Honest liars — the psychology of self-deception: Cortney Warren at TEDxUNLV

Honest liars — the psychology of self-deception: Cortney Warren at TEDxUNLV


Translator: Adrienne Lin
Reviewer: Reiko Bovee Humans are masters of self-deception. We fool ourselves into
believing things that are false and we refuse to believe
things that are true. I was in graduate school when I really started
delving into the topic of self-deception. And it rocked my world. I saw it everywhere, in everyone. We lie to ourselves
about the smallest details, such as how much we really ate today, and why we didn’t list
our actual height and weight on our driver’s license. (Laughter) We lie to reflect our aspirational goals: “I’ll only have
one glass of wine tonight,” – when I know I’m drinking
at least three. (Laughter) We lie to uphold social ideals: “I never have sexual thoughts
with anyone except my spouse,” because that wouldn’t be acceptable. We lie about
our most important life choices, such as why we married who we did,
or chose our given career path. Unfortunately,
for all the romantics out there, love is rarely the full motivation
for those choices. Nowhere was self-deception more obvious
than in my romantic relationships. I was terrified of being left. My fear of abandonment
led me to act in ways that are still hard for me to admit – anxiously awaiting a phone call, driving to see if he was
where he said he would be, asking repeatedly if he loved me. At the time,
I couldn’t have told you any of that, because I wouldn’t have been able to
admit it to myself. At the core, we lie to ourselves because we don’t have enough
psychological strength to admit the truth and deal with the consequences
that will follow. That said, understanding
our self-deception is the most effective way
to live a fulfilling life. For when we admit who we really are, we have the opportunity to change. It’s hard to look at this photo and think, “Liars!” (Laughter) But our self-deceptive tendencies
start here. From a very early age we start observing and making conclusions about ourselves
and our environment. Right or wrong, the conclusions we made
affected our identity. As adults, we will most want to lie about how psychologically painful realities
experienced as children affected who we are today. Perhaps you were raised
in a single parent home, in which you were neglected
by your father. You learned
that something was wrong with you – you weren’t smart enough,
attractive enough, athletic enough. You concluded
that to make people love you, you need to be perfect. As an adult, when someone
points out your imperfections, you feel tremendous anxiety
but deny where it comes from. Perhaps you felt ugly as a child because
you were teased for your appearance. You learned to eat
in response to emotional pain. As an adult, you struggle
to maintain a stable weight, because your eating
has very little to do with hunger. Perhaps you watched your parents fight. You learned to avoid conflict. Now, you struggle to admit even
feeling negative emotion. Although each of our specific
childhood learnings will be unique, what we learned will be exemplified
in the lies we tell ourselves as adults. Psychological theories of human nature
can help us understand our self-deception. Sigmund Freud first described lying
through ego-defense mechanisms: Psychological strategies
that protect our egos – our core sense of self – from information that would hurt us. Denial: Refusing to believe
that something is true, even though it is. “I don’t have a problem with alcohol,” – even though I drink everyday. “I’m not jealous,” – even though I secretly check
my partner’s email. Rationalization: Creating a reason to excuse ourselves. “I wouldn’t have yelled at you
if you hadn’t treated me so unfairly,” thereby justifying my yelling. “I know that smoking
isn’t good for my health, but it helps me relax,” thereby justifying my smoking. Projection: Taking an undesirable aspect of ourselves
and ascribing it to someone else. “I’m not like that. You’re like that.” When dating someone
you’ve lost interest in, you say things like, “You’re not ready for this relationship,” when, in fact,
you’re not ready for this relationship and never will be! Pioneers in the cognitive-behavioral
realms describe how our thoughts deceive us through cognitive distortions –
irrational ways we think. Polarized Thinking:
Thinking in extremes. “I will either eat no cookies
or an entire box, because if I eat one cookie, I’ve already blown my diet,
so I might as well keep eating.” Emotional Reasoning: Thinking that our feelings
accurately reflect reality. “I feel hurt; so you must have
done something bad to me.” “I feel stupid;
consequently I am stupid.” Overgeneralization: Taking a single negative event
as an infinite spiral of defeat. After going through a bad breakup,
you think, “I am always going to be alone.” After getting denied a promotion
at work, you think, “I am never going to be successful
in my career.” From an existential perspective, we deceive ourselves
to avoid the Givens of Life – the fundamental realities
of “being human” that we must face. Death – we’re all going to die; Ultimate aloneness – we were born as a single person housed
in a solitary physical body; Meaninglessness – our lives are inherently meaningless
