Yes, I Participated in Self Deception

by Niki on July 12, 2011

During the past month I’ve had a lot of time to think about this recent relationship of mine. I’ve done the analysis, replayed conversations in my head, and reconsidered the decisions I made. While the betrayal I experienced is devastating, I need to own up to the fact that there were signs and predictors before and during our relationship I should have paid closer attention to.

We all deceive ourselves all the time, relative to love and work and health. Being human comes with the capacity for self deception. So while I do blame my ex for lying to me, I must acknowledge there were troubling things about him I accepted throughout our relationship. I allowed myself to ignore things about him because I wanted to believe our relationship could work. We all do this sometimes in life; we choose the things we want to believe.

Before we ever dated, I knew my ex had been divorced three times and he’d had several live-in girlfriends. I now know he’s actually been divorced four times. I also knew he had a strong temper. While I didn’t know specific facts, I knew his most recent relationships were short lived and full of drama. While I did not exactly support his behaviors, I bought into the clichéd myth that “he had changed.” For some reason, I thought he had grown past drama in his life and genuinely wanted a healthy and committed relationship.

During our first few months of dating, I learned that my ex blamed 100% of his past relationship failures on the women, who – according to him – were either manipulative, controlling, materialistic, or unfaithful. I didn’t know much more than that because he wouldn’t discuss any specifics about his past. I also discovered early on that he does have an extremely short temper he frequently took out on me and then blamed on me.

As the relationship continued, I learned he had no intention of keeping the promises he made to me during the beginning of our relationship.  Just one example: when he asked me to move in with him in 2009, he said it would only be for 1-2 years. Then he wanted us to sell both our houses and buy a new house together that would be our shared home. When I brought this up after 20 months, he said he would never move from his house. There are many more examples I could share but the pattern is the same: he had no intention on following through on the promises he made me during our first six months.

During the past month since we’ve broken up, I’ve now learned he lied to me about other aspects of his past. In the interest of his privacy I won’t list those items here but suffice to say that if I had known the truth I would not have dated him.

So why am I writing about all this now? Because I want to acknowledge I am not a complete victim in this situation. I bear partial responsibility for enabling the dysfunction in this relationship. I did a lot of compromising in this relationship and I accepted several troubling behaviors. I am not completely innocent in all of this, and my responsibility lies in accepting certain behaviors and remaining in the relationship.

The fact is, people are always telling us who they are. However, they are telling us who they are with their actions, not necessarily with their words. Now I think that someone’s words merely tell us who they WANT to be. But it’s only their actions that tell us who they really are. And this is true not just with our spouses, but with our bosses, our coworkers, our friends and our relatives. Their words tell you who someone wants to be. Their actions tell you who they really are.

I recently read this quote, which strikes me as incredibly relevant for my current situation:

“Your two most important sources of objective information about another person are the details of that person’s history and the opinions of other people.”

If I had read this two years ago, I might have paid more attention to the fact that (1) my ex’s history included numerous divorces he wouldn’t discuss, and (2) when I told people who knew him that we were dating, one common response was concern.

As I look back on this with 20/20 vision, I can see I paid attention to the wrong things. But I’m not going to beat myself up about this; there’s no value in judging myself for the past. Instead, I’m going to look toward the future and commit to learn as much as I possibly can from this experience to make sure I will never repeat it.

One thing I definitely learned from this experience: I chose to overlook the troubling information I did have about my ex BECAUSE I was overly optimistic and hopeful. I wanted to believe in the possibility of us, despite evidence to the contrary.

Being optimistic and hopeful are not bad qualities, they are simply insufficient for a mature and healthy relationship. Optimism without evidence is delusion. Hope without action is a dream.

I’m not blaming myself for this fiasco of a relationship, but I am taking responsibility for my own self deception. I wanted to believe in us, and my belief was so strong I ran right past the red flags. I need to own that and take responsibility for that.

As I move forward with my life, I still absolutely believe in love. And knowing I am capable of self deception simply means that in the future I must pay closer attention to someone’s actions rather than their words.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jan July 12, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Brilliant and poignant post, Niki. Thanks for sharing these insights with us.

Niki July 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Thanks Jan – it seems I am finding the healing power of writing, more so every day. Thanks for the feedback. Hugs, == niki

Anne J July 12, 2011 at 10:05 pm

See what Prof. Cialdini has to say about commitment:

Inconvenient, but we’re hardwired to stick to commitments. In his book about Influence, Cialdini discusses his neighbor’s commitment to her bad relationship. Apparently, it’s not your fault that you are hardwired to stick to a bad situation, even when the evidence is clear that you are not helping yourself. At least you are out of the woods now.

Niki July 13, 2011 at 4:40 am

Hi Anne,
Very interesting research there…. I love how he took such a scientific approach to studying this topic. I think it is very interesting how we are hardwired, and what happens when that hardwiring gets in the way of a healthy/happy life. Then I guess it’s time for some re-wiring…. Yes I’m out of the woods!
== niki

Caroline July 10, 2012 at 9:07 am

Wow. I could have written this myself! I just recently had this epiphany. I wanted the fairy tale. I wanted the pretty picture he painted for me. I chose to believe even when everything he did contradicted what he said. He made so many promises that were never fulfilled. I chose to stay even after I knew how much he lied. I actively participated in my own deception. This makes it easier to move on, and I feel like less of a victim. I will not ignore the red flags next time. Now I know better.

Niki July 11, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Hi Caroline,
Isn’t it funny how much we are willing to believe despite all evidence? And yes, when we make the choice to believe their lies, we suffer. But when we own our own participation in the deception, you are right – we become less of a victim. I’m so glad we both know better now!

Best wishes,
== niki

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