As a therapist, my brain is constantly scanning for and evaluating patterns. One pattern I see common among all people is self-dishonesty. I've learned that it does not matter how intelligent, sophisticated, wealthy, or healthy someone is. Everybody does it. The lies people tell themselves are not usually meant to be nasty or manipulative or cruel. Rather, they are quite the opposite. As Rudyard Kipling explained, "Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears." I've compiled a list of the lies I see most frequently, and a short analysis of why I believe people use these cover up stories.
1. "I'm fine." This is the go-to when someone is too scared to admit they are not perfect. In the therapy world, we consider fine to be an acronym for fucked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional. There is a deeply held belief in our culture that asking for help equates you to being weak or a failure. Although this is a commonly held belief, it is simply not true. When a person lies by saying everything is good, that person buries their truth and loses the opportunity to make things better, ultimately becoming weaker, thereby creating the exact fear they were trying to avoid. If you are someone who wears the “I’m fine” mask, remember: Perfection is an illusion. Everybody struggles. It's okay to not be okay.
2. "I don't care." This is what people say when they care a lot but are afraid others will not accept them for seeming uptight. People who say they don't care hide behind passivity. These people often feel taken advantage of or like they do not get their needs met by others. Because someone who cares a lot cannot fool themselves into being carefree, “I don’t care” is a breeding ground for resentment of both self and others.
I.e.: "Hey babe do you mind if I have the boys over tonight to play poker? I know you said you were just going to sleep anyway."
"I don't mind! Doesn't bother me at all!" ... passive aggressively slams all doors for a week.
To the people who “don’t care”- In order to build healthy and successful relationships with yourself and others, you first have to allow yourself to feel what you feel. Your sensitivity is your strength, not your weakness. It is your caring nature that allows you to love so deeply and why people are drawn to you. People will accept you fully when you are honest about yourself with them.
3. "It made me stronger." This is what people say when an experience tore them down and made them feel broken. James Baldwin said “people who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self deception.” “It made me stronger” is a type of defense mechanism called intellectualization. A person who says this understands the concept of resilience on an intellectual level, but is disconnected from their own experience of it. The hope is to one day become stronger because of your struggles, but people often jump the gun and say they’ve crossed the finish line to avoid the actual race. To the person who wants to be stronger - the only way out is through.
4. "I just don't like ______." People are like mirrors. We see a reflection of ourselves in others and this forms the basis of how we connect. So, if I like you, it’s because you remind me of a part of myself that I like. When someone says they don't like him/her/it/them/that it’s because they are reminded of a part of themselves they dislike. When you claim your dislike for something, you are implying that you made a choice, which implies you have control over what you dislike. Obviously, people have many natural preferences that are not psychotic. But in the context of this article, preference is simply a form of self-dishonesty. When you “just don't like” something, you are insisting on avoiding dealing with the part of yourself that you don’t like because it makes you uncomfortable. Ironically when you do this, what you dislike actually has control over you. If you are someone who wears the mask of dislike, read my blog about the power of ownership.
At one point or another we have all been guilty of lying to ourselves. Defense mechanisms are a completely natural way for you mind to protect itself from uncomfortable emotions and offer solace when you cannot otherwise cope. Self-dishonesty is often subconscious. Other times people start believing in their lies over time. In order to develop into the best version of yourself, you have to stop running from the things you don't like. Demons cannot be conquered in a cowardly fashion. You have to face yourself head on.
“Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky
As you go about your days, pay attention to when you use these four statements: “I'm fine,” “I don't care,” “it made me stronger,” “I don't like.” If you catch yourself in a lie, do not criticize yourself. Simply give yourself an opportunity for reflection and introspection. What purpose does this lie serve? What do I gain by telling myself this untrue story? Who am I protecting? What will happen if I let go of it?
Remember, magic happens outside of your side of comfort zone. If you are ready to break free from the comfortable trap of self-deception and would like guidance along the journey, please reach out to me. I am here to help. For more information or to book an appointment, please call 203-273-5950 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amanda Jablon, MSW, ACSW, is an associate clinical social worker in private practice in Los Angeles, supervised by Ken Howard, LCSW, #LCS18290. She works with a wide variety of clients, but specializes in the special needs of millennials and in individuals who need help moving beyond the past.