Pretending and Self-Deception


  • Author Dr. Bruce Wilson
  • Published July 15, 2022
  • Word count 655

Pretending and Self-Deception

Bruce Wilson, PhD

People pretend a lot. They pretend to be interested in what you are saying or doing. They pretend to be putting in more effort than they actually are. They pretend to be happy when they are sad or even sad when they are not. They even pretend to be good or bad depending on the social or psychological payoffs of the moment. My question is: Does perpetual pretending potentially lead to some form of self-deception? Are these two complex behaviours related in some way? If they are related, is there a way out of the destructive cycle of pretending and self-deception?

“I like pretending to be other people: I could reinvent myself, reinvent my own reality.” – Helena Bonham Carter


What is pretending? Basically, pretending is behaving as if something is real or true when it is not. The acting profession thrives on the representation of real with the caveat that they have a license to distort reality. The audience wholeheartedly accepts this premise for being entertained. However, most pretending is wishful thinking. As a child we may pretend that someday we will become a policeman, or a fireman, or a doctor, or lawyer. We even garner playmates to assist us in acting out these fantasies. Most of these pretend games are actually healthy displays of a good imagination.

However, pretending that escalates into a distortion of reality long term can initiate unhealthy and toxic distortions to our reality and our identity. The great imposter who believed he could be a surgeon without any training, a pilot without a license, and so on. These types of distortions could eventually lead someone to believe they could jump off a tall building and fly. And this distortion might also begin to connect how unhealthy pretenders may escalate into the dangerous practice of self-deception.

The cognitive dissonance that may be operating when pretending evolves into self-deception may be connected to our self-awareness. Are we aware that we are pretending or have we lost sight of that fact. And after losing sight of the reality of the situation, do we then begin to lie to ourselves.


An old adage is: “You should never argue with someone who lies to themselves.” Self-Deception is when you are lying to yourself about something that is not real or not true. The complicating factor here is that the person trapped in self-deception may or may not be aware of what is real or true. The self-deception here can be the proverbial “blind spot” in the person’s awareness. That is, because I have confabulated what is false and not true for so long, I am not even aware I am doing it anymore. The neuroplasticity programs have been hard wired.

Whereas pretending appears to have some mechanism of control, self-deception has the potential to become something out of one’s control over time. The awareness of when one is pretending has been pushed to a level where our awareness becomes gradually more and more marginalized. The lying is no longer perceived as lying because the truth has been hijacked. Our awareness has been displaced with habit and repetition. A lifelong pattern of pretending does appear to somehow be related to self-deception due to the link between changing our perceptions of what is real and what is true.

“There’s something liberating about not pretending. Dare to embarrass yourself. Risk.” – Drew Barrymore

Being Yourself

We are bombarded by messages and images of being something other than ourselves. Social media has put undue pressure on young people in particular to being something “more” than they are. Our suicide rates, especially amongst youth, are definitely rising from this type of pressure. It is not enough to be enough. We are “supposed” to be more. Little wonder pretending online and self-deception internally have wielded so much influence. Taking the risk to be yourself has never been more worth the risk.


Dr. Bruce Wilson is a psychologist with 25 years of experience. He enjoys sharing his ramblings with friends and colleagues. He is currently in private practice at Mind Health Care in Geelong, Australia. This article is solely his work.

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