On Self Deception, Congruence and Integrity

We are all masters in the art of self-deception. Congruence is something I seek in the people I meet and work with, and when it’s lacking, it disturbs me. I’ve been having discussions about this with colleagues over on LinkedIn, and want to share some valuable insights with you.

For example, I have a colleague who talks really big. His external story is one of success, intentional living and goal accomplishment. However, he isn’t always living that way. He’s had consistent relationship issues and has not had the success he envisions himself having.

His internal story doesn’t match the external one. He spends a great amount of time building a carefully constructed persona to match the “must be seen” person he has created. The internal story and external stories don’t match, and the lack of congruence is jarring.

I was really intrigued by a response I received from Brandon Tarver.  Brandon comes to the discussion with a touch of psychology and an admonition not to be hard on others.  Here is his post:

Chip, when your colleague talks about how successful and honorable he is and yet you know otherwise, at least one of three different things are going on, I think.

He may lack integrity and honesty, and might know that he’s lying through his teeth. In reality, that’s not as common as we might think though.

It may be that your colleague is simply expressing who he honestly thinks he is (his ideal self), and is unable to come to terms with who he really is (his real self.) Karen Horney first popularized the idea of these two selves, an idea that was expanded upon by Carl Rogers (and others.)

Now I’m not much of a fan of Freud, but the incongruence in your colleague between his two selves may be an expression of the Freudian defense mechanisms of denial (a refusal to accept an anxiety-provoking idea) or rationalization (a distortion of reality to justify events in his life.) In short, the problem may not be one of honesty and integrity so much as it may emotional pain and an inability to confront the truth.

People tend to compare. A lot. They judge how good or how bad they are doing based upon how others around them are doing. Your colleague might be falling into the comparison trap, exaggerating his achievements and successes because he feels he doesn’t measure up to (or needs to stay ahead of) others he admires. If this is the case, then he might indeed be wrestling with issues of integrity. However, the bigger problem seems to be that he’s grounding his standards of success and failure in movable, flexible, fashionable targets that offer him no real permanence and no security.

I wouldn’t judge a person too harshly on issues of congruence of this type. This is part of the human condition, and we all succumb to this weakness at various times and in various ways. For your colleague, the weakness is associated with success. For me, it’s most definitely associated with the self-deception that the ice cream sundae won’t harm my diet. It’s part of being human.

Posted by Brandon Tarver

Thanks, Brandon. I appreciate the insight, and the admonition. However, this post also causes me to ask another question.

I would enjoy hearing from others on: Is self deception just a part of the human experience? Does it have to be? What are your thoughts?

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