Overcoming Self-Deception

Our levels of self-deception are often staggering. We lie to ourselves about big and small things, concealing our true motivations and creating elaborate self-justifications. This very human tendency happens because our egos are too fragile and untrained in honesty to call a spade a spade, and just be done with it. 

But each lie we tell ourselves is a step away from an authentic life: one where we are being true to what’s important to us. 

So just how can we overcome self-deception?

can we ever really know ourselves? 

In our defence, true self-awareness is hard. We have to deal with cognitive biases, limiting beliefs from childhood, and all of the weird and awful cultural standards we adopted to fit in. 

But we do need to at least attempt to de-condition ourselves from this stuff. Otherwise, authentic happiness gets further and further away from us. 

fives ways to practice self honesty 

The five are: 

  1. Stopping turning a blind eye to what’s not working.
  2. Working at being humble in our interpretations of reality and events.
  3. Question our true intentions.
  4. Catch ourselves lying in the act (there are clues).
  5. Commit to learning from the lies and for more self-honesty.

stop turning a blind eye

Ever stayed in a relationship for too long? What about a career or job? I’ve done it; you’ve done it. We’ve all done it.We all know though that ignoring our problems won’t fix them. They just grow.

Although it is challenging to stop lying to ourselves about why we stay in blatantly wrong situations (it takes courage to even admit to ourselves that things aren’t working), it is ultimately worse to spend your life stuck. The trade off is between temporary discomfort before increased freedom and self-esteem, versus the cushioned comfort we get by continuing on. For me, it’s no contest.

That said, it is helpful to try to better manage our fears. Try one of these mindfulness techniques, or experiment with Acceptance and Commitment therapy.

work on humility 

What has not being humble got to do with self-deception?

We need to be willing to admit we don’t know. When you think about it, whenever we are overly invested in our way of doing things, self-honesty is going to be called into question.

We often assume we know a thing, and we act in stubborn and irrational ways. We also ignore evidence that may contradict our current beliefs (it’s called confirmation bias).

Understanding our limitations keeps us open to new information and knowledge. This also allows us to be more flexible with our beliefs and modify them when presented with new information.

It would be difficult to be honest without that.

look at your intentions


Self justifications are common, especially when we aren’t in the habit of practising acceptance of our flaws.

Let’s say you want to do something out of pure self-centeredness. If being selfish doesn’t fit in with your image of yourself, then you’re bound to justify your behaviour as ‘I deserve this’ or whatever. We also justify things we want to do as having a higher purpose, when really we are being driven by our desires. 

It is better just to be honest. Accepting that sometimes we are lazy or selfish, etc. is the foundation for empowering yourself to behave in a different way if you want to further down the line. 

Instead of resisting your negative traits, seek to understand their origin. 

catch yourself at it

Clues that point towards self-deception:

When we catch ourselves justifying anything. Self justification becomes unnecessary when you are truly accepting yourself. 

Whenever we are attached to a certain outcome. You might start overlooking the evidence of warning flags or when you feeling really attached to something. The classic example of this is making excuses for other people’s behaviour because you love them or want to be with them. This is guaranteed to throw honesty out of the picture. 

When the stuff we hide is at risk of being ‘outed’. The more hidden aspects to ourselves that we have, the more a need there is to hide and lie. Think about the things you have been shamed for in the past. Seek to bring your shadow aspects into the light of conscious awareness. While those things are kept in the dark, they’ll be preventing your honesty in some way.

recommit to self-honesty

We’re all going to lie to ourselves from time-to-time. It indicates there is something important to us at stake.

Don’t go overboard with the self-analysis. Instead, try be ‘matter of fact’ with yourself. And be prepared for the reality that telling the truth to yourself isn’t a linear process. I have often thought I had gotten to the root of an issue only to realize later that there was another layer of the onion to peel. As this blogger puts it, it’s about ‘coming back and coming back and coming back’.


Self deception happens; it’s human. As the poet David Whyte said, denial serves a purpose; it keeps us safe from things we aren’t yet ready to take on.

Reversing self-deception isn’t one off work – it’s daily living. We don’t just become completely honest with ourselves overnight. It takes constant vigilance.

Although honesty can be painful, it is also rewarding stuff. Because when that honesty meets our willingness to change, there aren’t any limits on the positive changes we can create for ourselves in life.