Self-deception, delusion, excuses, morality and ‘reality negotiation’
I was looking into denial, self-deception and self-delusion regarding our excuses and justifications for wanting to believe that we are ‘good’ people regardless if our actions are wrong (specifically to relate to fellow non-human animals). I found some good information…
Reality negotiation is a process where people negotiate with reality in order to sustain their personal theories of being “good” or “in-control” through the construction of illusions. People aren’t interested in truth about reality as it ‘is’, but merely want to “feel-good” about themselves by lying to themselves, creating an illusion of a self-image and self-concept to promote their counter-reality belief that they are “good” no matter what they do. Just spin an excuse here and justification there, and everything is right with the world, all is back to being comfortable and no change is needed, things can go on as they were before. This is also known as cognitive dissonance, double-think, self-justification, and other names.
It’s a way of coping with your life to maintain the self-image of being “good”, “right” and certainly not “wrong” when something is brought to your attention that conflicts with preconceived notions about self and reality. Anything that is identified with part of self-worth is defended with rationalizations, excuses and justifications in order to maintain adherence and attachment to that identification because it is viewed as an attack on the self, that is comprised in part of all the things we identify with, and the need the view ourselves in a good-light, as a “good person,” not capable of accepting the reality and admitting we are not right, we are wrong, and sometimes that makes us not “good” people. The only way out of that trap is to want to get out of it with truth and self-respect in full honesty, facing the hard and uncomfortable truths that show us we are not really in truth how we falsely perceive ourselves to be.
Personal Development & Self Help in Reality
Reality really does matter. I taught my kids to tell the truth to me when they were very small. “Tell Mommy three things you don’t like about me” I’d ask. I was teaching them a foundation of trust can only build on the reality of honesty.
Reality means we’re all good and bad. Solely good people don’t exist. Why do mother’s torture themselves wondering how to be perfect when it just isn’t possible.
My daughter made a cardboard TV set when she was little. It was very elaborate with a paper ‘screen’ of the two of us in a flower garden. In an endearing misspelled effort she wrote “Yer the greatest Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.” When you flip the flap to the other side it says “Well, sometimes.” That was a refreshing truth.
Change is consistent in everybody’s life. Those who resist change seem fragile and stiff with their resistance. Think of those you know who ignore new technology in comparison to those who work hard to be open and embrace it.
There are lots of hard parts to life. It’s hard to accept that in the beginning of being in love with someone, one person usually loves the other person more. It’s hard to be an immigrant who’s qualifications are discounted in their new nation – doctors working as orderlies and engineers as house cleaners.
It’s hard to watch someone you love continue to pile up their bad choices. It’s hard to face that you drink too much and you’ve been more than foolish in front of other people. Bad choices are so much easier to make which is enchanting.
We are all in cocoons of illusions that we use to defend ourselves. It’s breaking through them that makes us a better person. It is only through self-awareness, often painful self-awareness, that we can change. It is only then that we get to grapple with the reality of our life and make better choices.
“There is a bird in a poem by T.S. Eliot who says that mankind cannot bear very much reality; but the bird is mistaken. A man can endure the entire weight of the universe for eighty years. It is unreality he cannot bear.” – Ursala LeGuin, The Lathe of Heaven
In the quote above it is both T. S. Eliot and the bird in his poem “The Waste Land” that believed ignoring reality works. Eliot had his first wife committed to a mental hospital in 1938 and never once visited her. (Noted on page 561 – Painted Shadow by Carole Shemore-James.) Eliot wrote what he believed; the much wiser science fiction writer Ursala LeGuin corrected him.
Find your courage to face hard realities and you will make your life work better, guaranteed.
False Excuses – Honesty, Wrongdoing, and Moral Growth
To advocate dishonesty or deception as occasionally morally acceptable or even praiseworthy is a tricky business for both philosophers and laypersons. Since successful lies depend upon a presumption of truthfulness, it seems imprudent to announce the possibility of lies and deception in advance.
Despite such worries, many recent moral and psychological accounts of honesty have argued that deception (including self-deception) is integral to our interpersonal relations. David Nyberg’s book The Varnished Truth questions the assumption that “truthfulness and morality go together in a clear and simple way” (Nyberg 1993, 10). Charles Ford’s Lies! Lies!! Lies!!! sympathetically examines the psychology of lying and deception. In The Liar’s Tale Jeremy Campbell argues that “for better or worse, lying… is not an artificial, deviant, or dispensable feature of life” (Campbell 2001, 14). On such accounts, dishonesty with oneself and with others is a natural phenomenon often serving a useful and necessary function in human life.
While these critiques of absolute honesty have introduced much-needed complexity and realism into the debate about its moral worth, they overlook some of the more subtle consequences of our choices between truth and falsehood. Unseen harms and benefits lurk in these choices because they concern the messy intersection of interpersonal relations, self-assessment, and moral life. Indeed, such complexity illustrates that a consequentialist justification for honesty cannot rely upon any single argument, but rather depends upon a patchwork of overlapping arguments, some broadly applicable, others more narrowly so.
