I was listening to a radio show the other day and the topic of discussion was how and why we lie to ourselves. The conversation started by the co-host saying that they don’t go horseback riding anymore. The host said “What do you mean anymore? When was the last time you went horseback riding? I’ve known you for 25 years and you never mentioned horseback riding ever”. The co-host explained that he doesn’t go horseback riding “anymore” because he had a bad experience with a horse when he was 5. The room erupted into laughter as the host said: “You had one bad experience with a horse when you were 5 (45 years ago) and now you don’t go horseback riding?”
There are many examples like this. People don’t go in the ocean because they were crushed by a wave on the shoreline when they were a child. Men and women who won’t get back out and date because they had a bad relationship 10 years ago. My wife won’t drink tequila due to a rough New Years Eve and a bad experience almost 5 years ago.
Lying to yourself has a technical term. It’s called self-deception. There is also a psychological term known as Cognitive Dissonance which explains why we do so. I’d try to explain it myself but why not let the experts at Psych Central do so. 

Cognitive Dissonance 

It’s the term coined by psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954 to describe “the feeling of psychological discomfort produced by the combined presence of two thoughts that do not follow from one another. Festinger proposed that the greater the discomfort, the greater the desire to reduce the dissonance of the two cognitive elements” (Harmon-Jones & Mills, 1999). Dissonance theory suggests that if individuals act in ways that contradict their beliefs, then they typically will change their beliefs to align with their actions (or vice-a-versa).

Here are some of the ways in which we lie to ourselves and why…



Just like an alcoholic saying they don’t have a problem, we use denial constantly! Saying to yourself that something isn’t happening doesn’t make it go away. It will still be there regardless. A three pack a day smoker who says there’s no way he’s getting cancer to an overweight person saying that one more slice of pizza won’t hurt. 



There is an old saying that ignorance is bliss and that may be the case but pleading ignorance is just an excuse in my book. Just because you say you don’t know something doesn’t make it OK. Not knowing how many calories is in two Double Stuf Oreos doesn’t make eating them OK. (140 for two cookies in case you were wondering). You may think you have the most well-behaved child in school but you find out from a neighbor that they are hanging out with a bad crowd and behaving poorly. Ignorance is not bliss when this happens! 


Perception of Self

There is a term called self-handicapping which in it’s simplest form is when someone makes an excuse for potential failure or bad performance. “I’m tired today so I don’t think I’m going to do well on my midterm.” If they happen to do bad they can blame it on something other than themselves. This lie is a way of protecting one’s self-esteem. 

This also can be the way we portray our lives on social media. Everyone puts their best foot forward on social media. It’s your actions that truly portray the type of person you really are. Will you go out of your way to help someone in need?


Sour Grapes

Let’s say we were really excited about the prospect of getting a new higher paying job that we were being considered for.  The company decided to go in a different direction and hire someone else. Your response is simply “I never wanted that job anyway”. You are lying to yourself as you did want the job. That’s why you applied for it and were excited. In the end, you want it to always seem as if it was your choice. 


Blaming Others

This one is one of the more popular lies and revolves around passing the buck or not taking credit for your own failures. “The reason I didn’t pass the test is that I was up all night talking to my friend about her boyfriend”. You didn’t pass because you didn’t study enough – it wasn’t because of someone else. People take credit for their accomplishments but attribute failures to someone or something else.  



Sometimes we lie to ourselves to feel better about a situation and sometimes we lie to ourselves for protection. The worst possible thing to do is to believe your own lies. Be honest with yourself and learn to work through situations instead of lying about them. 

Do you ever lie to yourself by using any of the techniques above? Comment below.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.