The Examined Lie: How Self-Deception Prevents Us Finding Love

This is the tenth piece to be published on the Get The Guy blog from my brother Stephen. Steve helped co-write the Get The Guy book and is a wealth of knowledge on dating and relationships.

Change is tough. This piece tells you why, and what to do about it if deep down you know your life can be better. It’s tough love, but we hope that it drives you to take a hard look at your life and where things can be improved.

Enter Stephen

It’s easy to believe our own bullshit.

No one wants to think they’re the bad guy. No one wants to confront their messed up beliefs. No one wants to believe that deep down, beneath the sugar-coated reasons and reassuring comfort given by girlfriends that there could be a more unappealing truth: it’s not him, it’s me.

We are all experts in the department of self-deception, The human psyche needs to rationalize its own behaviours. When things don’t go according to plan, our brains become master storytellers – we construct our own virtuous cover story in order to explain why the world is conspiring against us and we never really had a choice in the first place.

Why? Because our brains don’t want to change. As Stephen Grosz notes in his book The Examined Life, “change is loss.” Change can mean having to accept that the story we have told to keep ourselves from the truth has always been a lie. Change will always be difficult when, as humans, “we are vehemently faithful to our own view of the world”, and as such, even the smallest necessary change can require a frightening upheaval of our entire belief system.

Change is admitting to ourselves and those around us that we are on some level maybe-possibly-not-completely satisfied with our seemingly perfect life. Or it means admitting that we do actually have a choice and have to take responsibility for the current state we live in.

It’s much nicer to have an explanation that excuses us for our repeated difficulties – or a story to cling to that turns our failings into virtues.

We tell ourselves: “I’m just laid-back” instead of “I’m a pushover”.

We say: “I’m easy going and accept people for who they are” instead of “I can’t handle conflict in relationships”.

We say: “I’m just passionate and fall for people quickly” instead of “I can’t function alone and gravitate towards anyone who shows me attention”.

We say: “Good-looking guys are arrogant assholes” instead of “I’m terrified of being judged and lash out at anyone who makes me feel inadequate”.

Most of these stories have some common traits: Either (a) they make us look noble, or (b) they are fatalistic – they take the responsibility out of our hands entirely. This is because even utter powerlessness can feel better than having to admit that the only thing holding us back is our own self-constructed narrative.

Carefully look at the excuses you repeatedly make. Scrutinize your long-held beliefs about the opposite sex. Question those stories you have told yourself about why you’re still in relationships that don’t meet your needs, or in no relationship of any kind.

There are no quick fixes here. Our excuses are always there, and we always have to be attentive to spot them when they come up.

If you’re struggling with this process, try a few of these:

1. Be willing to let go of long-held beliefs

The happiest people in life are often able to adapt quickly to new situations, or adapt their beliefs to new evidence. Always be willing to be wrong about things. Attach less ego to being right all the time, and instead commit to the constant pursuit of facing reality.

Painful in the short-term? Yes. But it can save you years of living in denial.

When you become less attached to every little belief you’ll be less likely to hold onto bad patterns of thinking and stories that don’t serve you anymore.

2. Notice the excuses you make most often

Identify the areas that cause you the most dissatisfaction or frustration in your love life. Now ask yourself: What are the most common excuses or stories I tend to use to explain my inadequacy in this area?

If you notice yourself jumping to the same excuses over and over again – write them down so that you can see them on paper. Be your own worst critic. With any long-held belief or excuse you use a lot, even if it seems perfectly rational, always ask yourself the question: Why might this reason be bullshit? What deeper change am I avoiding by telling myself this story?

3. Substitute complaining for immediate action

Give yourself no way out. Ask: If I just had to do this, what would I need to do next?

If you notice yourself making excuses with your friends, immediately stop yourself and instead use that energy to make a plan of action.

In fact, substitute all complaining and excuses for immediate action.

This isn’t about masochism; it’s about giving ourselves a dose of hard truths. At Matt’s seminars and retreats, I’ve always noticed how so much of the process he goes through is digging deeper to hack away at the story that people tell themselves and get at the hard-truth hiding beneath.

