I came across an aphorism by social and moral philosopher Eric Hoffer, which speaks to a truth that we all need to be aware of: “We lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves.”
Now, before, you insist that you never fib to yourself and always attempt to be honest, consider if that might be a lie in itself. Read this blog and, then, see if your assessment changes. Moreover, see if you can accept the truth that we all lie to ourselves without any self-judgment and, especially, without self-condemnation.
To understand our behavior, the question we might ask is why we would lie to ourselves. Aren’t we taught from toddlerhood that lying is bad and wrong? Aren’t we often shamed and punished when we tell falsehoods intentionally or inadvertently? The major reason that we lie is because, in the moment, it brings more emotional comfort than telling the truth. If we say we didn’t do something we’re accused of, we hope to avoid punishment. If we stick to our falsehood that the deed is someone else’s fault, we escape censure because it will be directed at the alleged perpetrator.
Moreover, we observe that adults around us lie in big and small ways, to others and to themselves. They tell Grandma that she’s fine when she’s dying and tell us that Dad will stop drinking and he doesn’t. Dad swears he’ll stop, too, but nothing changes. Mom oozes gratitude for a gift from a neighbor, then tosses it into the box for Goodwill. Or she insists that we’ll leave a store and head home in five minutes and 30 minutes later we’re still watching her pick through the bargain rack.
So, what’s the problem if everyone lies to themselves and others? Can it really be so harmful if we’re all doing it? It’s not about being good or bad, but about how we hurt ourselves by not being honest with ourselves. Here are some of the lies I hear weekly that clients probably don’t even think of as untruths: I can’t leave him, it’s impossible for me to say no to ice cream, I don’t have time for the gym, she hurts me but she means well, there’s something permanently wrong with me that I can’t lose weight, people are right that I shouldn’t trust myself, I’ll be happier thinner, the problems in my marriage aren’t my fault, my kids don’t notice my wife and me fighting, no one wants to hear my problems, food is comfort, therapy can’t help me, or I need to weigh myself daily.
The problem with self-lies is that if you say them often enough, you come to believe them. Think about what you tell yourself about food, exercise, your body, or your ability to change. Is everything you say factual or simply an assumption you’ve chosen because it’s easier to bear than the truth? What do you fear will happen if you quit lying to yourself? Figure that out, and it’ll be easier to stick with the truth. Honestly, it will.