Are you expert at self-deception and wishful thinking?
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Are you good at facing reality? Can you accept tiresome truths even if you don’t like them? Or are you expert at self-deception and wishful thinking?
Most of us kid ourselves about reality at times. But then we set ourselves up for a whole lot of bother. Let’s look at what happened to Giada.
Two years ago Giada had a passionate affair with David, a charming co-worker.
Giada had always been attracted to him, and was flattered he’d noticed her. She knew he’d had several girlfriends. In fact, she’d heard hints about his many conquests, but discounted these as office gossip. She wanted to keep an open mind about him. He’d always been sweet to her, and she was sure he was a good person at heart.
After David told her he loved her, she planned how they’d move in together. She longed to show him what a good relationship could be like.
Then a week later David abruptly ended the relationship.
Giada was shocked and confused
Shocked and confused, Giada desperately tried to find out why David had changed his mind. But he wouldn’t talk privately and ignored all her calls. She was so hurt she could barely face him at work.
In contrast, he behaved as if nothing had happened. Within a week, he was dating another woman on the same team. Since then, he’s dated several other women in their office block.
Giada hasn’t dated anyone since
Giada hasn’t been able to move on and date anyone else. Instead, she broods constantly about David’s behaviour. She spends hours reliving every conversation. She scours her memory for clues as to why he dumped her.
Each time she relives these scenarios she gets more distressed. She constantly asks, “How could he do this to me?”
At times she throws things around her apartment in anger. Then she feels even worse about herself. Worst of all, she’s bitterly hurt that David doesn’t seem to care.
Giada is stuck in the past
Giada is not only stuck in the past, she’s become expert in self-deception. She believes she must find out why David abandoned her before she can move forward with her life.
Now, David’s ending the relationship with no explanation is inexcusable. Ignoring her at work, rather than being civil, is also cruel. So Giada’s confusion and hurt are wholly understandable.
Giada can’t force David to explain
But Giada can’t make David explain his actions. And even though David acted callously, he’s unlikely to tell her his reasons after all this time. That could be for a number of reasons:
Perhaps he’s incapable of discussing his feelings.
Perhaps he’s unaware of how his behaviour affects others.
Maybe he doesn’t care.
Or perhaps he assumes women know his reputation and it’s buyer beware!
As far as David’s concerned, he never said he wanted a lasting commitment. Whatever the reason, he won’t or can’t give Giada what she wants.
Giada’s unwilling to face reality
Giada can’t see past her need to know why David dumped her. She keeps hoping she’ll find some vital clue to explain his behaviour. But she’s been stuck asking the same questions with the same results for years.
And as long as she keeps doing this, she won’t accept that she’ll never get the answers she craves. Once she drops her wishful thinking and self-deception, she may be able to move on with life.
At present she still can’t face the reality that she and David no longer have a connection. Painful as it is, she needs to see the situation from another angle.
How useful is blame?
At present, both David and Giada blame the other. But is that helping them resolve this painful event? Or to understand, accept, and learn from the experience?
Apparently not. Neither Giada nor David seems to have gained any insights. They’re both practising self-deception.
David hasn’t acknowledged any wrongdoing, and probably never will.
Churning over old ground has stopped Giada from resuming her normal life. She’s can’t see it’s time to work towards creating a fulfilling life without David. She’s unwilling to face the reality of what is and is not possible.
Blaming fuels Giada’s sense of injustice
Giada feels she’s the victim of David’s bad behaviour. She’s still shocked and angry that anyone could act the way he did. And secretly, part of her still wants him back. It’s as if she believes he’ll suddenly want to be with her, if he’s made to face up to what he’s done.
But that’s highly unlikely.
All the wishful thinking and blaming in the world won’t change that.
How else could Giada see the situation?
Perhaps she could look at some factors that led to this result.
Both Giada and David made several faulty assumptions. Both ignored vital information about the other. Neither took any notice of the mismatch of values and life experiences. Neither checked out their assumptions about the relationship with the other, or made their expectations clear.
There was a lack of clear communication on both sides. Both indulged in wishful thinking, believing everything would be fine. Both assumed they could change the other, with little evidence.
Let’s look at examples of their unwitting self-deception.