unless we give them meaning; and Freedom – we are responsible for ourselves
because we have the freedom of choice. To avoid confronting these realities,
we frequently lie to ourselves: “I am this way
because of my upbringing;” – thereby deferring responsibility
for my choices. “The bad things on the news
would never happen to me;” – because I am somehow special,
and uniquely protected from harm. “I won’t write a will. I am young.
I’m not going to die anyway;” – thereby denying our mortality. Multicultural and feminist psychologists describe how internalization
of cultural norms affect us. Here, we deceive ourselves by believing what we were culturally conditioned
to believe is true, instead of deciding
what we actually believe is true. Do you compromise yourself
to meet cultural norms? Do you think you need
to look a certain way, be a certain weight, earn a certain income, get married, have children, be religious because you are supposed to or because you believe
that it’s right for you? All of these theories of human nature
help us understand how we deceive ourselves on a daily basis. Why should you care? Self-deception leads to
massive amounts of pain and regret. To avoid being honest, we frequently make choices
with harmful consequences to ourselves and others – we may use drugs, alcohol, eat,
shop, gamble, steal, lie, leave people or pass our emotional baggage down
to those we love the most. Or, we may choose not to change even when we are miserable or causing profound harm
to those around us. Looking back at life with regret
is incredibly painful, because you can’t change
your choices in the past. As I shared earlier, I struggled greatly
in my romantic relationships. I knew that I didn’t feel safe, but I believed
it was my boyfriend’s fault – if he just called me more,
told me he loved me more, then I would feel safe. The truth was there was nothing he could do
to make me feel safe, because my feelings
had nothing to do with him. The reason I didn’t feel safe
is that I learned as a child that people would always leave me, and I lived my life making choices
consistent with that belief. When we don’t take full responsibility
for who we are, we hurt ourselves
and everyone around us. Now what? How do we start acknowledging the lies
we tell ourselves? How do we start
becoming more honest liars? The first step is self-awareness – we become observers of ourselves. When you have a strong
emotional reaction to something, pause. When what you say
doesn’t match how you act, pause. When you’re thinking irrational thoughts, pause. Ask yourself: What does this say about me? Similarly, most of us spend
a tremendous amount of energy trying to get over someone or something
that happened to us. And we generally avoid examining
our contribution to conflict in our lives. When you are unresolved
about something or someone, pause. Ask yourself: What does my reaction to this situation
say about me? As we become more honest and aware, we also become more responsible
for our choices. If we admit that we are insecure
about something – which we all are – we’re now confronted with a choice: to work on our insecurity or not. Whatever we decide, we are now more responsible
for the consequences of our insecurity, because we know better. Not changing when confronted
with the truth is a choice. Although we can’t control
many circumstances we encounter in life, we are responsible
for our reactions to all of them. In that vein, one of the best ways to confront our self-deception is psychotherapy. It is probably the only relationship that you will ever have
in your entire life that exists solely to benefit you. Yet, a great deal of stigma
exists around therapy. People frequently say things like, “I don’t need therapy. It’s only for crazy or weak people
who can’t help themselves.” The truth is, it takes tremendous courage to be completely vulnerable
to another human being. Therapy is truly a gift
if you are courageous enough to accept it. Confronting our self-deception
is a lifelong journey. We change and the world offers us
new opportunities to understand ourselves. There is always more to learn. I was on the perfect path
to be a successful academic. I received tenure
here at UNLV, two years ago. And in about six weeks,
I will be unemployed, because I resigned. Getting tenure and then quitting is about the last thing anyone
would expect from a faculty member. Especially me. I love psychology! I love teaching. I love research.
I love my department. I had an amazing experience at UNLV. But the truth is,
my passion isn’t in academia anymore. To admit that to myself
was brutally painful! Because I had to confront all of my self-deceptive tendencies
and insecurities. “What if I disappoint people? What will my family say? What am I going to do?
What if I can’t support myself? Who am I if I am not a professor? What if my whole life changes!? What if my whole life doesn’t change?” If I had chosen to stay in academia, I would have paid
a huge psychological price. I would have to admit
that I was not strong enough to make different choices for myself
when confronted with the truth. Be more honest liars. Choose to become more honest
about the lies you tell yourself. Use the truth to live
the most fulfilling life for you, because you’ve only got one. (Applause)

