Why Do We Deceive Ourselves? The Usefulness Of This Psychological Phenomenon

Why do we deceive ourselves?

It is evident that all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, have tried to deceive ourselves at some point in our lives.

But what is this phenomenon due to? What is the point of trying to deceive the only person who knows everything about us, what we think at every moment and our future intentions? In this article we will try to answer these and other questions.

Why do we deceive ourselves on a daily basis?

Aristotle said that man is a rational animal, and indeed, that is the case. But that does not free us from counting among our beliefs some that are irrational, which already gives us some clue as to why we deceive ourselves.

Indeed, on some occasions We prefer to renounce facts and rationality and embrace reasoning that makes no sense and that defy all logic, trying to convince ourselves of them.

We must be clear about the difference between lying and self-deception, and that is that in lying there is an important component that changes everything: we know that what we say is not true. That is, there is an awareness of the validity of the argument (we know that it is false).

However, with self-deception we are not aware of it, but, despite the indications we have to the contrary, we have accepted as truth something that is not.

That is another reason why we deceive ourselves, and it is a much more powerful mechanism than pure lying, since By not being aware of it, its effects can be much deeper adhering to the fallacious reasoning that generated it in the first place and therefore believing that it is a truth, when in reality it is not.

Ultimately, the question of why we deceive ourselves is answered simply: because it is a simple but very effective mechanism for certain effects on ourselves in a quick way We will understand this very well in the next point, when exploring the different ways we have to deceive ourselves.

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Forms of self-deception

To understand why we deceive ourselves, it is necessary to know the benefits offered by the different types of self-deception that exist. Therefore, we are going to break down this concept according to its typology.

1. Adaptive self-deception

Probably one of the most common types. In this case, why we deceive ourselves is simple, and it would be a way of adapting to a situation that has differed from the expectations we initially had regarding it It may be, for example, a job that we have opted for and whose conditions attracted us enormously, but once we were rejected from it we began to realize that in reality it was not such a good opportunity and we keep finding “buts” about it.

The truth is that we liked the job before and we actually like it now, but Our mind works quickly so that the emotional impact of not having achieved our goals is less causing our desire to decrease and therefore the negative emotions we experience are less intense than they would be at first.

Of course this can be applied to a multitude of situations, including, as it could not be otherwise, heartbreaks. Although it is true that many other factors come into play in these situations, the significantly different view we have of a person before and after a heartbreak in love is still curious, and self-deception has a lot to say there.

2. Avoid cognitive dissonance

When there is no agreement between what we feel, believe and think, and our actions (our behavior), a discomfort called cognitive dissonance appears. One of the ways that our brain has to anticipate these unpleasant sensations so that they do not manifest themselves, or do so in a more subdued way, is self-deception, so here we have another powerful reason that answers why we deceive ourselves.

Accepting a contradiction between our values, our ideals, our beliefs, with what we really do, has a very high cost for our mind. That is why self-deception is a perfect escape valve to make us see that, in reality, these values ​​are flexible in certain situations, or that the actions we are carrying out are not as different from what we think as we might believe at first. .

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Obviously, this is a band-aid that will work for a certain time, but this repeated behavior will eventually cause cognitive dissonance to surface and self-deception will definitively lose its effect, since a difference between thought and behavior cannot be maintained forever without This has repercussions for our mind.

3. Locus of control

We have all heard (or maybe even said) the following words: “I passed,” versus “I was suspended.” They may seem similar at first glance, but they hide a very important difference, which refers to the locus of control. In the first case, that of passing, the individual speaks in the first person, therefore using an internal locus of control, that is, he has passed on his own merits.

However, in the second example, a third person is used covertly, “they have suspended me”, making it clear that the result was beyond their control and was a consequence of the decision of another person, in this case, the teacher. Here the locus of control would be external, so what we do is of no use, because our actions do not change the final result.

It is a very clear example of why we deceive ourselves, and that is because Sometimes we do it to eliminate our part of responsibility for an event that occurred, making the internal locus of control become external, when it really is not like that. Neither the correction of the exam has been unfair, nor is the teacher infatuated with the student, or anything like that.

The real reason why the person has (has not been) suspended is because they have not studied enough. Furthermore, the most curious thing about this example is that it is much less common to hear the reverse formulas: “I have failed” or “I have been approved”, since we always tend to take credit for victories and look for excuses (self-deception) for defeats.

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4. Distortion of reality

Sometimes, and depending on certain characteristics of the individual, a phenomenon may occur that takes self-deception to its maximum expression. It can happen In the event that the person tells a false fact to another subject, perhaps knowing that it is really a lie or even believing it in some way

The issue, in this case, is that said lie begins to be repeated and generalized, in such a way that the person who started it can come to assume it as true. That is to say, the promoter of the false information ends up assuming said information as true and begins to act for this purpose, assuming that the events happened in that way and not in any other way. First he builds the story and then the story catches him himself, without remission.

This distortion can begin as simple exaggeration in telling a story, the addition of certain details that differ from the truth, or even complete fabrications. In this type of people, why we deceive ourselves has one more answer, which does not apply to other individuals, and that is that for them it is a form of construct a reality that never took place, but that they assume as if it did

When we talk about this level of self-deception, we could already find ourselves faced with symptoms typical of different psychological disorders that affect the personality of the individual, such as narcissistic disorder, borderline disorder or histrionic disorder. In all of them, among many other characteristics, very marked forms of self-deception can be observed and sometimes easily detectable in their stories.


After going through the different answers to the question of why we deceive ourselves, we have found very different motivations but all of them powerful to carry out this action, since we have verified that, to a greater or lesser extent, they represent an improvement in our feeling of stability, eliminating or reducing the negative component.

What must also be clear is that self-deception is something that arises automatically in all individuals, and can be mild and adaptive in many cases, but it can also be seen in a much more aggressive version when it is part of a disorder. of personality.