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Humans are masters of self-deception.
We fool ourselves into believing things that are false
and we refuse to believe things that are true.
I was in graduate school
when I really started delving into the topic of self-deception.
And it rocked my world.
I saw it everywhere,
in everyone.
We lie to ourselves about the smallest details,
such as how much we really ate today,
and why we didn't list our actual height and weight
on our driver's license.
(Laughter)
We lie to reflect our aspirational goals:
"I'll only have one glass of wine tonight," --
when I know I'm drinking at least three. (Laughter)
We lie to uphold social ideals:
"I never have sexual thoughts with anyone except my spouse,"
because that wouldn't be acceptable.
We lie about our most important life choices,
such as why we married who we did, or chose our given career path.
Unfortunately, for all the romantics out there,
love is rarely the full motivation for those choices.
Nowhere was self-deception more obvious than in my romantic relationships.
I was terrified of being left.
My fear of abandonment led me to act in ways
that are still hard for me to admit --
anxiously awaiting a phone call,
driving to see if he was where he said he would be,
asking repeatedly if he loved me.
At the time, I couldn't have told you any of that,
because I wouldn't have been able to admit it to myself.
At the core, we lie to ourselves
because we don't have enough physiological strength to admit the truth
and deal with the consequences that will follow.
That said, understanding our self-deception
is the most effective way to live a fulfilling life.
For when we admit who we really are,
we have the opportunity to change.
It's hard to look at this photo and think,
"Liars!"
(Laughter)
But our self-deceptive tendencies start here.
From a very early age we start observing
and making conclusions about ourselves and our environment.
Right or wrong, the conclusions we made affected our identity.
As adults, we will most want to lie about
how physiologically painful realities experienced as children
affected who we are today.
Perhaps you were raised in a single parent home,
in which you were neglected by your father.
You learned that something was wrong with you --
you weren't smart enough, attractive enough, athletic enough.
You concluded that to make people love you,
you need to be perfect.
As an adult,
when someone points out your imperfections,
you feel tremendous anxiety but deny where it comes from.
Perhaps you felt ugly as a child because you were teased for your appearance.
You learned to eat in response to emotional pain.
As an adult, you struggle to maintain a stable weight,
because your eating has very little to do with hunger.
Perhaps you watched your parents fight.
You learned to avoid conflict.
Now, you struggle to admit even feeling negative emotion.
Although each of our specific childhood learnings will be unique,
what we learned will be exemplified in the lies we tell ourselves as adults.
Psychological theories of human nature can help us understand our self-deception.
Sigmund Freud first described lying through ego-defense mechanisms:
Psychological strategies that protect our egos
-- our core sense of self --
from information that would hurt us.
Denial:
Refusing to believe that something is true,
even though it is.
"I don't have a problem with alcohol," --
even though I drink everyday.
"I'm not jealous," --
even though I secretly check my partner's email.
Rationalization:
Creating a reason to excuse ourselves.
"I wouldn't have yelled at you if you hadn't treated me so unfairly,"
thereby justifying my yelling.
"I know that smoking isn't good for my health,
but it helps me relax,"
thereby justifying my smoking.
Projection:
Taking an undesirable aspect of ourselves and ascribing it to someone else.
"I'm not like that. You're like that."
When dating someone you've lost interest in,
you say things like,
"You're not ready for this relationship,"
when, in fact, you're not ready for this relationship
and never will be!
Pioneers in the cognitive-behavioral realms
describe how our thoughts deceive us
through cognitive distortions -- irrational ways we think.
Polarized Thinking: Thinking in extremes.
“I will either eat no cookies or an entire box,
because if I eat one cookie,
I've already blown my diet, so I might as well keep eating.”
Emotional Reasoning:
Thinking that our feelings accurately reflect reality.
“I feel hurt; so you must have done something bad to me.”
“I feel stupid; consequently I am stupid.”
Overgeneralization:
Taking a single negative event as an infinite spiral of defeat.
After going through a bad breakup, you think,
“I am always going to be alone.”
After getting denied a promotion at work, you think,
“I am never going to be successful in my career.”
From an existential perspective,
we deceive ourselves to avoid the Givens of Life --
the fundamental realities of "being human" that we must face.
Death – we’re all going to die;
Ultimate aloneness --
we were born as a single person housed in a solitary physical body;
Meaninglessness --
our lives are inherently meaningless unless we give them meaning;
and Freedom --
we are responsible for ourselves because we have the freedom of choice.
