“It’s not that bad.”
“It was not my fault.”
“I was tired. I was stressed. It was that time of the month.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“They are overreacting.”
“It’s no big deal.”
“Everybody does it.”
“Yes, but they did ___________.”
Do you find yourself saying similar things? When we justify ourselves, it should give us pause to examine ourselves. Why? Because we are easily self-deceived.
Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick/wicked. Who can understand it?”
I John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Obadiah 1:3 agrees… “The pride of your heart has deceived you.”
Our hearts often tell us that we are better, smarter, more right, and more deserving than we really are. That pride, which seems to be fighting for our good, is actually harming us! It pits us against God (“God opposes the proud,” James 4:6) and injures our testimony for Christ (“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” James 1:26).
If we are self-deceived, we can’t see our own sin. That is significant because sin messes up relationships—our relationship with God and with others.
This is true with everyone, but I especially see it in abusive marriages. (Since men are the predominant abusers, I will use those pronouns here.) This is evidenced in the abusive spouse minimizing his own behavior, denying wrong-doing, and blaming his wife. The abused spouse, in contrast, is generally open to admitting fault and interested in counsel. This is a sign that the situation is more than he-said, she-said.
The quote below shows that even the secular authors recognize this truth, a truth reflecting Romans 1 on the fruit of self-deception of such persons:
Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to the passions and coarse pleasures, in order to occupy and amuse himself… and it all comes from lying continually to others and himself.1
The part about giving himself up to passions and coarse pleasures is interesting
, as most abusive men are involved in some sort of addiction such as pornography, gambling, or video gaming. They turn from healthy, God-pleasing relationships and activities to those that rob them of time, money, and real love. Sin and self-deception mess up good things. Sin destroys.
I am often asked if the abusive person really understands what they are doing. To a degree, I do not think so, as the pride of their heart has deceived them. They have become so practiced and habitual in their thinking and behaviors, that it becomes natural to them. It’s who they are. And yet, there is still an awareness that it is wrong, because such people generally project two different lives—the public and the private. If they truly didn’t think it was wrong, they would live consistently.
But we don’t have to jump to the extreme of abusive behavior to recognize self-deception in our very own lives (see questions at the top of the article). We all prefer to think of ourselves as in the right, don’t we?
So how do we guard ourselves against pride and against deception when its very nature is…well…deceptive? How will we ever learn to see clearly?
Well, for one, we can ask God to help us be aware. Cry out like the Psalmist in 139:23-24, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” We can be sure God will answer such a prayer that is in accordance with His Word.
God will often use His written Word, the preached Word, and the fellowship of other believers to bring such things to our attention. Are you availing yourself of those tools?
Secondly, we can make ourselves open to correction by humbly seeking the counsel and observations of others. Those closest to us know our faults the best. Do we ask them what they see in us? Would they feel confident that they could respond honestly without drama ensuing?
Discovering our faults and sin is not pleasant. Yet, it can yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb 12:11). Peaceful fruit of righteousness—sounds lovely, doesn’t it? In other words, the pain of revelation will be far exceeded by the fruit of repentance and change.
So the next time you find yourself justifying, denying, and blaming; or when someone corrects you and your first response is defense, pause and ask, “Am I deceiving myself?”
1 The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Book II, Chapter 2