Only registered users can comment.

  1. in a world without self deception or self denial ,people shall die out guilt and other pain we confront. Defense mechanism is at times better for self especially mental stability.

  2. Identifying self truth and self deception have to do with each individual person. What I value and I experienced is wildly different to yours. If people could mind their own business, just accept people as they present themselves, we would all live in a better world. "It's none of [your] business" and "I accept this person as they are" are very difficult things for people to actually truly execute. We are all immensely self centered and would rather see someone jump when we jump, laugh when we laugh, purchase what we purchase, and flail their arms as so when and how we expect them to. People prefer to see mirrors of themselves. If you can't look like someone, you'd better sound and act like them. It's very strange.

  3. Cortney, u r great woman I've ever seen! I tried to find your book (about self-liers) in Russian, but found nothing..
    Can you wright me at WhApp? 🙂
    +79527993242

  4. Yea. She's got it all right*.. *calling all parents..tell ur 2-8+yr olds that santa doesn't exist, and nobody really knows if once u die, game over. lies, white lies, speculation/theory.., etc…is actually not NECESSARILY A matter of truth, but perspective. Thinking a girl looks terrible in that dress, but saying she looks alright..is perspective. An outright lie..well.. .

  5. my daughter told my wife once that she had to lie so much because I would not believe the truth,,,,,,,,, OK..

    I think for a lot of people that feel they may need to see a counselor to help them understand their life and who they are, may just need to read up on social science and narcissism, this can/may/should help them understand the others in their life as well as themselves,,, hopefully

  6. "Do you deprive yourself to meet cultural norms?" Well yes! Wearing UNCOMFORTABLE high heels is just one way we do it. Hint hint ….

  7. Damn Dr. Courtney Warren, I'd like to make an appt to discuss with you and your hot self!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You need not worry about a relationship, your way to intelligent and beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Although this woman is obviously a pioneer for truth, and aims to defeat cognitive distortion, she has made it a literal impossibility for herself to have a normal friendship or relationship. Nature loves a balance, and she definitely sacrificed happiness for righteousness here. In fairness to her, "normal," isn't much better.

  9. self deception is required to make sense of anything, as a limit to cognitive dissonance.If you can stand the dissonance cognitively you can make it a more accurate model.Most people are way small cognitive ability and long long long on feelings.

  10. Incredible delivery of so much insight and wonderful content, packed into a very engaging dynamic and REAL Talk. Thank you!!

  11. Psycho therapy benefits the therapist as it is their source of income.  Perhaps they are special so as to keep that from effecting their subconscious reasoning.  Talk about self deception… With that said, this is still a good TED Talk.

  12. @ 1:03.. hhmm actually that has more to do if you are really committed and with the right partner! It has little to do with self deceptions , if you are a cheater you will have those thoughts , if you are with the wrong partner you will have those thoughts

  13. This is the best

    Tedtalk I've watched (i thing mainly because it spoke to the inner most part of my being)

  14. But I feel that a certain amount of self-deception is useful and perhaps essential…being honest about the inherent meaninglessness of life can render many of us so despair-laden that we could succumb to hopelessness, helplessness, and even self-destructive reactions. Perhaps religious or spiritual self-deception (certainty that there is a God/purpose/system of right behaviors is a positive thing, for that reason.

