Self-Deception: A Defense Against Vulnerability

Nothing is so easy as to deceive one’s self, for what we wish to believe, we readily believe, but such expectations are often inconsistent with the real state of things. Demosthenes  c. 384-322 BCE, Athenian Statesman, Orator

Perhaps, 2013 is going to be the year of helping us to better understand self-deception; a normal defense of awareness against feeling weak, at risk, exposed, and helpless. There is no better example to show how self-deception operates in our daily lives than to show what it looks like in its extreme, as in the recent news story of Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o who deceived himself into believing that he had an ongoing three-year love affair with a woman who never existed. Also, there is Lance Armstrong who finally admitted to having had deceived us into believing that he won (seven times) the Tour de France cycling competition fair and square. Although Te’o is the deceived and Armstrong the deceiver,  they are really different poles of self-deception, in which people deny or rationalize away the relevance, significance, or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument that says what they are telling themselves is a big, fat lie.

I’m not surprised that some people have wondered if the extent of Te’o’s and Armstrong’s self-deception constitutes a delusional disease (Fox News, Does Manti Te’o Suffer From a Delusional Disease; Miami Herald, Armstrong Delusions Fading Fast), as they both do appear to meet some of the criteria for delusional thinking, which is a persistence false and fanciful, non-psychotic idea that one knows to be untrue, on some level. Plus, outside of delusion, the person is normal.

It’s hard to wrap our minds around the extraordinary self-deception with which one has to engage, to keep a  three-year relationship going with a non-existent person. Indeed, most of you do not have the makeup to have to lie to yourself in this extreme way. Nonetheless, each of us deludes ourselves in small ways every day, to reinforce the way that we have come to think about ourselves and the beliefs and values we hold. We are defensive by nature, so that we are all vulnerable to deceiving ourselves, at times.

For example, you may think you are the greatest accountant, but your performance reviews in past jobs does not confirm this. To protect yourself against feeling weak, inferior, and threatened, you tell yourself that your “bosses are idiots and jealous of you”. You are not delusional. You just have a strong emotional investment in the idea that you are the best, which makes you defend against anything that says otherwise. Also, consider, for a moment, a patient of mine. She would not sign off on a performance review, until her boss edited it to my patient’s satisfaction. They haggled over the wording in the review, for months, until my patient felt it represented her work accurately. Was she delusional? Most definitely, I can tell you that she was not. She had little social life, outside of her work. Her work life was the sole source of her self-esteem. Thus, she experienced constructive criticism like a knife that was cutting away at her only source of good feelings ~ her job. And, believe me, she defended against this attack, like a Roman Gladiator who had to kill or be killed. I’m sure her boss viewed her as a huge pain in the butt, just trying to make his life miserable. But, he couldn’t be more wrong. She was trying to feel safe.

The Ego’s Role in Self-Deception and Delusional Thinking

But, that being said, there is a definite line between a temporary defensive effort to adjust normal drops in self-esteem and a full-blown delusional idea that is needed to prop up an ego that is stressed and at risk of failing. The ego is the part of  you that keeps you grounded in the real world, and thus, your self-esteem in tact. It knows the extent of your psychological investment in seeing yourself in a certain way. It helps you to deny and distort information to make what’s happening fit with your view of things. And, most of this takes place outside of your awareness. Take, for example, a person who considers herself a non-vindictive person, but has the fleeting thought that she wishes for a coworker who insulted her to get fired. She resolves this contradiction, by denying that she really wishes for harm to come to her coworker. She tells herself that she’s just angry, rather than she may be a little more vindictive than she likes to think.

Daily, you are confronted by impressions that arise within you and through external events that challenge the way you normally think about yourself. You don’t think twice about these mini challenges to your self-esteem, because your defensive way of dealing with them has become second nature to you.

However, the more you have to defend self-perceptions that are not supported wholly by reality, the more energy you have to give toward defending them. This can deprive your body and mind of energy to function well.

Thus, it’s to your benefit to change unrealistic self-perceptions that tie up the ego in weakening defensive maneuvers. The following three tips will help you strengthen your ego so that you cope more effectively with stressful circumstances and have more energy to realize your goals.

Three Tips to Strengthen Your Ego

  1. Know yourself psychologically. Remember, “No one was ever injured by the truth. But a man injures himself if he lives with self-deception and ignorance.” Marcus Aurelius (121-180, Roman Emperor, Stoic Philosopher. Thus, put in your time in getting to know yourself, psychologically.
  2. Value reality as much as fantasy. Some of you may find reality boring and tend to live in your imagination more than you do the real world. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with the truth. In fact, you will be more apt to realize some of what’s in your fantasy, by considering what is and isn’t possible to actualize of it.
  3. Enjoy being an everyday person. I can feel some of you squirming with this one. It’s fine to appreciate your intellect, talents and capabilities. But, some of you put great pressure on yourself to be extraordinary, so that anything short of this makes you feel less than, unlovable, and depressed. Everyday doesn’t mean something bad or that you are not talented and capable. It means, simply, that you can relax. You don’t have to be superman or wonder woman to be lovable. When you give yourself permission to be normal, your ego can stop protecting you from feeling vulnerable. Now, you will have the energy to realize your capabilities, fully.

