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The Truth About Truth

DETAILS

Truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality. Truth is also sometimes defined in modern contexts as an idea of truth to self or authenticity. The truth about truth in the modern era is that, unlike the famous words of Thomas Jefferson, it is not always self-evident, nor is it clear-cut and easy to find; it is muddled behind layers of complexity induced by internal and external factors of belief and value systems. 

Self-truth can become particularly clouded by judgement, shame, fear, and pressure. We all have a truth of who we are, what we believe in and how we want to live our lives; but oftentimes we sacrifice the knowledge of these truths in return for superficial and ego-oriented self-untruths that work directly against our mental health. It is proven that when we fail to live our truths it can lead to depression, rage, substance abuse issues, and more detrimental activities. The good news is that, on the flipside, when we are living our truths, we are happier, less anxious, and more able to hold healthier relationships, and there are concrete and do-able ways to make this happen. 

But first, you cannot talk about self truths without talking about self deception. 

Self-deception is the action or practice of allowing oneself to believe that a false or unvalidated feeling, idea, or situation is true. It’s a process of denying or rationalizing away the relevance, significance, or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument; and involves convincing oneself of a truth so that one does not reveal any self-knowledge of the deception. 

Examples include anything from convincing your partner to stay with you even though they’ve expressed their desire to break up to the internalization of cultural norms… like when we condition ourselves into believing what is culturally accepted and praised as being true i.e. looking like an Instagram filter or having a certain amount of money to achieve happiness. But, it is a fallacy that self-deception only works in ego-enabling ways; we also self-deceive in making ourselves feel lesser at times. 

Here are different ways self deception can look: 

  1. Ego Defense Mechanisms (unconscious strategies we do to protect ourselves from anxious thoughts or feelings)
  • Denial - refusing to believe that something is true, even though it is
  • Rationalization - creating a reason to excuse ourselves
  • Projection - taking an undesirable aspect of ourselves and ascribing it to someone else
  • Cognitive Distortions (irrational ways we think to convince ourselves that something isn’t really true)
  • False binaries - thinking in unnecessary extremes
  • Emotional reasoning - thinking that our feelings accurately reflect reality
  • Overgeneralization- interpreting more trivial matters to reflect broadly on self perception

HOMEWORK

Self deception is consequential: We think that we are protecting our egos or sense of self, but instead we are damaging it by ruling out growth and change. This can result in bad habits and strained relationships. 

As Dr. Warren, author of Lies We Tell Ourselves: The Psychology of Self-Deception said, “we cannot be honest with others until we first are honest with ourselves. Being honest requires deliberate effort on a daily basis, as well as tolerating some painful realizations.”

So, how do we find our truths and uncover our self deception? 

  1. Noticing our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. 
    Become your own “self-observer.” Observe what makes you act and react to situations that can instigate any of the ego defense mechanisms or cognitive distortions listed above. Especially in times of emotional strain, ask yourself:
    “Do my actions reflect differently than my words?”
    “Are my thoughts irrational, extreme, or overgeneralized?”
    "How am I allowing the gap between what I want to be and who I really am cause emotional harm?"

  2. CBT strategies and exercises like the Facts or Opinions exercise
    This requires you to determine whether a variety of statements are fact or opinion. Statements like, “I am a failure”, “I said ‘no’ to a friend in need”, and “I said things I regret.” By addressing these in a worksheet, you’re training your brain to distinguish between facts and opinions for when they come up in real scenarios.
  3. Reflect on and accept changes in yourself and the world around you
    Make a list of three changes that you have endured in the past year. Going into quarantine, forming a new awareness of the racist oppressive forces in the United States, making a new friend or shedding an old one-- it all counts. Reflect on your list and acknowledge the personal effects of these changes: have you come to terms with the way these changes have made you act and think? We are constantly evolving, adapting, and changing according to both internal and external influences. If we do not pause to acknowledge and accept the changes that we have endured, we undoubtedly fall into a cycle of deception and cognitive dissonance. Cue “Changes” by Charles Bradley.

  4. Psychotherapy
    Enrolling in talk therapy with a mental health professional (AKA psychotherapy) is not only an ideal way to uncover self truths and obstructive deception, but to learn strategies to confront and change self-deceptive tendencies. It is an investment of time and emotional self reflection that yields the invaluable result of self-honesty and acceptance.   If you're already in therapy, talk to your psychologist about what may be some of your self-deceptive tendencies. If not: Find a therapist or support group near you.