For reasons I can't quite explain, I found myself obsessing over the concept of "lying to yourself" a few days ago. It's a common enough phrase, an expression that says you aren't being honest with yourself on some level. What started to drive me crazy about the phrase, as I rolled it over and over in my head, was a growing conviction that it was impossible to lie to yourself.
It is, however, possible to be deluded, to find yourself in a state of questionable sanity. Human beings are subject to all sorts of mental failings and we are easily tricked by little things like disease, a clever salesperson, the right words spoken in the right tone of voice, or a virus that drives our body temperature into the realms of fever. The neurophysical machinery, despite many safeguards to protect the brain, doesn't even get first dibs when other parts of the body are in danger. We're also prone to hallucination, courtesy of any or all of the above villains.
Somehow we're offended by the concept of delusion. We don't want to admit that we've been duped or that we've fallen for some nonsense or that we just imagined whatever it was we so firmly bought into. Delusion just sounds bad.
"You, sir, are deluded." Or, "you are living a delusion."
Now let's try the lie instead. "I don't think you're being completely honest with yourself." Or "you're lying to yourself."
Neither of the last two sounds as bad as being deluded or living in a delusion.
And yet, if you truly believe something that isn't true, you aren't lying to yourself, you're deluded. You've bought into fantasy or accepted the hallucination as fact. In which case, you're mentally ill. Perhaps not seriously ill; you may have the equivalent of a mental cold. But you're still sick. In the head.
Lying to yourself is a way of holding on to your sanity while admitting to some minor transgression. Except that it's impossible. If you're managed to convince yourself that a lie you've told yourself is the truth, you're sick. You're deluded. Or you're a psychopath with no understanding or concept of truth vs falsehood.
By reaching for the "lying to yourself" card, what you're doing is lying to others. You're telling the people around you about an impossible accident in that brain of yours and that's the real lie. You're not lying to yourself, but to the people in your life; your friends, family, or co-workers.
And what about me? Since I'm suggesting that at least some of you may be suffering some form of mental illeness (or worse), I suppose I need to come clean. So here it is. I've been deluded and I've lived a delusion more than once in my life, some were minor delusions and a few were biggies, but I'm pretty sure I've never successfully lied to myself. And yes, I have to admit that I've told a few lies as well. Just not to myself.
How about you? Am I missing something here? If you disagree, take a moment to explain why you feel I am mistaken.
"Faith is believing something you know ain't true." – Mark Twain