Peeling away the layers confronts a person with the truth that hides beneath a narrative they may have lived under for years.

Some excuses, of course, have a modicum of truth. Others are symptoms of a lifelong commitment to self-deception and the avoidance of confrontation with our fears and anxieties.

The human mind is endlessly creative. The human ego is fragile. Both of these traits combined make it possible for us to endlessly weave new narratives to prevent the change we need.

But some stories can be more empowering. Some heroes and heroines are able to overcome their illusions and fears, venturing into the cave to face the demon that taunts them from within.

Like any good story, overcoming change and confronting demons will involve hardship. But it also promises the reward of returning home with treasure.

What 2-3 stories or excuses do you tell yourself most often to avoid taking the action you need? Let me know in the comments below.


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29 Replies to “The Examined Lie: How Self-Deception Prevents Us Finding Love”

  • Hi Stephen,
    This is a particularly difficult subject for anyone to admit to, being partly or wholly to blame for their life, relationships, ability to face up to the lies we tell ourselves. I will try writing it down, to be my own worst critic. Although I think this is an excruciating process.
    I am a brave and determined person, worried about living in the story of my life with my disabled son not as a victim but that it’s easy to sit back and say that is what life has dealt us and there is no way to change. I think in relationships I concocted the story I’m just so complex, no one will ever understand me. This is an easy way to blame other people when things don’t work out as I’d liked. But it is tough love and easier not to take action. You are right, a help would be to think as if you had to take action, not ‘do I’ ‘ don’t I’.
    Thank you for another great article Stephen, love your work and looking forward to your next one.
    Kathryn x

    1. So pleased to hear this Kathryn – you seem to be very self-reflective and good at identifying your own thought patterns. And yes, less hesitancy is always better – we all spend way too much time deliberating and fretting over whether we can/should instead of just starting today. Thanks so much for your comment, hope you’re well. Stephen x

  • Hey Stephen,

    For myself, it’s going to be a process of tearing down defenses and barriers I’ve set up. I’ve been sticking to firmly held beliefs that relationships are comprised of nothing but pain and disappointment. To counter this, I think your points about brutal honesty can be very transformative.

    Recently, I’ve been asking myself, “is there any evidence for x?”. And 9 times out of 10 there isn’t. If I cannot pin-point any actual facts, then I’m holding myself to take a road I normally wouldn’t.

    I do belive you’re right though – being honest and not allowing excuses to govern us offers more success in the long run.

    Please keep up the articles! It’s so refreshing to read something that isn’t completely saccharine =)

    1. I love your idea of asking if there is any evidence for your beliefs. Too often people often take one event and form entire life-long beliefs from them. Being rational about it can help us deconstruct why we’re clinging to an idea and whether it’s true or not. Thanks for your kind words, Steve x

  • I need to stop making excuses and instead ACT.

    I always say that I’m OK with just being friends with new guys I meet…but I’m not. It’s time to stop being “one of the guys.” That’s going to be a hard one for me, as I’m much more comfortable in that setting (and am accepted there).

    Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Excellent news Tracey – it’s hard admitting it to ourselves at first, but now you have power to do something about it. Great to hear you’re ready, Steve x

  • Hi Stephen,

    I enjoyed reading your article. It really relates to me as I I broke up with my boyfriend of a year over email last Saturday but he is away for 3 weeks and I caved in when he called and asked if we were still together and he said that we can talk about it when he gets back.

    This article really puts things into perspective at the moment. It is is refreshing to read something that touches me deep down to my core and makes me really reflect.

    Keep up the amazing writing :)


    1. Thank you so much for your kind comments Sara – I’m thrilled that the piece gave you a new way of thinking about your situation. Steve x


  • What if u take action yet you cannot get yourself our of this emotional rut? Does it mean you’re not trying hard enough?

