and professionals who have all the trappings of success but have hit a barrier they are ready to breakthrough.