What is self-deception?

To say that we all tend to turn our backs on what we do not care to see is surely insufficient explanation. We should have to add that the degree to which we blot out things depends on how great our interest is in doing so.

Rationalization may be defined as self-deception by reasoning.

--Karen Horney

What is self-deception?

(Repression: Forgetting and forgetting one has forgotten) What's more, once repressed, the fact that information has been repressed is forgotten, and so there is no impetus to try to remember it.

(Denial and reversal: What is so is not the case; the opposite is the case) Reversal carries denial one step further. The fact is denied, then transformed into its opposite: "I hate you" becomes "I love you"; "I am sad" changes to "I am happy". Reversal (sometimes called "reaction formation") is a handy way to sanitize unruly impulses. The urge to be messy is transformed into excessive cleanliness; anger surfaces as smothering nurturance.

(Projection: What is inside is cast outside) If one's feelings are too much to bear, the mind can handle them at a distance. One way to distance feeling is to act as if it were not one's own. The formula for projection of one's feelings onto someone else includes two parts: denial and displacement.

(Isolation: Events without feelings) Isolation is a partial blanking out of experience, a semi-denial. An unpleasant event is not repressed, but the feelings it evokes are.

(Rationalization: I give myself a cover story) Rationalizations are lies so slick we can get away with telling them not only to ourselves, but even to others, without flinching. "It's for your own good" and "This hurts me more than it hurts you" signal rationalization at work, a favored defense among intellectuals, whose psychological talents include inventing convincing excuses and alibis.

(Sublimation: Replace the threatening with the safe) Sublimation allows instincts to be channeled rather than repressed, as they are in the more neurotic defenses. Urges are acknowledged, albeit in a modified form. The impulse to steal is reincarnated as a career in banking; the scream masquerades as song; the urge to rape dons the courtship; the compulsion to maim resurfaces as the surgeon's artistry. Sublimation, Freud argued, is the great civilizer, the force which keeps mankind manageable and makes human progress possible.

(Selective inattention: I don't see what I don't like) The utter simplicity of selective inattention - and its ubiquity in everyday life - qualifies it as a generic defense, perhaps the most common.

(Automatism: I don't notice what I do) Certain of these automatized activities cover up elements of experience that might make us uncomfortable if we fully realized our motives or objectives. Automatism allows entire sequences of such behavior to go on without our having to notice either that they happened or the troubling urges they might signify.

We all do that. There may be some painful experiences in your life which, when you start to think about, you simply decide at some level not to pursue. You're not going to be aware of that painful event. So you avoid using your usual recall strategies. You could probably get pretty skilled at it - at not remembering what's painful.

Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone but to his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.

The mastery of defensive maneuvers as protection against the pains of life is a universal aspect of growing up. Every child learns a variety of attentional tactics; healthy children are flexible about which is used when.

--Daniel Goleman