Deception’s banner is, “I’m OK, you’re nuts;” because it can’t afford to be wrong.
What is self-deception? How can you deceive yourself? Is it like telling yourself a joke and then laughing at it? Well, let’s take a look. I suspect deception is about unawareness. Deception wants to be left alone. It hides, even behind a smile. Deception could never read a book on itself, because the book would be about someone else. What else do we know about deception?
Deception is seldom a conscious choice. Few of us wake up in the morning with the intention of violating our values or boundaries. Few, if any, have ever said to themselves, this is a good day to lie to my friends or family, to become an alcoholic, a drug addict, a child abuser, or have an affair. Yet the truth is some of us do lie, or become alcoholics or drug addicts; some of us have affairs or break our vows; some of us even abuse others.
Many of us do compromise our beliefs and values, often losing track of what is really important. We wake up one morning and wonder how life got a way from us; we question what we truly believe and have a sinking sense that what we say, do and believe may not match one another. We did not arrive at that place overnight; we got there one very small step at a time. Sometimes, but not very often, we can look back and see where we got off track. Most of the time, we do not have a clue; everything looks blurry. Self-deception is apparently rather common. Perhaps we can discover some steps in the process that can lead us away from self-deception to self-awareness and living a life consistent with our values. Self-deception is not intentional. It is likely more self-protective and the consequence of many small steps in the wrong direction. Most often it starts with a growing awareness of pain or unhappiness or unmet needs or some other negative feeling that begins the spiral away from God and our deeply held values.
God calls us to a life of pain and struggle but a life full of promise and purpose. He calls us to examine ourselves, to be honest in our estimate of ourselves, to speak the truth in love, to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, to find our life by losing it, to die to self, to love and serve one another and to not be conformed to this world. God calls us to a life of obedience, of ministry, of suffering, of struggling with profound issues that tear at the very core of our existence. Deception calls us to a life with no pain-but no growth; with no hassles—but no change; with no risk—but no transformation.
Self-deception, then, is the process of bending our values and beliefs to fit our deeply felt needs, our circumstances and our self-assumed weaknesses. Self-deception offers a cure for our weaknesses and fears. Unfortunately, the cure doesn’t work, and we are left with numbness. It strikes at the very core of who we are, what we feel, what we want from life. Five elements are involved in the self-deceptive spiral. At one time, our feet seem on solid ground, at another, we wonder how we ever got to the place we are.
The first step is always to pick and chose those things we will obey. The first deception is found in Gen. 3:1—Satan deceives God’s first people and they disobey God. We are perhaps overwhelmed with the pain of childhood abuse, or failures in life or emptiness or the weight of unmet needs. We believe our needs or pain are unresolvable in our present circumstances. Our pride and stubborn will tell us that we should be in charge of our lives, we know what is best, and no one, perhaps not even God really understands.
In order to believe even the smallest lie, we must, at some point, stop believing the truth (II Tim. 4:3).
We come to believe our needs are important and deserve to be met. At first, we take only a few steps toward self-protection; a few steps toward meeting our own needs; only a few steps away from community and accountability. Besides, no one is perfect. It’s too hard. I’m not committing deliberate sin, just exploring possibilities. The door has just been cracked open. What about my needs and desires? In order to believe even the smallest lie, we must, at some point, stop believing the truth (II Tim. 4:3).
To accomplish selective obedience, we must be able to see reality from our own point of view. Through selective perception, we ever so slowly and slightly bend truth to fit our goal. Our goal is to do what we want, when we want, how we want, without feeling guilty or chastised or being noticed. Often our goals are out of our awareness. We just want the pain, guilt, despair, unhappiness, loneliness, etc. to stop. We begin to believe that what we think and feel inside and outside can be slightly different. A split begins between what we present to others and what we really feel. For many, this involves turning off the shaming voices inside. For others, it seems best to keep things inside. Deception, however, grows best in the dark.