1 David ignored Giada’s naivety
David persuaded himself that Giada knew how he operated. He thought he could avoid getting caught in a long-term relationship, even though he’d had similar problems in the past. However, he either greatly underestimated or ignored Giada’s naivety in the relationship area.
But he went ahead anyway.
2 Giada’s image of David didn’t fit reality
Giada’s wish not to judge David was admirable. But she ignored or overlooked vital information that were clues as to David’s real track record with women.
Giada dismissed David’s lack of desire to settle down. She was sure he’d be different with her and couldn’t accept he had different values to her. In addition, she only believed evidence that fitted her theory that he was charming. And she also ignored how David had treated past girlfriends, even though there may have been some truth in the gossip.
3 Giada could have learned more about David
So how could Giada have been more self-protective? She could have discussed David’s character with someone sensible whom she trusted and who was a good judge of character.
She also could have observed more closely how David treated women at work. Did he treat women of differing status the same? Did he privately demean women who were of higher status? Was he flirty with women of lower status who found it difficult to reject his attentions? Did he at least try to be on polite terms with ex-girlfriends?
Giada could also have observed how David reacted in difficult situations. She’d only seen him relaxed or happy. How did he behave when he was stymied, or tired, stressed, anxious or angry?
Over the longer term, did David’s actions usually match what he said? Did he live up to the values he said he believed in?
Giada may still have done the same
Giada may have decided she was prepared to take the risk anyway. That she could accept the short-term benefits, while also knowing the long-term disadvantages of being in a relationship with David.
At least she would have been better prepared, or may have changed her expectations of him.
She may still have been distressed when he took off. But she would have understood the situation better. She’d have accepted the outcome and picked up her own life more quickly.
So in future?
Giada can learn from this experience. Rather than criticising herself, she’s learned some valuable lessons.
In future, Giada can look after her own interests as well as the other person’s. She doesn’t need to be selfish, and certainly not paranoid. Just aware. Willing to see reality for what it is. Willing to recognise and stop self-deception.
She needs to be clear-eyed when she’s strongly attracted to someone. Her ability to see things rationally will be affected when she’s in love. That’s when she could be taken in by wishful thinking. And that’s when it’s useful to talk to someone trustworthy who’s not involved.
Then Giada could see potential partners from the outside. Not how she wants them to be, or how she thinks they might be.
Giada will also learn she can cope with a relationship breakdown, even though it’s emotionally distressing. And she’ll finally learn that asking unanswerable questions is a waste of time.
Facing reality is hard
Few people would’ve done differently in Giada’s situation. High emotion clouds most people’s ability to think clearly, especially when there’s a big decision to make.
We fear losing face by admitting we’ve misjudged a situation or made a mistake. We might have to give something up, or start again. And we don’t want to feel stupid or thought of as a pushover.
Giada’s experience is common
We often want to believe something is a certain way, the way it “should” be, and not the way it actually is. So we only look at information that fits our belief. We ignore anything that doesn’t fit with the way we want it to be.
But this cuts out valuable information we may need to know. That information can help us understand and make better decisions. Deep down, we know we’re ignoring something.
But we stamp on our niggling doubts.
We convince ourselves it will be fine
We don’t want to think of problems that might crop up. So we continue with our wishful thinking. We don’t accept that it’s the way it actually is. We don’t want to face the reality.
But by using self-deception, we set up a whole lot of problems down the track.
Being mindful can help
Use mindfulness to notice when you’re tempted to ignore a niggle of doubt. Notice when you’re overlooking something you know you should take into account. Notice when you’re rushing a decision and making yourself believe it’ll be OK.
Slow down your decisions
Notice the urge to get the decision over and done with. Take the time to consider all the angles. (But don’t procrastinate forever.) Study all the good and bad things about this decision.
What worries you and what makes you feel good? What will happen in the future if you do or don’t go down this road?
Take note of your doubts. Write them all down. How will you deal with each one?
Would you be happy with the situation in a year, five years, ten years if you go with this decision? What about if you don’t?
Ask trusted others to help you sort through the issues. Input from others gives you different perspectives you may not think of yourself.
Your future self will thank you for admitting you’re an expert at self-deception. Drop wishful thinking. Face the reality of your situation so you can move forward with your life.