    1. Changing our beliefs is not always quick process or a lightbulb moment. Often it requires us to take action first in order to get new experiences and reference points which help shift our thinking. e.g. if we think “I’m just not confident, people don’t like me” – One way to solve this is to go and meet a lot of people (i.e. take action first) and gather good responses, after which we will see that the belief we thought was true before is repeatedly being proved wrong which forces us to change it. That’s a quick answer but hope it’s helpful. All the best, Stephen x

      1. Yes I agree. Action is the solution. After spending 15 years in isolation as a social phobic, I found that action was the only way out. I put myself in SEVERELY UNCOMFORTABLE social situations to overcome my fears. After years of perseverance…I can now say I am not only an extrovert, I’m pretty much the life of the party!
        Get out of your comfort zones girls….that’s where your life begins :)

      2. The beliefs I had before were “People wont like me”, “I’m not funny”, “I’m don’t have enough personality”, “I’m too different”.

        I dont believe any of that bullcrap now. It was all lies.

        Now I believe “People are going to love me”, “I’m hilarious”, “I like the person I have become”.

  • Thanks…im always delaying my work, or my papers…and always delaying my diet…..later…later…and it always tomorow…and never now… :)

    1. Just take some small action towards each every day and you’ll get there. Start small! All best Agostinha, Stephen x

  • Ok, so, if I’m honest, most of my struggles stem from my trust issues. If I say, “Oh, I can’t go out because I’m broke” or “It’s too cold to go hang out” (while the latter was true in -37° weather in Chicago), it’s more of me saying, “I have no confidence that anyone else can see to it that I’m taken care of the way I wish to be. If that cannot happen, I’m not comfortable without what I feel are my basic necessities.” I know this but have no desire to make myself open to different possibilities (I’m also spoiled so I like to have my way), spurring on control issues. They’re not endearing traits all the time so I need to know when to reign it in, especially if it’s me essentially getting in my own way in my pursuits. This really made me think about some steps I need to take moving forward. Great article =)

    1. Great to hear TC – really admire your honesty and ability to notice these traits in yourself. It’s funny how deep down we know the excuses we are making but just don’t expose them to the light very often. Thanks for commenting, Steve x

  • How interesting, I could’ve sworn that I was listening to myself here and there while reading the piece. Brilliant PHteven…

  • Great one, as per usual! That article made me pause for a while… So here’s my dilemna…I don’t know if what I tell myself is an excuse/a story or if it’s actually what I truly believe… I know I have to change my mindset about dating n stuff n I feel like I’m 100% ready for a serious, committed relationship. Like if it hit me, I’d be ready! BUT I feel like right now is not the time for me, I’m enjoying being single, doing what I want when I want n not having to tend to the needs of someone else – yeah I know I sound kind of selfish here…anyways I’m the kind of person who will commit, like I don’t fool around or play games, I know what I want in life and in a partner and I know that when I’ll meet tha special someone then it’ll be the real deal so that’s why I feel like right now is the time to just be carefree… Or is that just my excuse to not put myself out there? Big :S

    1. Hi Mel – I think it’s completely possible to both love the single life and be ready for something great. But yes, you are correct that sometimes you just don’t feel like you have time for a relationship. In my experience when you meet someone amazing you CHOOSE to make room for them in your life. That doesn’t mean they take over all the things that are important to you – you still have to keep your priorities and the lifestyle you built when you were single.

      Also – who says being carefree means you can’t meet someone and have fun in the process? :)

      Steve x

  • ☆ ♥♥ PEACE ♥♥ ☆

    With all my heart I thank you :)

    May I say:

    I looooooooooooooooooooooooooove “The Examined Lie” :)

    I 100% agree :)

    After all,

    ♥ Our heart always deserves true LOVE ♥&♥ PEACE :)♥
    ♥ Truth= true LOVE :)♥

    ♥ May our hearts be filled with true LOVE ♥&♥ PEACE forever :) ♥

    Always saying:
    ♥ Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees to truth
    ♥&♥ nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo to lie
    ♥&♥ enjoying all the best heart-touching moments in life :)

    Endless heart-touching moments :)


    ☆ Some heart-touching truths about truth: ☆

    ♥ “Therefore, rejecting all falsity and being done now with it, let everyone express the truth with his neighbor, for we are all parts of one body and members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25)♥

    ♥ “Behold, You desire truth in the inner being; make me therefore to know wisdom in my inmost heart.” (Psalm 51:6)♥