It doesn’t take long to begin to justify our behavior. As we replace truth with lies, our self-directed behavior makes more and more sense. With the split mentioned above, comes a lessening of emotional awareness. As my needs, goals and desires become more important and prominent, yours become less “felt” by me. I become numb to guilt and other emotions, so they no longer direct or correct my behavior. My numbness makes me insensitive to your needs as well as my own pain. I feel distant from God. My self-directed, self-protecting behavior begins to make sense to me. It seems warranted. I am self-focused. The fact that my needs, goals, desires, etc. remain unmet is my biggest reality, my chief obsession. This is the area of “shoulds” and entitlements. “I should have what I want.” “I deserve…” “I don’t deserve…” “I’ve been abused so…”
Once my needs are prominent and yours are no longer “felt” by me, than my focus is strictly on having my needs met. You become a “meeter” of my needs, and your value is determined by how well you accomplish this task. Any incorrect behavior on my part is attributed to you; it’s your fault. I cannot be blamed because my needs are legitimate. I am no longer responsible for my own behavior. I have erected a variety of defenses and self-protective layers. My needs and your shortcomings are my clearest view. Problems in my life are someone else’s fault. I am in such deep denial, that I can’t possibly see my role clearly.
Sooner or later the emptiness of our choices leads to a sense of numbness and eventually despair as we realize the path we’ve chosen doesn’t take us where we want to go. We wanted to eliminate the negative thoughts and feelings, the loneliness and lack of fulfillment; we also hoped to find happiness, peace, perhaps someone to love and appreciate us. Instead we found a spiritual and emotional dead end, far away from God, our loved ones and ourselves. We found the prodigal’s pigsty—where we are alone and deeply addicted and deeply depressed. The way back seems long, painful and obscure. We don’t realize yet that just knowing we are at a dead end is the beginning of life and restoration. The big questions are “How did I get here and how do I get back”.
When we believe lies, we are not dependent on God. The first step back is to stop and turn the other way—change direction. Fill your mind with God’s word—for His word contains words of life. Join others on the journey—know that you are not alone (actually you never were alone). The following are suggestions for the journey.
Last time in Part One we introduced six building blocks to creating a stepfamily that lasts.
The first issue to resolve is the absence of trust between family members. Trust is the foundation of a healthy stepfamily. Without trust, there is no vulnerability; without vulnerability, there is no sharing and no growth. Too many families subtly or not so subtly discourage their members from sharing, under the guise of “being nice” or because sharing is just too painful.
A culture must be created where members can share their needs, concerns, disappointments, and disagreements; in other words, a safe environment to be vulnerable.
A culture must be created where members can share their needs, concerns, disappointments, and disagreements; in other words, a safe environment to be vulnerable. Healthy trust happens when family members believe they are valued and they learn how to understand and be open with one another. In healthy stepfamilies, dialogue and interaction are welcome.
It takes courage to create an atmosphere where interactions can happen without threat of reprisal. Yes, there must be boundaries; but too often adults use boundaries as a form of control or to cover the fact that they are clueless about how to help their family become healthier and more cohesive.
Lack of interaction among family members is a sure sign of family dysfunction because trust is built though interaction. Strangers become cohesive friends and family members as they hear each others stories and learn about each person’s needs, priorities, strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears. This happens far too infrequently in most stepfamilies. Incidentally, this kind of sharing and vulnerability must start at the top—with the adults.
Developing trust in a new stepfamily is difficult because most remarrying adults (and children) are emotionally and spiritually wounded and wounded people are extremely self-protective. Vulnerability (opening oneself up to more potential pain or hurt) sounds like a really bad idea. However, for the family to grow, family members must allow themselves to be vulnerable. Without the healthy interactions that evolve from people who learn to trust one another and be vulnerable with one another, families become stagnant, lifeless and sterile.
Sharing can be both natural and planned.
Okay, how we develop trust in our stepfamily? First and foremost, it must be intentional, viewed as a long-term goal and role-modeled by the adults in the family. A pervasive attitude that each family member is valued and important, and brings his or her own unique blend of personal traits to the family needs to be cultivated. Next, interaction and sharing is encouraged, even if it leads to conflict. Sharing can be both natural and planned. The focus should be on personal sharing. This normally begins with safe, benign information and grows to include more significant feelings and beliefs. Here are a few ideas:
Now, I ant to reinforce two critical factors: First, this is a top-down process – adults should always go first. Second, never punish vulnerability or disclosure. Encourage sharing even if it creates some conflict. We’ll talk about how to do healthy conflict next time.