“I’m not resentful that my wife is going to quit her job to stay home with the baby,” my client said to me with straight face after I confronted him about his countless passive-aggressive behaviors that clearly suggested otherwise. For all of us, the power of denial can be mammoth. Denial is a lie we tell ourselves that is so deep that we aren’t even conscious of it.
Sometimes, the lies we tell ourselves become lies we tell others. A study conducted by University of Massachusetts researcher Robert Feldman found that 60 percent of subjects lied at least once (and an average of 2.92 times) during a 10 minute recorded conversations between strangers.
Why do we lie to ourselves and others?
- Fear of loss, rejection, conflict or change (“Sure… I’m happy in my relationship… I mean, it could be worse…”)
- Self-preservation from negative feelings such as jealousy, anger, sadness, rage, fear, inadequacy, shame or guilt. (“I didn’t get the promotion because my boss is an asshole, it had nothing to do with my performance”.)
- Selfish motives—often hard to admit, but we can all have internal ugliness. (“I help plenty around the house, my girlfriend just has OCD and expects too much.” says the guy who isn’t doing his share of the workload.)
- To preserve our addictions and compulsions by minimizing food or alcohol intake, spending, time spent numbing out on TV or internet, etc. (“I only eat 1000 calories a day,” says a woman who weighs 300 pounds.)
What are the consequences of lying to self and others?
- Living in a false reality
- Identification with a false sense of self/ego—the mask you wear to protect yourself from the truth
- Arrested development of the authentic self and stunted psycho-spiritual awareness of others and the world around you
- Prevention of deeper intimacy with others
- Previously denied feelings eventually leading to an explosion of intrapsychic or interpersonal conflict (This is what I was aiming to help my client avoid by coming to terms with his true feelings about his wife’s desire to be a stay-at-home parent.)
Through nearly 20 years of counseling clients, I recommend the following to live a more authentic life:
- Be willing to examine your less than desirable aspects of self. We are human and none of us is perfect. Notice when you are becoming defensive and denying the truth. Psychotherapy, group work and 12-step programs are great places to get honest feedback and tools to live with your feet firmly planted in reality.
- Nurture your support network with honest relationships consisting of people who love you and want you to be your best self. These are the people who can also call you out on your bullshit, something we all need from time to time.
- Learn how to process and manage negative feelings rather than avoiding them. Quiet yourself through meditation. Do a body scan and identify your feelings and where you hold them in your body. Breathe what you need into those parts of yourself (peace, forgiveness, serenity) and breathe out and release the negative feelings. As my own therapist (Arlene Englander, author of The Insourcing Handbook) says, learn how to surf the negative feelings, rather than being engulfed by them.)
- Detach from ego and focus on essence (your soul, spirit, or deeper self-within.) For this, I strongly recommend the work of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth.
- Make sure your words match what you feel in your mind, your heart and your gut. This requires some pause for reflection until it becomes second nature. Also, there are layers to the truth and sometimes discretion is needed to determine which layer is appropriate to articulate. Consider the words of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, “Before you speak, think—Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?“
- Avoid saying things that are not true, even though they may seem harmless. For example, when you see your friend in a hideous blouse instead of saying, “I love your top!!” say, “It is great to see you” or something else that is genuine.
Live honestly and authentically and watch your life flourish. Facing the truth even if it means temporarily feeling badly is often a necessary tunnel on the path towards enlightenment.
“Stop lying to yourself. When we deny our own truth, we deny our own potential.” ~Steve Maraboli
What do you think about self-deception?
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