Seeing the World How They Want to See It: Self-Deceptive Thinking

Disordered characters often live in a world of their own fantasy, adhering to the belief that “thinking makes it so.”

I’ve been posting on some of the erroneous ways disordered characters think. Prior posts have covered such “thinking errors” as possessive thinking, egocentric thinking, and combative thinking:

One of the more insidious thinking errors common to disturbed characters is Self-Deceptive Thinking.

Disordered characters are prone to seeing things as they want to see them, not as they are. Two of their core characteristics — the ease with which they lie and the resistance they have to acceding to demands placed on them — prompt them to distort the reality of situations. Sometimes they live in a world of their own fantasy, adhering to the belief that “thinking makes it so.” They often lie to themselves with the same ease that they lie to others. They alter their perceptions and distort the reality of situations so that they don’t have to change their point of view or question their usual way of doing things. Their determination to make reality be what they want it to be breeds a pervasive attitude of disdain for and disregard of the truth.

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Self-Deceptive thinking often accompanies the responsibility-avoidance tactic of Denial (more about this in a future series of posts): the disturbed character tries his best to keep doing things as he prefers to do them while simultaneously attempting to convince others that he hasn’t been doing the problematic things others have brought to his attention. But long before he uses tactics like denial, the disordered character has generally grossly distorted the reality of situations to satisfy his desire to see the world his way.

I’ve counseled many individuals of disturbed character who initially balk at the notion that they have any real problems to deal with. For example, a person referred for Anger Management Training (which, by the way, I always translate into aggression-replacement training) might assert “I’ve really thought about this doc, and if you want to know the absolute truth, I really don’t think there’s a problem here.” This assertion might be made despite a mountain of evidence presented by those who pushed him to seek counseling in the first place. The assertion might even be maintained despite reviewing a litany of problems in relationships that testify to the individual’s lack of self-control. This kind of thing always raises the question: “Does he simply not see the problem?” Sometimes, he sees it just fine but isn’t really motivated to change, so he tries to justify himself to get others off his back. Other times, he’s lied to himself so often that he has begun to believe his own lies. Then again at other times, he has so twisted and so distorted so many aspects of the realities of his life that it’s really become hard for him to tell what’s real anymore.

One of the benefits of counseling disturbed characters within the Cognitive-Behavior Therapy paradigm, is that by focusing on behaviors that can be objectively verified as an issue, a person’s distorted beliefs automatically become evident. After the person has come to terms with that, attention can be given to the erroneous ways of thinking that led to those behaviors in the first place.

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