October 14, 2021

The Lies Our Brains Tell Us

We all have our perceptions of the world. Our experience, our education, the teachings of our families and mentors all enter in to how we view the world. We make decisions based on those perceptions. What many people do not realize is that our brains can lie to us. Mental illness is, at it’s core, distortions in our thinking.  Our brain’s perception of the world outside of us can be severely inaccurate and that inaccuracy is often beyond our awareness.


Anxiety can be the most deceptive of the tricks our brains play on us.  If we are perfectionists our brains tell us that we are not good or worthy if we don’t go above and beyond what is required of us.  A perfectionist feels inadequate even when those around them see what a great job they are doing. Our brains may lie when we are excessively afraid of germs.  A moderate degree of caution is warranted to stay clean and healthy. A person who suffers from anxiety has a brain that tells them that their efforts to stay safe are never adequate and they go to excessive lengths, wasting time and energy to avoid germs. People with phobias-planes, elevators, heights may miss out on many pleasurable experiences and frustrate their friends and loved ones. The brain of a person with a phobia exaggerates the risk involved in activities that most of us find mundane. Persuasion, reassurance, education cannot overcome the powerful lies that the brain of an anxious person tells them

Social anxiety is one of the most crippling conditions that occur to those who suffer from anxiety. Their brain tells them they are judged, inadequate, unattractive, failing or foolish.  The distortion in thinking of someone who is socially anxious causes them to retreat and feel lonely, isolated and unloved, even when they are perfectly lovable.


For those who suffer from depression, the brain becomes an enemy. All good experiences can be transformed into something negative. Depression puts a filter on our perception that causes us to see life through black colored glasses. Well meaning friends and family try to persuade us that things aren’t so bleak. They point out all the positive things in our life, all the good outcomes that can occur but a depressed brain insists on pessimism and hopelessness. Minor setbacks feel overwhelming. The depressed brain lies to us and tells us nothing positive will come of future efforts.  The depressed brain can fill us with guilt, causing us to dwell on every failure, every criticism.

For those who contemplate suicide, a lying brain insists that nothing good enough can ever occur; that the future is hopeless. In severe depression the brain does not allow us to experience the love of family, the beauty of the world or the excitement of challenges. Life feels insurmountable, even when we have enough resources to cope with the setbacks that life often provides.


At it’s most distorted our brains can cause true delusions. These are the easiest lies for everyone to see. The paranoid person feels that they are being followed or that a loving partner is unfaithful or that the government is engaged in unrelenting evil plots. The schizophrenic thinks they are Jesus Christ.  A person in the throes of mania can believe they are an investment genius and lose all their money or write a screenplay that will make them rich and famous when they have no writing talent. An alcoholic’s brain tells them their drinking causes no harm even after they have lost jobs and loved ones.


By looking at the most severe and obvious distortions we can learn to realize the more common lies our brains are capable of telling us. A small amount of brain dysfunction can have an outside impact. We accept that hallucinogenic drugs may cause us to see, hear and feel things which are not there. Dreams are also a form of hallucination that we accept as normal. The “lies” I describe above are the ways in which a brain that largely functions well and healthily can have areas of dysfunction that affect our life greatly.

We human like to think of ourselves as in control and completely rational. Unfortunately, that is often not the case.

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