The Naked Truth Blog

The Naked Truth is a blog intended to help us all live more fulfilling lives by confronting our self-deception. No sugar-coating. No coddling. Just the honest reflection of you standing naked in front of a mirror. You can read it here or on Psychology Today.

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Luck, Choice, and Self-Deception

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | April 7, 2014 |
Truth Lies Road
self-deceptionI am often struck by the way we use the word luck in everyday conversation. By definition, luck is something that benefits or hurts us by chance alone. Luck has nothing to do with our choices or effort—luck is accidental. Sometimes we have good luck: we correctly use the word to describe positive situations in which we benefit by pure chance. For example, we are lucky if we are born healthy and able-bodied. We are lucky if we get perfect weather on our day off so we can enjoy a day outside. We are lucky if a stranger buys us coffee out of the blue and tells us to “have a nice day.” We are lucky if we put $5 into a slot machine and win a big jackpot bonus at the casino. In these moments, we are truly benefiting from occurrences that were completely out of our control. Conversely, sometimes we have bad luck: we correctly use the word to describe negative situations that harm us by pure chance. For example, we are unlucky if we get a flat tire on our way to work. We are unlucky if our flight out of town is cancelled and we sit at the airport for 6 hours hoping to get a seat on the next flight. Of course, if we get a seat on the next flight, we will undoubtedly be sitting at the back of the plane next to a crying baby! In these moments, we are truly experiencing the negative consequences of events that were completely out of our control. Yet, oftentimes we incorrectly use the word luck to avoid taking responsibility for our choices. In this way, we lie to ourselves by blaming good or bad luck for a given life situation. For example, perhaps you are interested in becoming more physically fit but do not make time to exercise. When you run into your very athletic friend at the grocery store, you say to him or her, “You are so lucky that you get to workout. Between my work schedule and family commitments, I never find time to go to the gym.” In this situation, instead of accepting responsibility for your choice not to exercise, you blame your inability to get to the gym on bad luck. In fact, most of us lie to ourselves by blaming luck with regularity. Most frequently, we do this in situations or around people that remind us of a truth about ourselves that we do not want to admit. For example, when we are uncomfortable with our financial situation, we are often reactive around people who are financially secure. Consequently, we think and say things like, “They are so lucky that they can afford to go on vacation.” When we are not happy at work, we say things like, “You are so lucky that you have such a great job,” to people who like their careers. When our children struggle with behavioral problems, we say things like, “You are lucky that you have such well-behaved kids” to other parents. The truth is that luck doesn’t get us to go to the gym—it is a choice to make time to go and exercise (especially on the days that we really don’t want to get out of bed). For most of us, going on vacation is not only about luck; it is about such things as saving money and scrimping on some desired things today so that we can enjoy a trip in the future. If we love our career, part of it may have been because of luck: we may have struck up a conversation with our boss at a random cocktail party, which lead to our current job. However, the rest was probably not luck—we probably had to work hard and develop strong skills in our given profession to be competitive for the position. The Naked Truth is this: We must not allow ourselves to defer our responsibility for our choices by blaming luck. I encourage all of us to notice the way we use the word luck in our own thinking and verbal dialogues. When you use the word luck, ask yourself: Is this really about luck or is this about self-deception? Am I blaming luck to avoid taking responsibility for my choices? Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D. Read More...

Self-Deception and the Mass Media

By Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP | March 31, 2014 |
Media and Self Deception

Media and Self DeceptionWe don’t often think about how profoundly the mass media influences the lies we tell ourselves. On television, in movies, and in advertisements, we are fed information about who we should be in our culture.

As a woman living in mainstream American culture, for example, attaining the perfect appearance is fundamental to our value. Specifically, we need to look eternally 18 years old with perfect skin, big eyes surrounded by long eyelashes, white teeth, and a very thin yet feminine figure. If we do not meet this ideal and are deemed unattractive, there is nothing we can do to make-up for it.  No matter how hard we try, we cannot be smart enough, funny enough, nice enough to compensate for our imperfect looks—we will never be as valuable as the “beautiful woman” sitting next to us.

As a man living in mainstream American culture, your gender-role is most tied to money, intelligence, and your physical strength. Not only do you need to be muscular and fit, but you also need to make a lot of money, be educated, and be smart. Although you have slightly more flexibility than women around how to be culturally valuable—you can be valued for your money or brains instead of just your physical appearance—you are still evaluated and scrutinized on the basis of these culturally imposed characteristics.

From a very early age, we begin learning what is most valued in our culture for our sex. Walk down the aisle of toys at any major store. What does the girls section look like? What does the boys section look like? Even a cursory glance shows that girls should be princesses dressed in pink tiaras, while boys should be strong, car-loving men of action, dressed in military fatigues.

Over time, we consciously and unconsciously internalize these cultural norms, evaluating ourselves and others in comparison to them.  Usually without conscious awareness, we grow up trying to emulate whatever culture deems to be most valuable because we all want to be desired, loved, and wanted.

In fact, the goal of most mass marketing and consumerism is to make us feel badly about ourselves. We are encouraged to lie to ourselves about our true value because the worse we feel, the more we will buy! For after convincing us that we are less than ideal, the media will offer us endless products that claim to fix our prescribed faults. For example, if marketers convince us that we are not good-looking enough and then offer us products to fix our flawed appearance—make-up, anti-aging products, dieting aids, hair growth serums, plastic surgery—we are more likely to buy them.

A large body of research suggests that the mass media is doing an exceptional job of making us feel badly about ourselves. As we internalize cultural values and ideals of appearance, we become more dissatisfied with ourselves. That leads us to spend enormous amounts of our personal resources—including money, time, and energy—trying to fix our flaws.

The Naked Truth is this: We need to become more critical consumers of the mass media. We need to think about the messages that we learn from a very early age about what makes us valuable or not valuable. As we become more aware of our surroundings and the cultural messages we learned, we must determine whether we aspire to be a certain way because we believe it is right or because we were culturally conditioned to believe it is right. The next time you watch television or a movie, ask yourself: What messages is this show promoting about my fundamental value as a human being? Have I internalized this message? If so, perhaps it is time to change.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D.

Selected References:

Cafri, G., Yamamiya, Y., Brannick, M., & Thompson, J. K. (2005). The influence of sociocultural factors on body image: a meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Science and Practice, 12(4), 421–433. doi:10.1093/clipsy/bpi053

Thompson, J. Kevin, Heinberg, Leslie J., Altabe, Madeline, & Tantleff-Dunn, Stacey (1999). Exacting beauty: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment of Body Image Disturbance. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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