I’ve been posting some articles on the erroneous ways that disordered characters tend to think. Prior posts have covered such “thinking errors” as possessive thinking (see: The Possessive Thinking of the Disturbed Character), egocentric thinking (see: Egocentric Thinking), and combative thinking (see: Having to Win: The Combative Thinking of the Disturbed Character). 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 by their environments — 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 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.
Self-Deceptive thinking is not the same thing as the “defense mechanism” of Denial. That kind of denial is an unconscious defense against unbearable emotional pain. Deliberate, self-serving twisting of the facts and misrepresentations are bad habits for sure, as well as ways to avoid responsibility, but they’re not the result of an altered psychological state. Many times, self-deceptive thinking accompanies the responsibility-avoidance and manipulation “tactic” of denial (i.e. deliberate denial of responsibility or malevolent intent for the purpose of manipulating or impression-managing others). But that’s an entirely different kind of denial.
When doing the research for my first book, In Sheep’s Clothing, I counseled many individuals of disturbed character who initially balked at the notion that they had 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.” He might make this assertion despite a virtual mountain of evidence to the contrary presented by those who pushed him to seek counseling in the first place. He might even maintain the assertion despite a litany of problems in relationships dating back many years that testify to the his lack of emotional self-control. This kind of thing always raises the question in the minds of others: “Does he simply not see the problem?” Actually, most of the time he sees it just fine but isn’t really motivated to deal with it or change it, so he tries to justify himself and to get others off his back. Other times, he’s lied to himself so long and 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 issues of concern, a person’s distorted beliefs automatically become evident. Once the problem behaviors are identified and out in the open, attention can be given to the erroneous ways of thinking that led to those behaviors in the first place.