Friday, October 7, 2011


we lie to ourselves.  A lot.  There is a whole mass of neuropsychology behind it, if you find it fascinating, you may want to look at some of Jonah Lehrer's (books and his column/blog at Wired) work as being particularly relevant.  One of the most striking examples of how we do this unknowingly comes from people with a specific neurological deficit, wherein the bridge between the two sides of the brain is cut leaving parts of your brain unaware of what is happening on the opposite side of your body....I believe this also occurs with another disorder where they lose contact with one side of their body, as in they don't know it exists.

The basic premise is that the 'unknown' side is shown a comic, of something funny, and when the person laughs at it, they are then asked what they were laughing at.  They answer, and often believe their answer.

I will openly confess that my science on this is, to say the least, wobbly, but it is 7am and I'm not going to wake the household on a Sat morning in search of proper references.

What I find more interesting, at the moment, is when I find myself lying to myself somewhat consciously in order to either improve a situation or to be happier.  The example that got me thinking about this is when I am teaching a person who I do not find, ah, totally charming shall we say.  I am doomed lucky to spend an entire year with them, and I had better, indeed it is my JOB, to find a way to make this a good experience for that person, however I may feel about them.

So, I lie to myself.  I spend quite a bit of time quashing more negative thoughts, denying negative opinions and focusing on and emphasising the positive, sometimes to the point of silliness, to the point where I can here myself convincing myself that I like this person.

It never works completely if the person is truly disagreeable, at the end of the year when I stop working at it, it washes away quite quickly, but sometimes I do find that I end up actually liking the person more than I would have thought....

I find it is something that I do, and that I suspect many people do.  We work at convincing ourselves, sometimes with outright lies, that things aren't what they seem.  Fortunately, I tend to try to improve things, though there are certainly people, and I know some, who dedicate enormous amounts of time to deciding, and convincing themselves, that things are worse than they seem.

It is a useful tool, and one I find more interesting when I find myself doing this quite deliberately.  (Sounds like there's about 3 of me there doesn't it.  The poor vulnerable me being convinced, the conniving liar doing the dirty deed, and another me watching it all in bemusement)   Then when I get thinking about it, I can come up with other times that this has come into play, apartments that were less than wonderful but moving isn't really such an option, courses that were less than wonderful, but which have to be finished.  Colleagues who are a wee bit problematic, so to speak.....

I don't think I'm alone out here, but I do find it fascinating.


kate said...

Interesting. I think it's good to be conscious of it and use it as a coping tool, as you do (undoubtedly I do too in a number of ways I'm not fully aware of.) Of course if you aren't aware, you run the risk of letting yourself be in denial, and justifying situations that would be better dealt with with head on or changed.

Maybe I'll look for that column/book...

Sherry said...

Interesting thoughts and an excellent example of how we "justify" things to ourselves. We all do, of that I'm convinced. I know I do. Usually it is for the good, to better a situation or make something unpleasant more palatable. And when I've been lying to myself over something that is harmful to me psychologically, it manifests and I know I'm doing it -- my body certainly lets me know. Sometimes trying to "make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" just isn't the healthy way to go. But for those times when it's sink or swim? I'm in!

Beth said...

I think that sort of lying is one of our survival mechanisms.

Re: “...unaware of what is happening on the opposite side of your body...I believe this also occurs with another disorder where they lose contact with one side of their body, as in they don't know it exists.”

I read a fascinating book (fiction) about this condition - Left Neglected by Lisa Genova.

Nomad said...


JUst typed an amazing and insightful response...
LOST it!

I hate that.

Ok, what is TRUTH...what are LIES?

Both are stories we create about a reality that is tenuous, from a perspective that is ever changing.

We control the entire thing - accepting this fact loosens up our idea of TRUTH, allowing us to seek other perspectives.

How is this Lying??

Love you

Nomad said...

A great book about this is called 'Loving What Is"
Takes Eckhart Tolle, a big step further, tho it was written in the 70's.

Helen said...

Sometimes it is willful self deception, other times wish fulfillment, other times you have no idea you are lying to yourself until something drastic happens to wake you up. Funny thing the human mind.

oreneta said...

Kate, there is no question that our facility at doing this can lead to all manner of damaging decisions and relationships, but it is a useful tool when wielded consciously.

Sherry, indeed, sometimes it is the most unhealthy thing in the world and we need to be shaken up to recognise when we are going astray....but sometimes there ain't nothing we can do.

Beth, Read it, BRILLIANT, have you read Still Alice by the same author? Great book too.

Nomad, where do I start?!?!?! I love you, you know this. While I get where you're coming from, sometimes the fast and dirty realities of life require a quick naming of this as the truth of the situation, ie you (or your kid) have to spend the rest of the year with a lousy little shit of a teacher/colleague/student and all there is to do is make the best of a bad situation. Are they truly a lousy little shit or a deeply troubled lovely person? Sometimes, that's not what we need to concentrate on, or not what our kids need to concentrate on on a moment to moment basis, or maybe that's the lie we have to tell ourselves to get through it. No one could be such a lousy little shit if there weren't a reason for it ...blah blah blah.....either way, we have to figure out a way to deal with it, and for me anyways, sometimes the truth of the matter is that it is a crappy situation and the lies I tell myself to tell myself are what get me through it.
I'll put the book on my TBR list!

Helen, that's it exactly, it is a weird and funny thing. Fascinating. I find it really interesting to watch how it works, on myself as well.

Beth said...

Yes, I've read Still Alice. Wonderful but so sad.

oreneta said...

I agree, Still Alice was wonderful, I didn't find the ending totally sad, she seemed to still be happy in her own way.....

Nomad said...

I hear you, and everyone has their ways of coping with any given situation, but I pretty categorically disagree (speaking from my own vantage point of course...:-) )
I do believe that giving a situation a negative "title" is only detrimental to the situation, and it closed doors on other opportunities.
You know I am not naive, and I surely have run into my share of "shits" in my life.
Just a different way of looking at it I suppose.
I cannot, however, honesty say I ever lie to myself to get myself through a situation.
Ever. Interesting.

(Or maybe I am in such deep and eternal denial I just do not realize it!)

I do however tolerate or knowingly accept things I do wish were different. I think it is always a case of payoffs. If there were no payoffs, then of course we would not tolerate.
Is this lying to myself?
I mean how can we really lie to ourselves?

I honestly do not understand how you could either?


Maybe "lying" is not exactly the right word...

Nomad said...

I have a similar situation right now, a nightmare teacher who is likely the biggest &^*& I have met in a long time.
I am trying my hardest to keep my mind open to what this person (who clearly has issues) might be finally able to offer me, but if I close my mind completely in a negative decision, for sure I will loose.
If I labelled him what I have seen so far, then it would be case closed.
Am I lying to myself?
I am aware that my judgement of this individual is pretty subjective, (no one else seems as p*ssed as me) so where does the truth really lie?
I wold love to hear what you think of this.
Hug H