Oh what tangled webs we weave when at first we start to deceive

Why is it okay to deceive? Is there anyone who does not deceive? Why do we deceive? Big questions and the whole concept of deception is fascinating and can lead to some very fruitful realisations. Let's look at some examples:

  • The child who lies/deceives to avoid the consequences of their actions.
  • The heavily made-up woman who is not sure she is acceptable without makeup. 
  • The buff and toned man who is scared of not fitting in with the crowd.Who perhaps feels his presence will be more noteworthy because of his bulk.
  • The clothes horse/dedicated follower of fashion. Maybe someone who feels they have to be part of the crowd because their own sense of fashion will be mocked or perhaps imply a status they don't want to broadcast.
  • The person who exaggerates their achievements/past/status. A person who feels they are not good enough as they are perhaps.

All are common examples of deception and as such might be recognised, but nonetheless are readily accepted. When we look at deception as a defence mechanism some of the reasons seem clearer. To be different is to be more easily detectable, easier to be the prey of the hungry predator or perhaps easier to be othered from the group. The herd. Not a thing a lot of folks are at all comfortable with. Not a lot of folks are aware of this need to be a part of the herd but it is hardwired into our brain and has been for a long time. We are naturally group creatures.

There is however more to deception than being part of the crowd/herd. If we have been hurt, abused, wronged or victimised in our past then deception can be seen as a way of defending a vulnerability. Who would willingly allow themselves to be hurt again if they could actively avoid it? Be it in the crowd in the playground, the bullied, the despised, the ridiculed, I feel it is normal to want to protect ourselves from a repeat of those events. So another level or aspect of understanding becomes clear.

The self

As a counsellor, I am familiar with concepts of the self. In counsellor speak they are often referred to as conditions of worth, self-worth or perhaps spoken about as our internal loci of evaluation. Big words for our inner/core self but despite the words we counsellors use, the self is something we are all aware of to some degree. Some of us are more so than others but we all are aware of our inner selves. Be it choosing the colours of clothes we wear or our appearance, the drinks we drink or the car we drive or the holidays we take, we all have self-awareness. A sense of self and self-worth.

An interesting question now arises for me. That is to do with authenticity. Is our self-image authentic? It is not unusual in a counselling session to be with a client who is feeling inauthentic or maybe their inauthenticity is expressed/ felt in a way that is an indicator of inauthenticity. Counsellors often refer to this as incongruence.

As counsellors, we are taught to be congruent because clients are very good at noticing if we are incongruent. Being congruent is not always the easy choice and a lot of discomfort can arise when we experience the desire to be congruent but fear being congruent. Feelings or questions such as “I will hurt their feelings if I say how I really feel/think” or maybe “What will the client think of me if I say that”. As counsellors, we should have learned the value of being congruent as well as speaking the truth softly, kindly and constructively. 

So if we hold authenticity to be of value, to be worthy, something desirable and if that authenticity is lacking is that something we can change, something we can achieve? So authenticity is an ideal and as such we can only move towards it - we can never achieve it 100%. But in moving towards it we are able to say we are better than we were.

This does not mean that the person who is scarred with acne, or has been maliciously wounded and scarred has to make it widely known in order to be congruent. We practise caution when we show our vulnerability. To not do so would possibly invite hurtful and negative responses. But being defensive like that denies the possibility of being accepted for who we are.

When we are accepted we are welcome and wanted. A bit different from being ignored or disliked. On a personal level we can look at accepting ourselves and being comfortable in our skins. We can work towards this and the results are manifested outwardly.

I recall a work colleague who suffered horrendous burns to their upper body in their childhood. Their face and skin were horribly scarred. So scarred that on first impressions you felt revolted. This colleague had no way of denying or hiding their scarring unless they covered themselves in a bag or lived as a hermit. Where am I going with this? Well, they were a genuinely decent, nice person. As a boss they were exemplary - one of the best I have ever had. In very short order the scarring had become irrelevant and unnoticed. Their decency and demeanour had surpassed the superficial but noticeable scarring.

So a quite extreme example but the principle behind it is the same. When we are able to acknowledge our “deficits" and can accept them as part of ourselves we are able to be authentic, and congruent. The comments, ridicule, scorn and negativity can still hurt but we can not let them affect our inner self-worth. Thus we are able to rise above them. When others see we are not affected by their negativity, more often than not the incidences of negativity decrease. Win win I would say.

So whatever the reasons for our deception, inauthenticity, incongruence we have the power to rise above them. Yes, this takes lots of work but the results are, I feel, better than hiding behind deception. The pain of that deception being found out is, I feel, always more difficult to cope with than the effort we make to be authentic.

The positive side of deception

Finally, when my partner asks me if their backside looks big in those trousers, if their hairstyle suits them, if the dress is too short I try to pause before replying. Deception can have a positive side. If the dress is going to make them self-conscious, if the trousers make their backside look huge or I think their new hairstyle is awful I try to remember to be kind. To consider their feelings. To phrase any response carefully. 

Oh what twisted webs we weave when at first we start to deceive.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Chelmsford CM1
Written by Steve Fayers, Counsellor / Therapist | Certified Trauma Therapist
Chelmsford CM1

I am a person, a counsellor, a parent, a flawed human being who has struggled with life. Struggled with addiction.
I would rather struggle than give in and accept a life that does not meet my needs and wants.
I am trying to be the best person I can be.
"I will not go quietly into that goodnight " (paraphrased Dylan Thomas)

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