|Life's a Beach! - Published Columns|
|Tuesday, 27 November 2012 00:00|
Just when I start to wonder if all this writing is worth it, I get an email like this: “Dear Dr. Hurd, I strive to live up to the ideals you promote in your column. I like to quote your expressions about lying, overeating, rudeness, boundaries, keeping promises, etc. But when nobody’s looking, I still lie, stuff myself, snap at waiters, violate my friends’ boundaries, and break promises. Seems that everybody self-righteously says one thing and then does another. Are we all big fat hypocrites? Please withhold my name.” Thank you, Reader. I am re-energized.
People engage in hypocrisy all the time, ranging from minor offenses like saying one thing and doing another, all the way to large-scale fabrications. Hypocrisy flows from rationalization; i.e., making something sound good to the point where you believe it, even though it’s not true. You do such a good job of lying to yourself that you buy it without question.
Of course, you secretly hope nobody will notice or care enough to comment, but it’s pretty easy to pick up on others’ rationalizations. And it works both ways.
“I’m going on a diet tomorrow,” the overeater will say, truly believing it as he finishes his second bacon-cheeseburger. This mini-promise he makes to himself temporarily lowers his anxiety over the difficult task ahead. Lowering anxiety with a lie is neither effective nor mentally healthy. And it only works until the burgers run out.
“I’m going to study later. Not now, but later.” “I want to control my anger. I’ll start in the new year.” Rationalizations like these are curable if the treatment – introspection – is honestly applied. Introspection is self-reflection; a conversation you have with yourself. You examine your motives and look for contradictions between what you’re saying and what you’re doing.
The overeater might tell himself, “I keep saying I’ll go on a diet, but I never do. When am I finally going to do this?”
There’s no magic to introspection any more than there is to counseling. When people ask, “What’s the point of going into therapy?” I reply, “To keep you honest with yourself.” We all need to be ready to challenge contradictions between our words and actions, but it’s hard to be impartial about yourself. This is the point of having a third party – a friend, or even a therapist who can be objective.
This disconnect between your mind (theory) and your behaviors (practice), can cause psychological disorders. It can sneak up on you, and that’s why I encourage introspection in the form of counseling, journal-keeping, or regular self-reflection time. When you're honest with yourself, it’s easy to identify gaps between thoughts and actions. Ask yourself, "Are my ideas wrong? Am I advocating something that's easier preached than done? Do my thoughts fit reality?"
Without realizing it, some hypocrites are actually trying to solve their problems. Consider the various scandals regarding religion and politics (both fertile ground for lying, sometimes on an astonishingly brazen scale). By piously preaching to others, the hypocrite is trying to wish away his or her problems. “If I oppose this or that behavior sanctimoniously enough, then maybe my own flaws will disappear.” By refusing to introspect and accept criticism, the hypocrite deflects the focus onto others. Sound familiar?
This isn’t about ethics and morality. They’re relevant, of course, but I’m talking about personal mental health. It’s stressful to say one thing and do another, because you still have to live with yourself. It takes a lot of rationalization to prop-up fraud and keep track of distortions. The hypocrite is on a collision course with reality, and the conflict between what he says and what he does will eventually catch up with him. Instead of owning up to it, he stays blissfully ignorant of his impending clash with the real world.
Most of us will never be guilty of the magnitude of hypocrisy we hear about in the news. But the emotional effect of even the smallest breach between thought and action can slowly chip away at the peace of mind we try so hard to achieve.