If you liked my post today, please let me know by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. And, if you wish to share these ideas with other people, you can Tweet or Google+1 today’s article. Warmly, Deborah.

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23 Responses to “Self-Deception: A Defense Against Vulnerability”

  1. avatar Muhammad Asad Fareed says:

    WOW! Deborah, The Last lines “You don’t have to be superman or wonder woman to be lovable”. In my language Urdu, I would appreciate it as “Kiya Hi Baat Hy”.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Muhammad, thank you for teaching me those last lines in Urdu. I will remember them. Kiya Hi Baat Hy! Thank you for reading my posts. Warmly Deborah.

  2. avatar Pratik says:

    Good write-up Debbie. All the best.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Pratik. You are such a good friend of mine and PIEL. Thank you. I’m glad you liked the recent post. I trust all is going very well for you. Warmly Deborah. 🙂

  3. avatar Muhammad Abbas says:

    that’s great

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Muhammad. Thank you. I’m glad you liked the information in this article. Warm regards to you and thank you for being such a dedicated, supportive friend. Deborah.

  4. avatar ANNIE says:


    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hi Annie, thank you, I’m glad you liked the post. Annie, when I posted the three ways to strengthen one’s ego, this was how we can get out of self-deception. You see we tend to self-deceive ourselves when we have little awareness into our psychological issues. Thus, the one way we can reduce the tendency to lie to ourself about a desire, impulse or need, is to examine ourselves fully. People can go to psychotherapy to learn more about themselves, or they can start reading more psychology books, which gives us information that then makes us think–oh, this is why I thought or did this. The more we understand, the more awareness we have into ourselves, and the less self-deception.

      Also, if when we over-identify with certain values, beliefs and ideas–it can sometimes say that we are denying the opposite of this in us.

      I hope this helps a bit more. Thank you for visiting. I hope to see you here again soon. Warmly Deborah.

  5. avatar Zerevan M Xalid says:

    All that I’m going to do is gust to tell you thank you in Kurdish Language. Supasiya te dikem(Thank you). Best regards.

  6. avatar Zerevan M Xalid says:

    So sorry, from above I misspelled the term just. ^_^..<3

  7. avatar Zerevan M Xalid says:

    Since you are amongst the most dutiful persons who I know well. I want you to do me a favour if you don’t mind.
    Send a topic about “Nervous Breakdown” because I am struggling a bit from it and enjoin me how to do away with it? Or is there any therapy to kill this unwanted mental disease? My gratitude, Zerevan M Xalid.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Thank you Zerevan. I am posting one article before this, but I promise you, the next article is on nervous breakdown. Warm regards to you, Deborah.

  8. avatar hanifullah says:

    these line,i feel.are for me that i try too to become a superman every where.and when i fail ti do something then i go for some baseless excuses and become depress…..

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Hanifullah, you are right, pressures to be everything to everyone can set you up for depression. When people strive for perfection and superman type behavior, it can often mean that they feel vulnerable somehow and that this is a defense against feeling vulnerable. This is what you are saying here. I hope the article got you thinking about accepting yourself more so you don’t put expectations on yourself that set you up for feeling you’ve failed. You take good care. Warmly Deborah.

  9. avatar Ahmad Asim says:

    hello i am ahmad. my age is 25. i want to discuss one problem with you through this platform, hope you will guide me better. from last three days i face the problem of noise of traffic near my home road. i live near this road since 6 years. but never was this problem occur. last two days when my sister told to my mother that how traffic noise here is.i also listen her this conversion and from this day i disturb from the noise of traffic near my home. i try my best that i did not think about traffic noise from six years. what i do. what is this disease and how to overcome on this. please briefly guide me to how to overcome on this bye

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Ahmad. I see I responded to you on my FB page for this website. Thank you for writing me again here. Hope you are using some of my tips to help you. Warmly Deborah.

  10. avatar sultan khan says:

    hi doctor i m from india. i m not effectively control my emotions in our dailly life.can u tell me whats the problem is?i also check from doctors but they cant diogonose i sit and talk to peoples with full stress in mind .i m not able to comtrol then i take antodepressant.

  11. avatar zohaib says:

    I extracted from the article that fish should swim rather than used to think it can not fly….so it is stupid enough

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hi Zohaib, I hope I get what you are saying right. So, I will say, Yes, we have to admit who we are, our strengths and limitations and what is possible so we act smartly. Well said Zohaib. Have a good day. Warm regards Deborah.

  12. avatar Kamal says:

    Wonderful delivery. I intend to with my collegue about self-deception
    Your artical gave me some insight. Promise I would not copy paste your verson.
    Would prefer to read your other articals with interest.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Kamal. I’m so glad the article on self deception helped you understand a colleague. Thank you for reading my articles. Deborah


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