Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.
ONE of the most challenging aspects about journal writing for the purpose of self-knowledge and growth is learning to tell the truth to yourself. After all, we don’t really want to uncover those dark, shadowy places that we have kept hidden — even from ourselves — for so long. It is much easier to think of ourselves in the glowing terms of self-deception: sure, we need to lose a few pounds and sometimes we’re not as giving as we’d like to be, but basically we’re good people, right?
The answer to that question is both yes and no. Yes, we’re basically good (I believe this with all my heart), but no, we’re probably not as good as we think we are. We all have areas of our lives in which we’re greedy or selfish or full of anger and hate — areas that we’d rather remain hidden. So we deny or rationalize or convince ourselves of whatever it takes to keep our self-deceptions active.
The problem is that without exposing these shadow areas to the light of day and even appreciating the survival skills that created those parts of our beings in the first place, we may never grow beyond who we are in this moment. Never go beyond past trauma or let go of past hurts for which we hold grudges. But, if we’re truly self-deceived, how do we overcome the paradox of belief and discover what is real and what is imagined? And how do we uncover the truth without beating ourselves up for having these undesirable qualities in the first place?
The following tips can help you in your search for self-knowledge and truth:
- Remember that self-discovery is an imperfect and ongoing process that takes time, diligence, compassion and gentleness with yourself.
- Measure declarations of character to behavior. If I hold a picture of myself as a caring and attentive mother, for example, but after careful examination realize that I spend less than 15 minutes per day paying attention to my children, I need to stop deceiving myself. I may want to be a caring and attentive mother, and I may teach myself how to be a caring and attentive mother, but progress begins with realizing where I am falling short.
- Examine your fears. We often hide bits and pieces of ourselves behind fear, so when you begin to examine your fears and their sources, you may also find out things about yourself.
- Treat all aspects of yourself with respect; healing and growth — not recrimination — are the goals of self-examination. Remember that like two sides of a coin each “undesirable” quality has a desirable side to it. For example, stubbornness (usually perceived as a negative quality) and persistence (usually perceived as positive) are really the same thing. Whenever you uncover a quality that you think of as negative, list all the positive ways that quality can be or is expressed in your life.
- Once you’ve uncovered an area of self-deception and gotten over the initial surprise, make a list of ways in which you can begin to change your behaviors, thoughts, and/or feelings so that you are growing in the direction you’d like to grow.