Truth Or Consequences: How Self Deception Keeps Us From Change


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“Truth or Consequences” was a popular American television show (1956-1974) hosted by Bob Barker. The premise of the show was to ask contestants a difficult question, the “truth” and if they couldn’t answer it they got the “consequence” which was a wacky stunt. In the show’s title, the word ‘truth’ had a halo over it and the word ‘consequence’ symbolically had a devil’s pitch fork.  Often we face a “truth or consequence” moment.  We can either respond with truth and keep our integrity or face the unintended consequences.


Unintended consequences are illustrated In the movie Liar, Liar.  Jim Carrey’s character is cursed with having to tell the truth when previously he was not honest.  He begins to change when he doesn’t make excuses for his poor behavior and is forced to admit, “I am a bad dad.”

Begin By Telling The Truth 

Therapists often judge how emotionally healthy someone is by the person’s ability to perceive and describe reality in other words, how honestly they self examine. For example, two clients who are having trouble sleeping may describe their problem differently. One may say, “I have no idea what’s wrong with me. I’ve tried everything, but for some reason, I just can’t sleep.” Another might say, “I drink caffeine all day, I play on the computer late at night, and I don’t like exercise. I notice my habits are effecting my sleep. I would like to work on some strategies to change my sleep patterns.”

Change Talk

A client will change who is honestly taking responsibility and looking for help. Good emotional health consists of striving to perceive all situations realistically rather than self-interestedly. There are several self-defeating behaviors that cause us to sometimes fail to assess our problems honestly. Among these are self-deception, dissonance, delusion, and denial.

Self Deception

 When we don’t accurately perceive our failings, we are deceiving ourselves.  As the flawed human beings we are, we prefer to see things in ways that cause us the least pain and give us the easiest solutions. Wanting to take the easy way out is a normal and natural tendency in all of us, but it stops us from changing.


Psychologists have found that people need to act in accordance with their own value systems. When our behavior doesn’t match our values, dissonance is created, meaning a psychological conflict within us. Our brains can’t handle the uncomfortable feelings of dissonance, and so we convince ourselves to perceive the situation differently—we create our own spin on reality in order to explain our behavior.


Sometimes we confuse the way things really are with the way we want things to be. We are not actually lying to ourselves—we believe in the truth of our point of view in spite of overwhelming and undeniable evidence that we are wrong. In fact, once we develop the “truth as I see it,” we tend to defend and protect that truth especially when others try to show us that it might be wrong.


We honestly believe we have tried everything possibly to help us sleep better, lose extra weight, or study for an exam. When we accept our own lies, we don’t accurately perceive reality.  Denial involves refusing to accept that a problem exists.

When we are in denial about our responsibility for creating a situation, we close ourselves off to the possibility of changing and finding solutions. The word denial as an acronym for “Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying.”

Members of AA introduce themselves in a way that eliminates the possibility of denial—“Hi, I’m John, and I am an alcoholic”—regardless of the number of years they’ve been sober, because speaking honestly is part of the change process.

Any of these emotionally unhealthy states can cause us to become defensive and rigid. When others try to confront our reality, we blame, complain, and make excusesWe become stuck and refuse to adopt new mental strategies.

Take Responsibility 

Accept that we are creating whatever is going on in our lives.  Emotionally healthy people make bad decisions and have poor luck, but they don’t make excuses afterward. They don’t rationalize. They don’t deny that there’s a problem.  After all, it does all boil down to “truth” or the (emotional) “consequences.”

Contact Me/ Camille Foster/ 801.472.7134/   

TED talk on the subject: (Thanks M.F.)

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