Assume for a moment you have a situation that is uncomfortable or possibly painful for you.
If you had the choice of knowing or not knowing the painful truth about it, which would you choose?
Now think about this. If shining the spotlight on an area of your life might open a can of worms, would you rather take a good hard look or keep that area in darkness?
In all honesty, my first reaction is to not know, to stay in the dark. Facing the truth about certain things in life is not fun. Most of us prefer to pull the covers over our heads, and put our fingers in our ears. La la la la la. (Remember Sargent Shultz from Hogan's Heros? “I see nothing. I know nothing.”)
Denial Land can be a beautiful place — so peaceful, so conflict-free. It is far easier than facing the difficult or painful truth.
Or is it?
Unless you had an extraordinarily emotionally-healthy upbringing, you likely experienced family lies and pretense that were perpetuated by mutual consent. Grandpa's drinking problem was never discussed. Parental arguments were inflicted on you but never explained or addressed. Mom said she was happy but always looked sad.
You can probably fill in your own version of this failure to face reality or to gloss over the unpleasant things in life.
We learn from these early family experiences that painful or difficult things should be left alone — that the appropriate response for something uncomfortable is to pretend it doesn't exist or to quickly sweep it under the rug.
Basically, we learn to lie — to ourselves and to others.
On the surface, avoidance and denial don't seem as overtly deceitful as lying. Lying is intentional and done with full awareness. Avoidance and denial are more acts of omission.
But if we are being completely real, most of the time we know we are lying to ourselves. We know we have our head in the sand.
I've had my own head in the sand so deep at times that you could build an ant colony in my cranium. Often I had an inkling that I was lying to myself, but other times I had no awareness around my self-deceit until something or someone smacked me over the head with it.
The thing about lying to yourself is that it is only a temporary fix.
Self-deception is the finger in the dam that keeps you firmly positioned in one spot so everything around you doesn't come crashing down.
Eventually those deceptions spill over into all areas of our lives — our thoughts about ourselves, our relationships, our beliefs, and our general perceptions of the world around us. The line between what is real and true becomes blurred with what we want to be real and true. So we pretend.
The problem with these self-deceptions is that they may feel easy and safe at first, but eventually they cripple you. They prevent you from seeing things clearly, living life fully, and evolving into the person you want to be.
And even though you do your best to maintain these deceptions, they have a way of springing leaks and causing unpleasant symptoms.
Self-deception can cause . . .
- low self-esteem
- low motivation
- lack of focus
- poor relationships
- job difficulties
- physical ailments
I've found in my personal journey that there are some core lies we tell ourselves that have the biggest negative impact on our lives. These are the lies that touch virtually every aspect of our being and create a cascade of smaller self-deceptions that serve the larger master.
Here are the top ten big fat lies that can be crippling:
1. I'm Not Good Enough
This is a story that every one of us has told ourselves and others at some point (or maybe all the time). And it all boils down to feeling unlovable. We may have valid reasons for feeling this from time to time. Some people have had tragic life events that reinforce this feeling. But the problem arises when you really start to believe it and perpetuate the belief with your words and actions.
The Truth: No matter what you've done, what you've experienced, or how you might feel, you are good enough. You are lovable. There is no universal measuring stick for “good enough.” The only requirement for lovability is to be yourself and accept yourself. The right people will be attracted to that.
Action: Stop using negative words or thoughts about yourself. Replace those with all of the reasons you are lovable and worthy. Write them down, speak them, and continue to define who you are in your best vision of yourself.
2. I Can't Do That
The sub-themes of this deception includes I'm Too Old, It's Too Late, I'm Not Smart Enough, and It Won't Work. Our fallback story when presented with an opportunity or challenge is, “I can't do that.” Maybe you can't. But you probably can, and you won't know unless you try.
The Truth: It may take some creative thinking, some hard work, some sacrifice, but you can (almost always) do it if you choose too.
Action: Rather than beginning with a negative assumption (the lie), assume that you can do it until proven otherwise. Break it down into small steps and take one at a time.
3. My Beliefs Are Right
Really? Says who? There is another side to every belief you have — positive or negative beliefs. You may believe yourself to be incapable, but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. Find it. You may believe you hold the correct point of view — but so does that other guy. Listen to him.
