Tonight I’m gonna break away
Just you wait and see
I’ll never be imprisoned by
A faded memory
— Rusty Young (for Poco), “Crazy Love”
I almost always believe my own lies. I’ve lived inside this mind for long enough to know better. But I still fall for my own clever tricks.
I try not to lie to other people. I was raised to be a good liar, so I certainly know how, but I know it’s wrong. It know it hurts others. I even know it hurts me in the long run. Every now and then, I trap myself into a situation when it’s easier to lie — but I struggle to stay truthful with others. I usually win that moral battle.
I have no scruples about lying to myself, though. The conscience that speaks so loudly when I’m tempted to mislead others completely disappears when it comes to myself. And even though I’m usually insightful enough to suspect when others are lying, I’m a gullible child when it comes to my own lies.
There’s a war that goes on inside me. Different parts of me want different things. Each part of me is certain that he knows what’s best for me. It works that way for you, too, even though you’re convinced there’s one united “you” in there.
And when one part of me wants what it wants — in defiance of everything which the rational parts of me know is best — that part of me lies.
I lie to myself about my feelings. I lie about my future. I lie about money. I lie about what I’m going to eat. But most of all, I lie to myself about love.
I’m not an idiot, although I can appear that way when I’m in the grips of self-deception. It’s not that I don’t know what I should do. Or what I shouldn’t do. I know these things. The reasonable and rational parts of me knows.
But there’s a self-destructive part of me which doesn’t care what my reasonable parts know. All that selfish part knows that is it must have what it wants. It’s like a gremlin inside with a mind of its own — who’s convinced that the rest of me will eventually be thankful for its trickery. That believes the rest of me with be grateful that it led the entire “me” into the same old mistakes once again.
If you think I’m crazy — multiple personalities or something — please realize that you are just as divided inside your own mind. It’s not just me. We’re all this way.
We love to believe there’s one unitary “me” inside each one of us — with the rational mind setting direction and giving orders — but each of us is a collection of competing interests, fears, wants and needs on the inside. Different parts of the brain and heart want different things — and there’s less coordination between those warring factions than we assume.
The belief that the unitary “me” is in control gives us an illusion of stability, right up until the moment we find ourselves wanting things or doing things or saying things which that rational executive function never agreed to.
Humans are irrational at best and fundamentally insane at worst, but it’s often a comfort to each of us to believe he or she is different from the rest.
I understand the science behind why this happens, but that doesn’t help. I can comfort myself with the knowledge that you do it, too. But the truth is that I have to live with my own lies most of all. I can accuse you of bad motives or outright dishonest behavior, because I see you as one whole person, not as your individual parts. When you don’t keep your word — or when you claim one thing and then do another — I can write you off as a bad person.
I can’t do that with myself. I have to live with my own lies — and I have to find reasonable ways to justify why I do the things I do and say the things I say. I somehow have to make it all make sense in my head. I have to come up with one compelling narrative — a story in which I’m the hero. The good guy.
And so I lie to myself to save my sanity.
I tell myself I’m not going to eat any more ice cream. I tell myself that I’m going to ignore my distaste for my job and become prosperous again anyway. I tell myself that I’m going to stop wasting so much time — that I’m going to be more productive about the creative work which scares me.
Most of all, though, I lie to myself about love. I tell myself that I know what I’m doing this time. I tell myself that I’m not going to love anymore when the love isn’t going to be returned. I tell myself that I’m not going to fall for anyone who’s dysfunctional. I tell myself that I’m going to break free of cherished love which ought to be completely dead and gone by now.
I tell myself — and I really mean it — that I’m going to find somebody sane and reasonable and feasible for me to fall in love with. Someone who will choose me. Someone who will love me completely, too. Honest. I really mean it this time.
But I know I’m lying. I’m still stuck inside a disorienting house of mirrors — where smiling liars tell me soothing lies — and all the faces are my own.
Note: If you have any interest in reading some of the science behind why there are competing interests inside us — and why we’re powerless to do anything about it — I can recommend “Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind.” The first half of the book is phenomenal, but the second half was less interesting to me. I read it about 10 years ago and it helped me understand why the different parts of me can’t agree on everything.