Self-deception is a major barrier to self-improvement, and people may engage in self-deception for a variety of reasons. It’s a complex psychological phenomenon with both adaptive and maladaptive aspects. Here are some reasons why self-deception can occur:
Self-deception can be a coping mechanism to protect ourselves from painful or uncomfortable truths. Facing certain realities may cause emotional distress, so the mind creates a defense mechanism by distorting or denying those truths.
People often want to maintain a positive self-image. They may deceive themselves to avoid acknowledging their weaknesses, mistakes, or failures, as this could threaten their self-esteem.
Humans have a natural tendency to seek information that confirms their preexisting beliefs and to ignore or downplay evidence that contradicts them. This can lead to self-deception as individuals selectively perceive and remember information that supports their preferred view of reality.
Perception is not purely objective; it can be influenced by emotions, personal biases, and desires. This subjectivity can lead to distorted interpretations of reality.
Sometimes, people adopt beliefs or behaviors to fit into a particular social group or to be accepted by others. This desire for acceptance may lead individuals to deceive themselves about their true feelings or values.
Self-deception can be a way to shirk responsibility for one’s actions. By convincing themselves that they are not at fault or that their actions were justified, individuals can avoid feelings of guilt or remorse.
Overestimating one’s abilities or the accuracy of their beliefs can be a form of self-deception. People may deceive themselves into thinking they are more competent or knowledgeable than they truly are.
Sometimes, self-deception can be an attempt to regulate emotions. For example, individuals might convince themselves that a situation is not as bad as it seems to lessen their emotional distress.
What to do about it?
It’s important to be aware of the fact that people, you included, can fool themselves about their strengths and weaknesses. It’s often harder to see fault in yourself, or at least to admit to it, than seeing fault in other people. We often excuse our failings as being down to circumstances, or reasons in the situation, but fail to afford that courtesy to other people, preferring to question the quality of their character or abilities for their mistakes.
You need to separate out your value or worth as a human being, from your competencies, abilities, and performance. Being a success really doesn’t make you a better person, it just means you’re better at doing a particular thing, or even many things, but that doesn’t make you more valuable as a person. So, let go of the fear of losing your value if you make mistakes or fail. Testing your limits requires stepping outside your competency, and faltering sometimes, it’s part of the process of learning and getting better and extending your comfort zone.
Ultimately, the only way to get better is to fully acknowledge and accept your present weaknesses, biases, and flaws, so you are better able to accurately map out a path forward toward a more capable version of yourself.