- Pretending that escalates in the long-term can inculcate unhealthy and toxic distortions of reality into one's identity.
- Pretending appears to have some mechanism of control, but self-deception has the potential to become something out of one’s control.
- The cognitive dissonance operating when pretending evolves into self-deception is connected to a lack of self-awareness.
“Never argue with someone who lies to themselves.” —Source unknown
What is pretending? Basically, pretending is behaving as if something is real or true when it is not. Self-deception is when you lie to yourself about something that is not real or not true.
Does perpetual pretending potentially lead to some form of self-deception? Are these two complex behaviours related in some way? If they are related, is there a way out of the destructive cycle of pretending and self-deception?
Actors thrive on the representation of reality with the caveat that they have a license to distort it. The audience wholeheartedly accepts this premise for being entertained. However, most pretending is wishful thinking.
As a child, we may pretend that someday we will become a police officer, firefighter, doctor, or lawyer. We even garner playmates to assist us in acting out these fantasies. Most of these pretend games are actually healthy displays of a good imagination. However, pretending that escalates into a long-term distortion of reality can inculcate unhealthy and toxic distortions of reality into our identity.
The Great Imposter
Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr. is recognized as the greatest imposter of all time. His impersonations included a naval surgeon, a lawyer, a civil engineer, a prison warden, a sheriff’s deputy, a doctor of applied psychology, a hospital orderly, a child-care expert, a Benedictine monk, a Trappist monk, an editor, a cancer researcher, and a teacher. The 1961 movie The Great Imposter was based on his life. Demara believed you make your own rules and interpretations and then there are no past laws or rules or precedents to hold you down or limit you (Crichton, 1959).
Whereas pretending appears to have some mechanism of control, self-deception has the potential to become something out of one’s control over time. The awareness of when one is pretending has been pushed to a level where our awareness becomes gradually more and more marginalized. The lying is no longer perceived as lying because the truth has been hijacked. Our awareness has been displaced with habit and repetition. A lifelong pattern of pretending does appear to somehow be related to self-deception due to the link between changing our perceptions of what is real and what is true.
These types of distortions could eventually lead someone to believe they could jump off a tall building and fly. And, this distortion might also begin to connect how unhealthy pretenders may escalate into the dangerous practice of self-deception.
The cognitive dissonance that is operating when pretending evolves into self-deception is connected to our self-awareness. Are we aware that we are pretending or have we lost sight of that fact? And, after losing sight of the reality of the situation, do we then begin to lie to ourselves?
The complicating factor with self-deception is that the person is trapped and may or may not be aware of what is real or true. Self-deception can become the proverbial “blind spot” in the person’s awareness. That is, because I have confabulated what is false and not true for so long, I am not even aware I am doing it anymore. The neuroplasticity programs have been rewired.
Biased information-gathering, biased reasoning, and biased recollections will affect the way we seek information that supports what we want to believe. And, we avoid information that does not (Hutson, 2017).
Individuals caught in the web of self-deception experience feelings of self-enhancement, which gives them positive reinforcement. They can overestimate their good qualities, enhance their motivation, and blot out a lesser reality.
Origins of Self-Deception
Although pretending may be a precursor to self-deception, the denial and repression of painful truths can also be present. An uncomfortable past of family issues, a past traumatic event, or a history of abuse or bullying can all be part of the need to utilize self-deception as a defence mechanism to cope.
“There’s something liberating about not pretending. Dare to embarrass yourself. Risk.” —Drew Barrymore
Take the Risk to Be Yourself
Being yourself has a myriad of benefits. You respect yourself more by being real and not pseudo. You worry less about what others think. You learn to know yourself better. You can live more in the present. You know it is okay to be vulnerable. You are more open to change. And you are not trapped in the need or desire to pretend or hide in self-deception.
Crichton, R. (1959). The Great Imposter. Random House.
Hutson, M. (2017). Living a Lie: We Deceive Ourselves to Better Deceive Others. Scientific American, April 4, 2017.