ISSUES OF FAITH: The price of self-deception

As a minister entrusted with all sorts of secrets, I am frequently confronted with the reality that we all lie.

I’m not talking about deliberate, bold-faced lying.

Rather, I’m referring to the type of dishonesty that is far harder to detect and admit — the kind that comes from not being honest with ourselves.

We all do it.

Don’t believe me?

See if you can recognize yourself in at least one of these examples:

• We fool ourselves into believing that we can change or “fix” another person who doesn’t want to change.

• We convince ourselves that we’ll always have enough money — even though we don’t and can’t know how long we’re going to live.

• We are so attached to aspirational goals (e.g., drinking less), and convince ourselves that we’re not going to drink tonight. Yet when we arrive at the party and see others drinking, we join the crowd.

• We tell ourselves that a crumbling relationship isn’t crumbling, that it will work out if we “just try harder.”

• We stretch the truth for social appropriateness, saying things such as, “You look fantastic!” even though the person we’re addressing truly looks unhealthy or sad.

• We make excuses for our adult kid’s shortcomings, saying things like: “We have to be more patient and understanding about his inability to hold a job; he never really got over the divorce.”

• Or, we cover our disappointment about major life choices by spinning tales about our choice of romantic partners or career paths.

Costs of self-deception

Although normative and commonplace, self-deception comes with profound costs because we live our truth whether we are honest about it or not.

Self-deception is exemplified in our thinking patterns, beliefs, behaviors, emotional reactions and relationships.

Any time our lives are driven by something outside of our awareness, it makes life more difficult for us and those around us.

We hurt ourselves and those around us when we don’t take full responsibility for who we are; often using painful life experiences to justify being non-ideal versions of ourselves.

Any time we do that, we directly and indirectly hurt others — especially those we love the most.

So why do we do this?

At the core, we deceive ourselves because we don’t have enough psychological strength to admit the truth and deal with the consequences that will follow.

It’s easier, but less healthy, to live in a state of denial.

Yet we can live more fulfilling lives if we summon the courage to recognize and understand our self-deceptive nature.

For when we are able to acknowledge our true selves, we give ourselves the opportunity to change and grow in depth and self-awareness.

To quote the Buddha: “Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.”

The less we deceive ourselves, the more likely we are to achieve that aim.


Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Kate Lore is a minister at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend. Her email is [email protected]

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