Sometimes self-delusion can be a way to temporarily protect your self-esteem.
Lying is one of our higher capacities developed by evolution. In a way, it helps us survive in certain situations.
Thus, self-deception has two functions: in the first place, it allows to deceive others in a better way (since nobody lies better than someone who lies to himself), which is especially useful in an era where the ability to relate to others (social intelligence) has acquired priority, using in many cases manipulation as a fundamental tool (see any business). That does not mean that manipulation and lying are two similar concepts, but probably when you sign a contract with a company nobody tells you “we really just want your money.”
On the other hand, self-deception is a way of preserving our self-esteem and is somewhat related to avoidance. Yes, self-deception is a form of avoidance. And what do we avoid?
The rationale for avoidance
We avoid negative emotions in the most creative ways you can think of. For example, according to the contrast avoidance model, worry, as the core of generalized anxiety disorder, would fulfill the function of avoiding being exposed to the “down”, in the change from going from experiencing a positive emotion to experiencing a negative emotion ( something like “since problems are an inevitable part of life, if I am worried when everything is going well, I am prepared for when things go wrong). It is, in short, a form of emotional repression.
Worry also reduces the discomfort of the presence of a problem, as it is an attempt to cognitively resolve it. As I worry about a problem, I feel like I am doing “something” to solve it, even if it doesn’t actually solve it, thus lessening my discomfort about not actually addressing the problem. Hypochondria, on the other hand, is a way of masking an egocentric trait (the patient is so focused on himself that he believes that everything happens to him). In biological terms this means that our brain is lazy.
Self-deception is a patch that evolution put on us by not being able to make us smarter or more capable to face certain external demands. Or rather, it is due to the inability of the human species to evolve and change at the same speed as the world in which we live.
For example, Festinger’s term cognitive dissonance refers to the discomfort caused by being incoherent between our values and our actions. In this case we resort to self-deception to explain our actions.
Rationalization is another form of self-deception in which we give a seemingly reasonable explanation for a past action that is not or that had no good reason to do so.
Its application to self-esteem
Let’s explain this: the self-esteem or valuation we make of ourselves based on how we are, what we do and why we do it, produces discomfort if it is negative.
Discomfort is an adaptive emotion whose function is to rethink what is wrong in our life to modify it. However, our brain, which is very clever and resistant to change, says “why are we going to change little things in our life, face reality that hurt or scare us, take risks such as leaving work, talking to a certain person about a very uncomfortable subject, etc, when instead we can rethink this and tell ourselves that we are fine and thus avoid suffering, avoid situations that will make us more uncomfortable, avoid fear… ”.
Self-deception and avoidance are mechanisms for reducing energy expenditure that the brain should use to modify connections, translated into behaviors, attitudes and traits (whose neurobiological substrate belongs to many equivalent and very stable connections in our brain). In psychological terms, it means that our behavior and our cognitive processing have a personal and hardly modifiable style to deal with environmental aspects for which we are not prepared.
Most of the heuristics that we use to think habitually cause biases or errors and are aimed at preserving our self-esteem. It is said that depressed people tend to be more realistic since their cognitive processing is not oriented to maintain a positive self-evaluation. In fact, for this reason depression is contagious: the depressed person’s speech is so consistent that the people around them can internalize it as well. But patients with depression also do not escape other forms of self-deception, much less avoidance.
As Kahneman said, human beings tend to overestimate our importance and underestimate the role of events. The truth is that reality is so complex that we will never fully know why we do what we do. The reasons that we can believe, if they are not the product of self-deception and avoidance, are only a small part of the various factors, functions and causes that we can perceive.
For example, personality disorders are egosyntonic, that is, the traits do not cause discomfort in the patient, so he considers that the problems he has are due to certain circumstances of his life and not his personality. Although the factors for assessing any disorder seem very explicit in the DSM, many of them are not easy to perceive in an interview. A person with narcissistic disorder is not aware that everything she does is aimed at increasing her ego, just as a paranoid person does not consider her degree of vigilance pathological.
What to do?
Many concepts in psychology can be pigeonholed into self-deception or avoidance. The most common thing in any psychological consultation is that patients perform avoidance behaviors about which they deceive themselves so as not to assume that they are avoiding. Thus the problem is perpetuated through powerful negative reinforcement.
Consequently, it is necessary to define our ideal self and evaluate that definition rationally, finding out what things are controllable and modifiable, and what are not. On the former it is necessary to propose realistic solutions. Regarding the latter, it is necessary to accept them and resignify their importance. However, this analysis requires letting go of avoidance and self-deception.