Cognitive dissonance can cause depression

Lie and self-deception - how we successfully lie to others and to ourselves

Lies - referred to by Kant in the 18th century as “the real lazy spot in human nature” - is certainly as old as modern man himself. And let's not fool ourselves, lying is part of our everyday life and we learn it from childhood at. This article shows you what functions the lie has, why we lie to ourselves and how we can be more honest with ourselves.

According to various studies, we lie up to 200 times a day. In psychology, it is assumed that lies fulfill the function of protecting our privacy and self-esteem and not harming others. Nevertheless, there are people who have a pathological tendency to tell the untruth, but these are very rare. Most of the time, we lie out of courtesy, compassion, and decency rather than to harm others. Nonetheless, lies are viewed across cultures as morally reprehensible.

How are lies and self-deception related?

But what happens when our lies are directed not against others but against ourselves? When we lie to ourselves, we always do so with the aim of twisting reality in our own favor in order to make us feel better. We all have a self-image (ideas about ourselves) that is shaped by the image of others (other people's ideas about us), especially in the initial phase of life. It often happens that these two images differ from each other. It can happen that we overestimate our competencies or, for example, consider ourselves more honorable than we actually are. On the other hand, we sometimes make ourselves smaller than we are and overestimate our weaknesses. Often we try to adapt our self-image to a distorted external image. But this self-deception can have serious consequences.
Last but not least, our self-image determines our self-esteem, which should be kept positive and stable in order to avoid psychological problems and achieve a high quality of life. That's why we do a lot to achieve just that, e.g. B. lie to yourself. However, we are not only dishonest with ourselves about self-image. Self-deception occurs in every little everyday situation and in many decisions and judgments, for example when we blame other people's failures or external circumstances or discard our New Year's resolutions after a short time.

What role does cognitive dissonance play in self-deception?

The more research in psychology advances, the more obvious it becomes that we humans are neither acting completely rationally nor are we able to completely detach ourselves from our emotions and instincts. This has become particularly evident since the discovery of cognitive distortions, or even thinking errors. These describe misjudgments in perceiving, remembering, thinking and judging and mostly remain unconscious. One of the most important mistakes in reasoning is cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance occurs when we perceive several incompatible thoughts, opinions, attitudes, wishes or intentions in us about a situation. This leads to an internal state of tension. We then try to solve this immediately by either looking for information that reduces the tension, deleting existing information (e.g. by ignoring, suppressing or forgetting) or even replacing it with a point of view that is more suitable for us. For example, we estimate the chances of winning to be higher after we have placed a bet or react to rejection by devaluing our counterpart.

How do we deal with defeats and failures?

An old Greek fable called "The fox and the grapes" describes this phenomenon particularly vividly: A fox stood under a tree and showed himself contemptuously when he noticed that he could not reach the grapes. "The fox gritted his teeth, wrinkled his nose and said haughtily: 'They are not ripe enough for me yet, I don't like sour grapes.' With his head held high, he strutted back into the forest."

The fable sums up how we adjust our thinking when we experience defeat. In this way we can above all protect our self-esteem. Seen in this way, mistakes in thinking prevent us from slipping into negative thought patterns and thus prevent psychological problems at the same time.
But they don't always protect us. Especially with bad habits, they tempt us not to change our behavior despite many evidence of harmfulness, such as smoking. It is now generally known that smoking causes severe damage and that over 100,000 people die prematurely from it every year in Germany - and yet some do it.

Why do we do something that we are sure will harm us?

The contradiction between knowing about the harmfulness of smoking and the behavior to do it anyway creates an unpleasant state of tension in smokers. Ideally, the tension that arises is reduced by changing one's behavior and quitting smoking. However, it is easier for many to ignore relevant information, not to perceive it and thus to commit self-deception. Scientific knowledge is then questioned or selective information sought that will release the tension (“Helmut Schmidt was also 96 years old”). We all have such strategies that protect our positive self-image. For example, before exams, many draw attention to a handicap (“I hardly learned”, “I'm not in a good mood today”), which serves as an excuse in the event of a possible failure. However, self-deception becomes critical when our physical or emotional well-being is affected.

Self-reflection as an aid against self-deception

Self-reflection describes the ability to analyze and question one's own thoughts, feelings and actions. It is a means of getting to know yourself better, being more honest with yourself and less prone to distortions of reality and self-deception. Admitting mistakes and defeats to yourself and not seeing yourself as perfect is the prerequisite for this. If you are honest with yourself and with others, it not only has a very liberating effect, it can also significantly strengthen your self-esteem. Realize that no one in the world can always please everyone - conflicts and defeats just happen. Dealing with it honestly and respectfully not only forms the basis for developing your personality and thus for success, but is also the prerequisite for peaceful and respectful coexistence.