“Name one thing you have lied to yourself about. Why did you do this?”
I’m in the midst of a series of interviews to prove the commonality of experience, and one of the essential questions I ask every single one of my subjects is, “What’s one question you always answer with a lie?” The question above reminds me of this, so it’s kind of ironic that I’m now answering it. Funnily enough, the things people have told me they always lie about are relatively superficial, and so is mine. But lying to yourself is a bit different from lying to others.
For starters, lying to myself means I’ve drilled it so deep down that I don’t even realize I’m lying anymore. That’s hard to pinpoint because it now seems like the truth to me, although my subconscious always knows, that sneaky devil. When I started going to therapy the first time I had to come to grips with the lies I’ve always told myself: that I’m happy with my appearance, that I don’t care what other people think of me, and that I don’t get self-conscious. Those realizations hit me hard like a sledgehammer, the peeling away of those masks I hadn’t even known I was wearing, but it had to happen.
One thing I lied to myself about for years was that I didn’t have any preferences. In fact, when in mixed company I would pretty much be a chameleon, and I thought that was what I liked. I’m sure others noticed it, but no one ever talked to me about it, the fact that I always changed depending on who I was with. Now I know others do that — cater their personalities to audience — but for me it was more. For me it wasn’t about different parts of me. It was about not knowing I was being like them. It was about forgetting who I was in the first place.
I guess it came down to accents, dialects, speech patterns, all that jazz. I copied the way that the people around me spoke because it was a way of fitting in, but I didn’t know I was changing my own speech. In fact, I never realized it until later when a friend spoke up and told me what was happening. She had noticed me in two different settings, but she thought I was doing it on purpose. It hadn’t even occurred to her that it went deeper than that, that I had lied to myself for so long about who I was, and when I realized she was right it hit hard.
That’s because I didn’t know how to stop. Like the man who lived with the aborigines for 20 years and didn’t know how to fit in western society anymore, it was so deeply ingrained in me to like what others liked, to talk like others talked, to be what everyone else was. I basically had to strip away every single artifice and start fresh, like a baby learning to walk for the first time. It was difficult, too, probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and it took some time to truly figure out and stop lying to myself.
Through the process I found out I was opinionated, that I didn’t like black coffee, that my friends were actually different from me, and that sometimes I really did prefer silence over noise. And all that new information comforted me, because lies drift off in the ether, but the truth is solid. I like finally being solid.