    ♥”Since by your obedience to the Truth through the Holy Spirit you have purified your hearts for the sincere affection of the brethren, love one another fervently from a pure heart.” (1 Peter 1:22)♥

    ♥ “For Your loving-kindness is before my eyes, and I have walked in Your truth.”(Psalm 26:3) ♥

    ♥ “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)♥

    ♥ “Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” (Psalm 85:11) ♥

    ♥ Lord, who shall dwell in Your tabernacle? Who shall dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks and lives uprightly and blamelessly, who works rightness and justice and speaks and thinks the truth in his heart.” (Psalm 15: 1-2) ♥

  • Congratulations, Stephen! This is one of the best articles I’ve read in the past year, and probably the one that leaves me the most homework. It’s almost scary how much of an impact it may have on me.

    As for sharing… I think my big one has to do with the consequences of having grown up quite sheltered. I tend to blame the rest of the world for being backwards when I’m the one who has yet to experience many things so I won’t be afraid to face the real world.

    Thank you, Stephen!

  • I recently discovered Hussy on Z100 today while driving to work and for the first time I felt this was someone I need to listen to. My last relationship…marriage led me to having an emotional breakdown like never before, made me lose respect for men in general and needless to say I have eliminated dating and men from my life completely…but I don’t want to live like this…I want to heal and this time around…do what’s right for me for a change…instead of doing what’s best for the other person in my life (my main focus thus far)Moreover have some fun in my life..and love again.

  • So I’m in a mood for sharing.

    I, like the person before me, heard about this website on Z100 and decided to look around. I’ve known for a while that I have a couple of not-so-positive views about relationships, and I thought I’d share one (since you asked so nicely).

    “Be willing to let go of long-held beliefs”
    My long-held beliefs most likely stem from a mix of observation and a bit of self-deprecation that grew from the years when I didn’t appreciate my height. Guys don’t want to be with tall girls:
    Every relationship I have seen has a pattern of short girl/tall guy. It just seems to be the way things are. Yes you have the occasional instance where the two might be the same height, or he is shorter, but that seems like trying to spot a few orange needles in a haystack (or maybe in Hollywood; supermodel anyone?). Or the notion that things may look good on paper but are seldom practiced. Aside from observation, I’ve heard guys say that they wouldn’t date women taller than them. Is it a masculinity thing? Probably. And then I hear things like, “but there are tons of guys in the world who like tall girls.” Well, what about you? No? Can’t see it right? Uh huh. It’s mostly my female friends who look at me strangely when I say that I’m not really into the thought of dating a guy who is shorter than me. They can’t comprehend it; it’s not an issue for them. And then I ask, “Would you date a shorter guy?” And what follows is a hesitant look of contemplation followed by a refusal that is masked with an uncomfortable laugh and a shrug. Exactly. I understand that it’s a stereotype fueled by society’s standards of “what looks good,” but then I also understand that people, literally and figuratively, live and die by many of these of standards.

    “Notice the excuses you use most often”
    My most common excuse is a reflection of my long-held belief. I don’t want to date a shorter guy:
    They’re everywhere! I can’t escape them! Well, maybe if I hang around some professional athletes, but the chances of me doing that are slim to none. Many moons ago I heard a girl make a comment about some celebrity guy dating a model who was taller than him. She said something to the effect of, “It’s like she’s dating her little brother.” Wow, that statement was certainly was an eye opener. I couldn’t seem to brush it aside, and that’s when I started paying attention to the relationships that I saw. And sure enough, no matter how different any couple seemed, one truth remained: the guy was always taller. Actually, since it happened a long time ago, I can attribute it to the creation of my aforementioned long-held belief. So, I determined that I too must find a guy taller than myself to date. It just seemed normal.

    “Substitute complaining for immediate action”
    Well I’m certainly not complaining about dating shorter guys. But, I have been in the process of trying to see a different perspective to this long-held belief.

  • i don’t have time: to look for a new job / work on resume / workout /

    Wouldn’t know what to say to that cute guy in the coffee shop

    I don’t have anyone to go out with to meet guys go places

    ugh everything is an excuse, i have made the change of doing what i want to do and fighting against myself on talking myself out of doing something

    Thanks Hussey Brothers yall are always a great read.

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