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How Self Deception Can Destroy Relationships
We all do it to some extent and to a lesser degree it’s pretty harmless, but when self deception is more extreme it can be disastrous, especially in relationships.
Just about any woman can relate to one of the most common ways in which we deceive ourselves. We’ve all encountered the weight-gain of a few pounds and it usually plays out something like this:
Our jeans fit a little tight and we tell ourselves it’s water-weight (even when it’s not that time of the month). As the days pass and the weight is still there we tell ourselves our jeans shrunk or the manufacturers are making sizes differently than they used to. Sound familiar? We can come up with any number of excuses and they are all self deceiving so we don’t have to change our behavior and we can continue to believe we are thin and eat what we want.
In reality, we have gained a few pounds and if we don’t face the truth about it they can quickly add up to even more. For a reality check what do we do? We get on the scale because the scale doesn’t lie; it tells us what we’ve been avoiding for the last week or two. All along we knew the scale was there yet didn’t get on it because we were afraid of the truth!
This is an example of harmless self deceiving behavior because eventually we accepted responsibility and faced the truth. We knew the scale wouldn’t let us continue our denial and it didn’t. Now we had the truth and knew we needed to do something about it to fix it and that it would also take a little work on our part.
So what happens when this doesn’t work? Either the person keeps avoiding that scale or further deceives themselves into believing that the scale is broken and either way they most likely will continue to gain weight. It’s more comforting to think something’s wrong with the scale than something being wrong with them and if there’s not a problem with them then they don’t need to make an effort to fix it, right? As long as it’s the scale, or the jeans, or the manufacturers at fault then they don’t have to look at themselves or make any effort to change.
When self deception reaches an unhealthy state a person is unwilling to look at themselves for who they really are. They have talked themselves into believing their own truth, which represents the person they want to be and want others to believe they are.
We know that people make justifications and rationalizations for their behavior all the time and in small doses this usually isn’t harmful to ourselves or others, like gaining a few pounds and then finally facing it and doing something about it. When it’s more severe it can lead to the end of a self deceiver’s closest relationships because at some point the other person will be the “scale” as only someone who is close enough, knows them well and cares for them can and will be, especially when they are directly affected.
When the person in denial won’t accept the truth from the one closest to them then the “scale” becomes flawed and they can continue their self deception. In most cases, the closest person is the spouse or significant other and if you are that person, be very careful. Being intimately close to a self deceiver can cause a lot of pain when they choose to preserve their self-image at the expense of the relationship and your well being.
Personally I have been the “scale” more than once in a relationship because I want my relationships to be authentic as opposed to contrived and superficial. Although most people would also say this is what they want in a relationship, when they do face a challenge to grow by their partner they resist and try to keep things on a more surface level – or they look for someone else who won’t challenge their self-image.
There are people who will be enablers to self deceivers – the ones who won’t tell you that you look fat in your jeans when you do. On a deeper level it can cause much more harm than letting you walk around not looking your best. You know who you are; you’d rather not risk offending the person so you lie; that’s right, you lie. Your relationship with the person is so delicate that you can’t be honest with them and to keep it intact you must reflect back to them the image they wish to see or you will be discarded from their life. If someone can’t handle a little constructive criticism from a person they are close to then that is a good sign they are not emotionally healthy and could benefit from a reality check.
Unfortunately for the rest of us who wish to live authentically, the enablers perpetuate the problem of self deceptive behavior.
A perfect example of this is with an alcoholic, who are masters at deceiving themselves and others and need enablers to continue their destructive behavior. Alcoholic’s become so good at deceiving themselves they can also fool those around them. You know the saying, “it’s not really a lie if you believe it to be true.”? As long as the alcoholic has at least one person telling them they are not one, he will choose to believe what he wants to believe which is always the glossed-over and easier to swallow version of himself – one without a problem or the task of some self-evaluation and making an effort to change. If that same person has everyone in his life telling him he has a problem it becomes much harder to avoid the truth. The result is rehab and hopefully a healthier life; a result that benefits everyone around him since we know alcoholics don’t just hurt themselves, they hurt those close to them as well.
Although the pattern is easier to see with alcoholism, it’s the same with any severe self deceiving behavior and the repercussions for those who are closest are also the same. They are the ones that get hurt the most when a person in denial projects the pain of dealing with their own shortcomings onto the most available target and makes them their scapegoat.
Sometimes when the truth-teller reaches out to family members or friends for help they can become the victims of a “shoot-the-messenger” reaction for being the bearer of bad news. Enablers can also be close to the self-deceiver but have been successfully deceived or are in denial themselves and can turn on you for suggesting anything might be wrong or that their loved one has a problem. They don’t want to be any closer to the truth than the one with the problem and if you represent the “ugly” truth about them there is no place for you in a dysfunctional enabler-offender relationship.
A self-deceiver will continue the cycle of casting out anyone that gets close enough and cares enough to be honest. Meanwhile no help is sought, no progress is made, the offending person gets worse and continues to hurt people they are close to while oblivious to the impact they’ve had on others. The enablers keep enabling and neither has to take responsibility for their actions or feel the pain of their own destructive behavior. If you are unable to express your thoughts and feelings in order to preserve your relationship with a self deceiver, you are enabling the behavior and are causing more harm than good and hurting more people than you know, including yourself.
If you’re in a relationship and you find yourself assigning labels, laying blame, or attacking your partner take a good long look in the mirror. Your happiness is solely your responsibility not that of your partner. When you feel an emotion it doesn’t mean it’s your partner that made you feel that way, which is what most people think. Instead our emotions are personal and attached to our own unique past experiences. Our beliefs and responses are conditioned by these events and trigger the emotions we feel. By becoming more self aware you can learn to accept responsibility for your feelings and actions instead of blaming your partner.
When we enter a relationship we’ve chosen that person because we were drawn to them for a reason. Usually it’s a quality in them that we want to be close to because it’s a quality we ourselves either don’t posses or need to develop. We chose that person knowing on some level that they could help us grow but many times when faced with the challenge to do that in a relationship, people resist because they feel that by making the change they are admitting they were inadequate to begin with. Although that’s not really the case, for many people it is impossible to consider that they should grow as a person and in the relationship by their partner’s influence, but that’s exactly why they chose them. A relationship is meant to challenge, inspire and encourage mutual growth.
Someone who lives in denial and deceives themselves into believing that they are the image they present to others around them instead of the person that’s reflected back to them through the eyes of the one closest to them is eventually going to end that relationship. Although this person will most likely continue to seek out relationships with people that will offer challenges for him to grow, as long as he is a self deceiver he will never find one that lasts – unless it’s with someone who will never challenge his self image; the enabler. This relationship will always be fragile though since the focus is on preserving the self image of the deceiver instead of maintaining the quality of the relationship. Without a solid foundation of mutual respect, trust and love both people will feel unfulfilled and want more.
Those who are afraid to grow and become more self aware miss the opportunity to have and share a real and meaningful connection with someone. For those of us who love or have loved a self deceiver we also lose because we have invested in a relationship with someone we care about that will never encourage or inspire our growth but stifle it. Whether you are an enabler or the “scale”, a relationship with a self-deceiver will never be what you want it to be; a good one.
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