We find such hidden complexities in one familiar type of lie: the false excuse. In telling a false excuse, a person denies responsibility for a misdeed through deliberate deception, thereby shielding himself from the negative consequences of that misdeed. False excuses are common because of the often powerful inducements to tell such lies and seemingly scant reasons to avoid them. However, by digging deeper, we find that false excuses can significantly damage one of our most precious assets: our moral character, particularly our capacity for moral growth.
False Excuses and Moral Growth
We find such harms in one familiar type of lie: the false excuse. A false excuse is a deception of self or others disavowing wrongdoing so as to avoid harm to the self . Examples of false excuses include a student’s pretended offense at his teacher’s suspicion of plagiarism, a woman’s accusation of a co-worker for her loss of important documents, and a wife’s rationalization of an affair. Faced with knowledge or suspicion of failing our own moral standards, false excuses promise protection from the wounds often incurred by honest acknowledgement of such failures to ourselves and others. Yet, as we shall see, such protection is illusory. False excuses risk morally significant dangers, including that of undermining our capacity for moral growth.
Excuses, emotions and in between
According to the framework here suggested, the relationship between excuses and emotions can be summarized by a few central points:
1. Questionable actions, specifically when they involve damage, may cause negative emotions in those being hurt, and in some cases, also in those that caused the damage.
2. Excuses are explanations aimed to repair one’s self image, the emotional damage related with the loss of that self-image and the emotional damage caused to another agent, while trying to protect the listener from being emotionally hurt (cf. Weiner et al., 1991). Excuses typically do little by way of repairing the emotional damage caused, but usually succeed well where restoring one’s self image is concerned and the emotional uneasiness associated with it.
3. An excuse may, under some circumstances, cause further aggravation of the emotional tension between the parties involved, or even be the factor that will cause such a tension to arise, because of two main factors: (a) as an usually unsatisfactory explanation, it may be perceived as continuing or even initiating the same sort of undesirable behavior evolved by the questionable action, namely, hurting the listener; (b) when it fails to be accepted by the other side, the excuse maker may view this as a violation of the relationship and trust, especially when from his/her point of view the excuse given contains a satisfactory explanation.
It is important to remember that all this is true only of the specific meaning of excuse we are dealing with here , i.e., unsatisfactory explanation to a questionable action. It is not necessarily true of all meanings of the term excuse. Still, I believe that the above suggestions may help us understand better some of the main points raised at the beginning.
“Looking at Oneself in a Rose-Colored Mirror”
The self-concept is increasingly viewed as not only a reflection of our present behavior, but as a mediator and regulator as well. In this respect, the self-concept can be conceptualized as the structure that represents the self as well as the dynamic process influencing interpersonal and intrapersonal behavior. Extending this analysis to a more abstract level, a theory about the self reflects basic assumptions, core beliefs, and corollaries representing less central beliefs (Snyder, Irving, Sigmon, & Holleran, 1992). For example, throughout this chapter we will refer to two main assumptions that we believe most individuals hold about themselves: (1) “I am a good person,” and (2) ••1 am ‘in control’ most of the time.” These core assumptions underlying typical self theories are formed over time and represent a collage of perceptions and images about the self across a multitude of situations.
Imagine your self theory as a house with many levels and rooms. We like our home to be relatively unchanging in most respects, yet we often engage in enhancing and protective projects. Locking doors and windows, paying insurance premiums, painting and maintenance of the structure are all examples of enhancing and protective behaviors we engage in with respect to our home. Similarly, our self theory needs protection and enhancement. Just as we only want visitors (and often ourselves) to see certain rooms of our house, we only want our “clean,” “good and in control” self to be seen. Our self theory is vulnerable to attack from without as we are constantly bombarded with conflicting personal information about the self. Ways to protect and maintain our self theory are presented next.
The problem arises when we are faced with some disconcerting or incongruent feedback about our self theory. What happens when a core belief is challenged by new information? To maintain a sense of balance about our self beliefs, the new ·information must be revised or transformed in some manner. Rather than calling a demolition crew to tear down our psychological home, we engage in a reality negotiation process. Accommodating this new conflicting information about the self into a form that is more consistent with our core beliefs represents a negotiated reality (Snyder et al., 1992).
“States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering”
A Pack of Lies: Towards a Sociology of Lying
Self-Deception Won’t Make You Happy
Philosophy of Self-Deception
The evolution and psychology of self-deception
In this article we argue that self-deception evolved to facilitate interpersonal deception by allowing people to avoid the cues to conscious deception that might reveal deceptive intent. Self-deception has two additional advantages: It eliminates the costly cognitive load that is typically associated with deceiving, and it can minimize retribution if the deception is discovered. Beyond its role in specific acts of deception, self-deceptive self-enhancement also allows people to display more confidence than is warranted, which has a host of social advantages. The question then arises of how the self can be both deceiver and deceived. We propose that this is achieved through dissociations of mental processes, including conscious versus unconscious memories, conscious versus unconscious attitudes, and automatic versus controlled processes
And I eventually found one specifically relating to animals instead of just the broad psychological process!
Silence and Denial in Everyday Life—The Case of Animal Suffering