We all have our conceits that help let us feel good about ourselves. Typically, they’re just “small” ones. However, these conceits can also be “big” ones, so big that one’s self-image is simply delusional.
For example, a person might take pride in thinking they’re a really good singer. So what happens when the reality is they aren’t so good and they’re undeniably confronted with that reality? The person with the “small” conceit just gets their feelings a bit bruised. But they’re able to accept and deal with the real world feedback.
However, if the core part of the person’s self-image is wrapped up in seeing themselves as a good singer (i.e. it’s a “big” conceit) the person often reacts with total denial. They will do things like blame the singing judge for not seeing their great talent.
If you’ve ever watched the TV show American Idol you have seen both of the above types of behaviors that result from “small” and “big” conceits.
So what drives these off-base self-images, especially the “big” conceits that are simply delusional?
From what I see, people are typically compelled to protect their self-image no matter what reality says. At its most basic level, people just innately need to see themselves as a good/worthwhile person. It’s built into our DNA. It’s almost a matter of survival. A highly negative self-image can put you on a psychological slippery slope, the bottom of which is such a dark place that you virtually can’t live with yourself.
As a result, people will often protect their self-image by twisting the reality of their actions to conform with their positive self-image. That twisting of reality can be so extreme that the person creates their own false bubble of reality to live in and fiercely defends that false reality. Ownership of their bad behavior is not taken because that might damage their self-image.
Fortunately, most of the time a person’s good self-image is valid. For example, most people take pride in talents that at least have a decent basis in reality. Similarly, most people’s standards of morality are reality based in that their personal standards are in sync with society’s standards.
BUT this write-up is about the invalid ways people so often protect their self-image. Below are some examples I have personally seen. Let me start with some relatively “little” self-image conceits, starting with myself.
1. The person who thinks they’re good looking.
The (self) observation: I think of myself as a good looking guy. And I still basically think this even though reality somewhat burst my bubble.
The reality: A number of years ago when I was single I put a picture of myself on a dating web site. The site let people rate how good looking you are. I was expecting something like an 8 out of 10 rating. Well, the reality was some 100 people rated me as a 5 (just average). Even then, despite this objective reality, I still hold to the self-image that I’m at least a 6 or even a 7. But if I’m really honest with myself, I have to own up to my being a bit vain given how my self-image doesn’t quite square with reality.
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2017 edit: I have deleted several other examples. The reason for this is I gave a copy of this write-up to a writers’ group I was in. They thought the examples I gave — except for the self-depricating example I left in above — were off base. Most of the other writers didn’t agree with what I thought was the reality in a situation I observed. And they all thought I was coming across as judgmental.
Well, I don’t want to leave a write-up that results in me looking like a jerk to most people. Further, I need to do my own reality check on just how judgmental I can be, perhaps driven by an over-inflated sense observational powers. … So, for now, I’ve killed the rest of the examples.