2 Ways To Break Your Cycle Of 'Self-Deception'

It's not abnormal to lie to yourself from time to time. However, it's also not uncommon for this habit to have negative effects. Here's how to break the cycle.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | March 14, 2024

Have you ever been in scenarios where these thoughts occurred to you, but deep down, you were aware of the truth? Consider the following instances:

What you said: "I am just helping her. There's no harm in helping someone take the right path."

What you meant: I don't want her to do this because I don't like it.

What you said: "It wasn't my fault! I did nothing wrong."

What you meant: I messed up, it was my fault. I don't want to appear irresponsible.

What you said: "I believe I am a good person and do the best possible."

What you meant: I have to put my needs first.

The chilling truth behind self-deception is its unconscious control over our psyche. We genuinely believe our lies and rationalize our antagonistic actions. However, its long-term consequences far outweigh its short-term benefits.

The Science Behind The Cycle Of Self-Deceit

A study published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences found that self-deception is an evolutionary trait that helps people better deceive others by making it easier to hide signs of lying and reducing the risk of getting caught. People who lie to themselves are good at deceiving others. It also boosts confidence by making people believe they are better than they actually are.

While self-deception may provide short-term benefits, lying can distort our perception of reality, twisting it to align it with our desires while obscuring the truth. This practice is linked to distortions in self-image and can lead to delusions in extreme scenarios. Constantly overestimating ourselves and failing to keep promises triggers feelings of shame and guilt, fostering negative self-talk and distorting our self-image over time.

This creates a gap between who we think we are and who we actually are—the crack of cognitive dissonance. It often leads to inner turmoil and can make us more likely to lie to ourselves. Self-deception eases this conflict by appeasing our ego and justifying our actions, and the cycle continues.

For instance, Emma believes she's excellent in her studies but always waits until the last minute to start tasks. Despite her confidence, she often rushes to complete assignments haphazardly, blaming time constraints for any shortcomings.

This behavior illustrates the cognitive dissonance between her self-perception and her actions. She struggles to reconcile her belief in her abilities with the reality of her procrastination and subpar performance.

To stop the unconscious cycle of self-deception, you can employ these strategies:

1. Immerse In Critical Self-Reflection

People underestimate how much can be resolved with regular self-talk. It can be as simple a strategy as journaling or sitting in front of a mirror and having an "honest" conversation. Write in your journal openly and freely, allowing your thoughts to flow without constraint. The privacy of journaling can encourage incredible honesty with ourselves.

You can also try re-evaluating your values and beliefs. Personal integrity is the basis for living a life you can be proud of. Rediscover your values by listing them out and going through them individually. Take your time and ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I genuinely value this, or was this belief assigned to me?
  • If I believe in this value, what's my reason for upholding it?
  • Is the motivation for keeping this value intrinsic, or does it come from outside?

2. Practice Mindfulness For Better Self-Awareness

Mindfulness is a valuable tool to monitor your thoughts objectively. You can learn a lot by idly observing your thoughts. Aim to understand who you are, what you uphold and what motivates you, including your strengths and weaknesses.

Reflect on your fears and locate where they stem from and in what ways they manifest. Work on self-acceptance and be gentle while recognizing and acknowledging your flaws. The more you understand and accept yourself, the more challenging it becomes to engage in self-deception.

The reason we lie is that the truth can be painful. Self-awareness brings responsibilities we'd rather not confront, and lying is a convenient way to sidestep them.

The beginning of personal growth begins by confronting our fears. To recognize when you're lying to yourself, understand the cues that trigger the deception. Some examples can include:

  • Making excuses on behalf of yourself and others
  • Evading responsibility
  • Blaming others when it's your fault
  • Constantly avoiding unpleasant realities
  • Feeling defensive or threatened when people challenge you

Lastly, set intentions to take action. Bringing our intention to the forefront can help us break the habit of self-deception. Make a promise to always be honest with yourself. You can pledge this by writing it down and putting it in a space where you can see it. It will serve as a reminder for raising your self-awareness and practicing regular self-reflection and mindfulness.

Are you concerned about your lying habit? Take the Survey of Pathological Lying Behaviors to gain clarity.

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