  15. Is true strength seeing this video, and wanting to avoid watching it at all costs, but then changing your mind and watching it anyways? XD

  16. That information was fair, straight forward and perfectly worded. Personal responsibility is one of the keys to life. Thank you a thousand times!

  17. Oh no. It's a pitch for shrinks. And I thought this was an audition for improv. Mighty good show. Hey, have you heard of herbal life?

  18. She is saying "we" but it sounds like this talk is for women. Should do a talk for men and a talk for both.

  19. The USA is a culture of lying. So much so that the country happily accepts a president who lies all the time. PR is lying. Advertising is lying. Hollywood is lying. Beauty magazines are lying. Wall St. ‘experts’ are lying. The NRA are lying. The CIA are lying. Big media are lying. Fox….well you already know that one. Those who tell the truth….like Bernie and Orcasio get pilloried, mocked, scorned and dismissed.

  20. Why is every TED talk too cringy to listen to?? If it comes on by accident, I can always tell by the bizarre way the speaker talks that its the awful TED talks again…

  21. Funny when you tell yourself the truth everyone else denies it then we just go along and except… worst
    Mistake

  22. The world is definitely changing. It's time we all take action, and you're doing just like that for one's growth. Likewise, to be more inspired and properly informed, just type: ‘gritheart’ on your YouTube search bar and click the desired video clip. Happy learning!

  23. Well she said it. When we lie to ourselves we hurt ourselves and others around us. Well I am product of the pain of my mom and my dad who denied themselves and hurted me. I dont blame them. We human sucks. I want to talk to God and ask it why you create such complicate creature? There is not more dangerous creature that one who is dissatisfied and unconcious with a little of cognitive skill. Or maybe we are an accident. I dont know. But we are extremely and dangerously imperfect.

  24. Absolutely. I adamantly refuse to use made up pronouns that the ultraleft would like us to use. Why? Because I don't want to lie. Maybe more to the point, I don't want to participate in your self-deception .I don't want to look at a person who is clearly a man with tits and say oh that's a woman. I don't play that game because I don't want to buy into their self-deception.
    Does that make me a bad person? Does that make me a transfobe? Then that is your truth. It is not mine.

  25. I learned this on my own over a course of 15 years of personal turmoil and transformation. And now I share this exact message with those whom It counsel. Learning to be honest with ourselves is the biggest gift we can give to ourselves and others. It's so liberating and brings lasting peace. So glad to hear this talk ….going to share this…

  26. Psychiatrist Jim Tucker studies
    The Science of Reincarnation.
    He is a professor at the university of Virginia. So we do not live once!!
    We live many times and someday we all have to go back home in the heavenly realms of God…

  27. She is so appropriately dressed for TED talk lecture. She is one of the few presenters that I have seen who thought about what she should have worn in front of an audience. Her choice of clothing is both professional while pleasing to the eye. The content of her message is presented in a clear, ration and thought-provoking way.

  28. i'm so self aware of my flaws ive dug myself into zero self esteem and refuse to get out and do things, indulging in my laziness. i'm not even paying attention to what she's saying, ok she makes a good point it's cause im priveleged im like this. maybe i have to suffer more because of my choices to actually change. i kinda wanna unexist. wonder how long that thought'll last

  29. Lets be honest, if you want to find the answers you need faster, you will need to expand your search beyond traditional psychology.

  30. Some people are confronted many many times, every second with truth. But we continue to lie to ourselves. There is a lot of psychological impact that can possible cause psychosis. And then we break. This is what it has come to in the human race. We suffer by our own torture. We endure. We listen to everyone else bc they know more about us than we do. Why if I know more would I be suffering. We forget we were never alone when we came into this world. We can ask ourselves. If you don’t ask you will never know the truth.

  31. psychotherapy ….is the only relationship (11:12) “that exists solely to benefit you”. A good example of a therapists’ self deception.

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