To avoid confronting these realities, we frequently lie to ourselves:
“I am this way because of my upbringing;” --
thereby deferring responsibility for my choices.
“The bad things on the news would never happen to me;” --
because I am somehow special, and uniquely protected from harm.
“I won’t write a will. I am young. I’m not going to die anyway;” --
thereby denying our mortality.
Multicultural and feminist psychologists
describe how internalization of cultural norms affect us.
Here, we deceive ourselves by believing
what we were culturally conditioned to believe is true,
instead of deciding what we actually believe is true.
Do you compromise yourself to meet cultural norms?
Do you think you need to look a certain way,
be a certain weight,
earn a certain income,
get married, have children, be religious
because you are supposed to
or because you believe that it's right for you?
All of these theories of human nature help us understand
how we deceive ourselves on a daily basis.
Why should you care?
Self-deception leads to massive amounts of pain and regret.
To avoid being honest,
we frequently make choices with harmful consequences
to ourselves and others --
we may use drugs, alcohol, eat, shop, gamble, steal, lie, leave people
or pass our emotional baggage down to those we love the most.
Or, we may choose not to change
even when we are miserable
or causing profound harm to those around us.
Looking back at life with regret is incredibly painful,
because you can’t change your choices in the past.
As I shared earlier,
I struggled greatly in my romantic relationships.
I knew that I didn't feel safe,
but I believed it was my boyfriend’s fault --
if he just called me more, told me he loved me more,
then I would feel safe.
The truth was
there was nothing he could do to make me feel safe,
because my feelings had nothing to do with him.
The reason I didn't feel safe is that I learned as a child
that people would always leave me,
and I lived my life making choices consistent with that belief.
When we don't take full responsibility for who we are,
we hurt ourselves and everyone around us.
Now what?
How do we start acknowledging the lies we tell ourselves?
How do we start becoming more honest liars?
The first step is self-awareness --
we become observers of ourselves.
When you have a strong emotional reaction to something,
pause.
When what you say doesn't match how you act,
pause.
When you’re thinking irrational thoughts,
pause.
Ask yourself:
What does this say about me?
Similarly, most of us spend a tremendous amount of energy
trying to get over someone or something that happened to us.
And we generally avoid examining our contribution to conflict in our lives.
When you are unresolved about something or someone,
pause.
Ask yourself:
What does my reaction to this situation say about me?
As we become more honest and aware,
we also become more responsible for our choices.
If we admit that we are insecure about something
-- which we all are --
we're now confronted with a choice:
to work on our insecurity or not.
Whatever we decide,
we are now more responsible for the consequences of our insecurity,
because we know better.
Not changing when confronted with the truth is a choice.
Although we can’t control many circumstances we encounter in life,
we are responsible for our reactions to all of them.
In that vein, one of the best ways
to confront our self-deception
is psychotherapy.
It is probably the only relationship
that you will ever have in your entire life
that exists solely to benefit you.
Yet, a great deal of stigma exists around therapy.
People frequently say things like,
“I don't need therapy.
It’s only for crazy or weak people who can't help themselves.”
The truth is, it takes tremendous courage
to be completely vulnerable to another human being.
Therapy is truly a gift if you are courageous enough to accept it.
Confronting our self-deception is a lifelong journey.
We change and the world offers us new opportunities
to understand ourselves.
There is always more to learn.
I was on the perfect path to be a successful academic.
I received tenure here at UNLV, two years ago.
And in about six weeks, I will be unemployed,
because I resigned.
Getting tenure and then quitting
is about the last thing anyone would expect from a faculty member.
Especially me. I love psychology!
I love teaching. I love research. I love my department.
I had an amazing experience at UNLV.
But the truth is, my passion isn't in academia anymore.
To admit that to myself was brutally painful!
Because I had to confront all of my self-deceptive tendencies and insecurities.
"What if I disappoint people?
What will my family say?
What am I gonna do? What if I can’t support myself?
Who am I if I am not a professor?
What if my whole life changes!?
What if my whole life doesn't change?"
If I had chosen to stay in academia,
I would have paid a huge psychological price.
I would have to admit that I was not strong enough
to make different choices for myself when confronted with the truth.
Be more honest liars.
Choose to become more honest about the lies you tell yourself.
Use the truth to live the most fulfilling life for you,
because you only got one.
(Applause)
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【TEDx】Honest liars -- the psychology of self-deception: Cortney Warren at TEDxUNLV

12178 Folder Collection
Hhart Budha published on June 15, 2014
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