Self-Deception – Creating a Virtual Reality

“It’s all gone,” said my toddler daughter as she held up her bowl at dinner.

Surprised that she was finished already, I looked in the bowl. She most certainly was not done. She had barely started. Her self-delusion was rooted in her desire for the cookie that might come at the end of her meal. In her mind, if she stated that all the food was gone, it must be so. She didn’t like the fact that she had food to finish, so she invented her own virtual reality where she was all done.

Self-delusion is a pervasive human trait, and all of us, at one time or another, have engaged in it. What delineates a normal person from a toxic person, however, is the ability to identify this in ourselves and root it out. When people lose all contact with truth and conscience, terminal self-delusion results.

Many of us know someone who suffers from such self-delusion. They wreak havoc in relationships, because they are not willing to hear from anyone around them regarding the reality of their shattered relationships. These people insist on wearing their warped glasses–glasses that create a reality that comports with their own prideful perceptions, but has nothing to do with what really is going on.

One of the hallmarks of such a person is isolation. While they may have many people in their lives, they are close to none. Anyone within close proximity is required to take on their own distorted version of reality or risk being rejected. Many simply steer clear of these people for anything other than utilitarian purposes.

So what are some clues that indicate someone is self-deceived?

In a multitude of counselors, Scripture says, there is safety. If you are ignoring what most of your caring family is telling you when they say there is a problem, you may be living in self-delusion. If you are alienated from most of those around you, insisting the whole time that everyone else is the problem, it’s time for some honest self-analysis.

There’s an apt (if well-worn) illustration of the farmer who complained to his wife repeatedly that the house smelled like the barnyard. He went from room to room looking for the source of the stench, railing at his wife about her shoddy housecleaning. His wife gently pointed out to him that perhaps it was the manure on his mustache that was causing the problem. A self-deluded man is one who would argue with the wife and continue to complain about the stench problem, even when the real source was pointed out, clearly and unmistakably. You can erect an alternate reality, but the stench in your life won’t be eradicated until you identify the source of the problem.

The life of self-delusion is a sad one. Telling yourself something over and over does not make it so. It is the mental equivalent of getting in your car and driving into a brick wall. Repeatedly. If in pride we resist the truth tellers God has put around us, eventually we are given over to a mind that can no longer even take in the truth. That is a frightening place none of us should ever want to be.

Healing and reconciliation can only take place in relationships when real humility causes the scales to drop from pride-filled eyes and the love of God warms hearts long-hardened into stone. It’s important to remember that we cannot change someone else’s self-delusion. But when we encounter someone like this, we can pray for something to break through their self-imposed blindness, and take careful note about the destructive consequences of pride.