The narratives we come to believe in our early childhood have a powerful influence over us. This is because during our early days, the part of our brains that are the most active is the right hemisphere. The right hemisphere is associated with viewing the world from an emotional perspective, as opposed to the left hemisphere which is strongly associated with logic and reasoning. This is why scientists and mathematicians are generally referred to as left brained while those who specialize in the creative arts are referred to as right brained.
So if neuroscience is mostly accurate on brain functions then all children, if not most children must be right brained, emotional, creative, primal and spontaneous. This would mean that during this period of development when the right brain is most active, children interpret most of their daily experiences, especially the acquisition of beliefs and values through an emotional and primal perspective.
This means that whatever beliefs and values you inherited during your early life experiences, is something that is mostly likely non conscious, and primarily associated with your sense of identity, even if it is false.
This is where self-deceit comes in. Self-deceit happens when we run into life challenges that require us to revise our core beliefs in order to overcome said challenges. For example, take a young person who comes from a small town and all throughout his life he was heralded as a really good football player. To the extent in which members of his town began to express great expectations for him to become a professional player. The person eventually graduates high school and gains admission into a major university, where he barely makes the school team and he is eventually cut from roster. If this person already has a self-identity forged in being a star athlete, he is going to have a difficult time accepting the reality of his situation. Furthermore, the longer he holds unto this self-identity the more self-defeating decisions he is going to make in order to maintain a sense of self consistency with his false identity and delusions. This will go on until he reaches rock bottom in his life, or he is fortunate to receive an intervention from a support group.
In the above example, you can substitute star football player with a number of different identities a person may have come to embrace during his or her early life experiences. Regardless this is the root cause of all self-deceits, when challenges a person is currently experiencing, require a major revision of strongly held beliefs which is easier said than done.
While a revision and replacement of major beliefs inherited during childhood years is easier said than done, it is possible. Through cognitive behavioral therapy someone who struggles with self-deceit can relearn to accept themselves unconditionally with positive regard. This will then make it possible for them to abandon any old and unhealthy beliefs associated with their sense of identity and adopt new and healthy beliefs which reinforce unconditional self-acceptance. All of these can be accomplished through the comprehension and consistent practice of cognitive behavioral strategies which leads a rewiring in the brain.
Ugochukwu is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC
“Deception may give us what we want for the present, but it will always take it away in the end.” -Rachel Hawthone
A morbidly obese client who was working on getting back to a healthier weight, informed me that she only just noticed her obesity a month prior to booking an appointment with me. According to her, while she readily admits that she has always had a weight issue, she informed me that she had no idea that her weight had gotten this out of control.
A teacher who recently received feedback from two of his students. In the feedback, they informed him that his lessons where disorganized, and that he was inconsistent in his punctuality in getting their assignments back to them. This teacher would share with me, how this feedback caught him off guard, especially when other students shared with him that this feedback was accurate. The teacher was caught off guard because he had also prided himself with having very organized lesson plans.
To varying degrees people suffer from the illusion of living their lives as who they believe themselves to be, as opposed who they really are. The primary culprit for this cognitive distortion is our strong desire to feel good about ourselves. Desires to see ourselves in a positive light can subconsciously pull us away from any process of taking accountability. Systems we are aware off which we can use to maintain accountability, such as a weight scales, feedback sheets, daily documentation, etc. can create feelings of negativity in us, which can easily be internalized. People who were raised with the belief system where their self worth was directly correlated with their behavior, are most likely to avoid systems of accountability. If you believe negative or critical feedback means that you are a bad person and you don’t want to feel like a bad person, then why bother? Especially when you could always construct a narrative which you feel good about.
When left unchecked the results of self delusion can be disappointing to devastating, as evidenced from the first two examples above. From the morbidly obese woman, who found herself literally fighting for her life, when she came to a place of acceptance regarding what her health was really like, to the teacher who spent years in a profession stuck on being mediocre. So how does a person protect themselves from becoming self deluded?
The first step is to practice accepting yourself unconditionally. Acceptance of self, is to accept unconditionally, the part of you that is aware or conscious, that is to accept your humanity. You accept your humanity simply because you exist. Your acceptance of your humanity has to be unattached to actions, subsequent accomplishments or failures you experience, you simply accept yourself because you exist.
Acceptance of yourself allows to you to experience negative feelings and not personalize these feelings, instead you come to see feelings are messages. For example, in general positive feelings indicate that there is congruency between what you believe and what you are experiencing and negative feelings indicate that there is a lack of congruency between what you believe and what you are experiencing. Furthermore in other to protect yourself from coming to believing in feelings that communicate false positives and false negatives, you employ systems of accountability, so that you get into the habit of collecting evidence to verify or refute your feelings.
Our ability to deal with negative feelings comes from accepting ourselves unconditionally.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.