[October 8, 2020] Two days ago, I wrote about common leader mistakes and listed lying to yourself at the top. Why I did so is simple; when we lie to ourselves, we put ourselves on a path to ruin and destruction. To lie to others is easy; to lie to ourselves is even easier.
Jerry, an acquaintance of mine many years ago, was serving with me as a company commander. We had different Infantry companies in the same battalion. He was well-liked, but there was something we could not figure out about him. It turned out that he had falsified his college degree. When the falsehood was discovered, he was removed from the U.S. military within a couple of days. It was sad to see a man so passionately deny reality. He had not finished his degree but had convinced himself that he had done so.
Psychologists have studied this intellectual phenomenon for at least a dozen centuries; none have come up with a solution to stop it. I will not go into these studies, but I will point out that these psychologists and philosophers see lying partly as a survival mechanism. Why, they ask, tell the truth, and get yourself hurt or killed, when you can lie and get away.
My focus today is what lying to yourself does to that person lying.
- Lying to yourself corrupts one’s ability to interact honestly with others. Humans are, by our nature, social animals. We desperately need others, and we need their approval, love, and soft challenges to keep us happy and healthy. Lying to ourselves projects onto others only what we want to see and prevents us from getting a good understanding of others, their thinking, and the outward reality. We become biased against our social humanness in a sinister way.
- Lying to yourself destroys relationships. Lies destroy trust. Lying to yourself is a form of deceit, and others are good at discovering those lies. Lying to others is one thing, and something people will throw up barriers against, but lying to yourself is insidious and will paint you as untrustworthy, dishonest, and as a fraud. No one who is a fraud can be likable.
- Lying to yourself is self-perpetuating. The more we lie to ourselves, the easier it is to continue to do so. The result is an individual that is built upon falsehoods. Like a house of cards, the tragic collapse is only a matter of time and circumstance. When that occurs – which it often does under social pressure – the person doing the lying to themselves will experience the greatest destruction.
Jerry was just one example of someone who can lie to themselves. It takes a long time to build up lies within ourselves and then not do anything about them. There is a weakness in all of us where lying can take hold and control us. The only way for a successful future is to stop lying in its tracks. Of course, that isn’t easy, but we all must dedicate the effort to do it.
Note: Here is a good article that lays out a convincing case against self deception: https://wakeup-world.com/2019/02/25/9-signs-youre-lying-to-yourself-without-knowing-it/