The Truth: Your beliefs are not 100% true. In fact some of them may not be true at all.
Action: Write down some of the beliefs you have about yourself and about the world around you. Open your mind to contradictions of your belief. Allow yourself to shift your thinking when you are exposed to truth.
4. He Should/She Should
This ties in with our beliefs. We think we know best about how others should think, behave, and respond to us. We want people to change to accommodate our vision of who they should be. We believe that would be best for everyone.
The Truth: Expecting others to change is a huge self-deception. They may try, but it will never really happen, and then they will resent you. You will never have an authentic relationship with them.
Action: Acknowledge that those you love are fine just as they are. They are flawed, and that's okay. They are different than you, but that makes them real and interesting. Open your eyes to the truth about who they really are, and let them be that person.
5. Mediocre is Fine with Me
If you just keep telling yourself this, maybe you will believe it. Why step up to your potential when it takes so much time and energy. It's too hard, too much work. It's fine to stay comfortable just where you are.
The Truth: Mediocre isn't fine. Your higher self will keep nagging at you, making life miserable until you step up to the plate and do something. You know you don't want to settle.
Action: What part of your life are you allowing to remain mediocre? What does your higher self want you to do instead? What are you willing to do today to get the ball rolling on this?
6. I Don't Have Time
I would do that thing if I only had time. I would try that new habit, follow my passion, work on my relationship, spend time with my children — if I only had time.
The Truth: Time is yours to manipulate as you wish. There isn't an endless supply of it, but there is plenty to create a life around what is most important to you. You have time if you choose to have it.
Action: What are your top five priorities in life? Where are you wasting time on meaningless things? Remove the waste, and manipulate time around the priorities.
7. I Can Live with That
A cluttered house. A rude friend. A spouse who belittles you. Children who talk back. People who interrupt your time. Tedious tasks that find their way to the forefront. You can live with these, right? They aren't such a big deal.
The Truth: People and things that you are merely tolerating are slowly sucking your energy and joy. When you roll over and allow people and situations to walk all over you, you lose self-respect. You lose dignity.
Action: What are you putting up with that is draining you? What people are crossing your boundaries? What are you willing to do about it?
8. Once This Happens, Then I'll Be Happy
How has that deception worked for you? I'll be happy when I find the right spouse. I'll be happy when I get a promotion. I'll be happy when we have more money. It will just take a little more time, a little more effort — then I'll be happy.
The Truth: Pinning happiness on a future event is like trying to capture a runaway kitten. Just when you think you have it in your hands, it slips away from your grasp, beckoning you forward forever.
Action: The best isn't yet to come, it's right now. Happiness is always at hand and can be found in this moment alone. Look for happiness in who you are and what you are doing right now.
9. Failure Isn't an Option
I can't fail because I have a standard to live up to. I can't fail because people will think I'm a loser. I can't fail because it will announce to the world that I'm not who I say I am. Failure isn't an option. I must do everything in my power not to fail, including not trying.
The Truth: If you want to grow and succeed and achieve things, then failure must be an option. Failure is evidence of effort. Failure is evidence of action. Failure is a necessary teacher who is there to serve you, not harm you.
Action: Look at past failures that have caused you pain. What have you learned from them that has moved you forward? How can you begin to embrace failure and view it as less of a threat?
10. It Isn't My Fault
It isn't my fault I'm not successful. I had a difficult childhood. It isn't my fault that I'm unhappy. I hate my job. It isn't my fault that people don't like me. They just don't understand my personality.
The Truth: As adults, we are fully responsible for our actions, circumstances, and relationships. If we had past hurts or tragedy, it is our responsibility to ourselves and others to seek help. If we are unhappy, it is our responsibility to find the cause of our unhappiness and do something about it.
Action: Where do you have a belief that it is not your fault. How can you take full ownership and responsibility for this situation and what can you do about it?
Facing the truth about these personal lies can be painful. But it's like pulling off a band-aid. The sting will subside, the wound will heal, and you will have the freedom to experience a fuller life empowered by reality. Acknowledging the truth will lift a weight off of you, releasing you from the crippling restraints of self-deception.