A multitude of fragments

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Multiple Authors

Acting different around people to create a certain personality that one thinks others will like is not uncommon. RBHS students explore the harmless and harmful effects of this practice.

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Self-Deception

The psychology of the lie is one that many great figures in science have carefully decoded but have yet to understand. Despite the existence of research detailing psychoanalysis of the deceptive identity, attempting to unravel the motivations for dishonesty can be an exhausting feat —even more so when the mind is trying to deceive itself.
With some, this dishonesty may come from a place of want, or perhaps one of fear. For senior Zachary Jimenez, the lies fed from both.
“Your sexuality is something that you’re constantly being reminded of, so I thought about it every single day,” Jimenez said. “When you’re in the closet, it is one of the worst feelings in the world. You lie to yourself; you lie to your family. You make up all this stuff to try and fool yourself.”
For 18 years of his life, Jimenez carefully constructed a persona that could not be characterized as ‘straight’, but definitely gave no hint that the Columbia native was attracted to the same gender. In middle school, when others were just beginning to discover and explore their new-found sexuality, Jimenez was desperately trying to avoid his own.
“It wasn’t really me pretending I was straight. It was more of me just ignoring it,” Jimenez said. “When people would talk about relationships with girls, I would just try to get off the subject because it made me uncomfortable because I knew inside what I felt.”
The lie that grew into the narrative of Jimenez’s life firmly corked his bottled emotions, preventing the teenager from interacting with others, due to a lack of depth of self-acceptance. Jimenez said he felt as if he was wearing a mask that everyone else liked but him, which only furthered the divide between his true identity, his outward projection and his relationships with peers.
“I never connected with people much when I was in the closet, because I didn’t really love myself,” Jimenez said. “When you don’t love yourself, you can’t love other people.”
Dr. Clancy Martin is a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri —Kansas City who specializes in moral psychology, particularly in the area of self-deception. According to him, Jimenez’s turmoil with regards to forming personal connections is a common reaction that arises from the inadvertent barriers born from self-dishonesty.
“There’s a poet and philosopher by the name of Adrienne Rich, and she said, ‘The liar leads a life of unutterable loneliness,’” Martin said. “There’s a sense of sharedness from trying to tell the truth about ourselves to other people, and we get just the opposite of that when we use our self-deceptions to manipulate their perception of us.”
However, there are some forms of self-dishonesty that may not necessarily have the same emotional and social implications. Martin said lying covers a wide spectrum, with the characteristics of each end manifesting in different ways.
“Just as there are many types of ways of lying to someone, there are many different ways of deceiving yourself,” Martin said. “Procrastinating, distracting yourself, reinterpreting something so you look at it in a different light.”
Freshman Grace Kirk has had plenty of experience with the first. For months now, she said she has been slightly lacking in her commitment to piano, often rationalizing not practicing as often.
“Sometimes when I don’t play, I say it doesn’t matter,” Kirk said. “When I’m going to a football game or something with my friend, I’ll think I can just do it tomorrow, or the next day.”
Martin said these small rationalizations are a more common form of self-deception than outright denials and that they are not in context particularly damaging to an individual’s psyche.
“Strategic self-deception, when you’re doing it and you know that you’re doing it, I think that kind is actually rare. I think the most common kind is when you sort of know you’re lying to yourself but you also half-know,” Martin said. “I think there are relatively harmless lies to yourself and very damaging lies to yourself, and in that instance, you kind of have to look at what the value of the truth is.”
However, Jimenez said he was not unaware of the steps he was taking to conceal his sexual identity, as he was sharply conscious of the lies he was telling both himself and the people around him.
“I was very aware of suppressing those feelings and putting up those barriers,” Jimenez said. “I knew what I was doing.”
Martin said in cases where an individual is struggling with his own sexual orientation, bald-face lies tend to be less standard than a combination of inner and outer justification of what they are feeling.
“I think those extreme cases are less common and tend to be more damaging,” Martin said. “ I think the vast majority of cases lie somewhere in the middle; they probably tend to be less harmful but also are kind of insidious and have a tendency to build up and become very damaging.”
Kirk said oftentimes when she tells herself one of these “neutral” lies, she is drawing from feelings of yearning, from trying to make reality fit a desire. With her piano, she has developed a dislike for playing, which affects how frequently she practices.
“Usually when I look at my piano, I just dread sitting down and playing, so when I say it doesn’t matter if I play piano or not, I feel like I want that to be true,” Kirk said.
Similarly, Jimenez said his younger self often tried to coerce his sexual orientation into being what it was not, which prolonged the duration of his many years concealing who he truly was.
“I wanted to be like everyone else [and be] in a relationship with a girl. I thought that was what I wanted because I thought that was normal,” Jimenez said. “Sometimes I could just fake it. I would think that it would just go away as long as I just kept believing that I wasn’t gay, that someday it would be true.”
This is a common motivator for self deception, Martin said. Humans often try to manipulate life to adhere to a certain goal in a quasi “wish fulfillment” situation.
“We say reality isn’t behaving the way we want it to behave so we’re just going to make it do this,” Martin said. “We lie to ourselves about how reality is. It’s particularly easy to do when it comes to our emotional state and beliefs.”
Martin said the human tendency to self-deceive is both unavoidable and beneficial, even though this reasoning might seem counter-intuitive. However, he also cautioned that emotional distress can often result from two differing convictions clashing.
“If all of our beliefs were in perfect coherence with each other and we sincerely believed all of those beliefs to be true, we couldn’t function. The world is just too complicated and human relationships are just too complicated,” Martin said. “Of course, when we’re in situations where two contradictory beliefs are brought into direct conflict, we can experience anxiety that goes with this.”
Known as cognitive dissonance, this distress is where an individual experiences some kind of discomfort from holding conflicting opinions. Martin said the first step toward resolving this is examining one’s own beliefs and thinking about what one genuinely believes to be true, and used his own past struggles with alcoholism as an example of how difficult this task can be.
“I know it’s always a bad idea for me to take a drink,” Martin said. “Now I haven’t taken a drink in a long time, but I don’t know if I sat down with a drink in front of me, if I would necessarily decide not to drink it even though I know it’s bad.”

“If you hate yourself for most of your entire life and then all of the sudden you don’t, and you’re not ashamed and you’re happy,” Jiminez said. “It’s the best feeling ever.””

This first step towards reconciling cognitive dissonance is one that many teens have had to face, Jimenez said. As a gay high schooler who was an intimate witness to the effects of such lies, he said the self-dishonesty that many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer community experience eventually reaches a tipping point where it—or they—cannot continue.
“People come to a crossroads where you accept it or you don’t, because eventually it’s too much,” Jimenez said. “You either find happiness you’ve always been looking for, or you just give up altogether.”
For Jimenez, this realization occurred just months ago, after years of denial. He said there was no buildup or planning involved; he went to sleep as someone entrenched in the closet and got out of bed the next morning as a publicly gay man.
“It was a dream I had a week before my 18th birthday that I fell in love with this guy, that I was happy in a relationship that wasn’t with a girl,” Jimenez said. “I woke up from this dream knowing… that was what I always really wanted, and I was almost in tears because I was so happy.”
While thousands of teens remain silent to both themselves and others about their sexuality, Jimenez said that accepting the truth is a difficult and emotional process, but is also one that leads to a better existence. For him, letting go of the lies was a relief that helped him reclaim his own perceptions of himself.
“It started a new life for me, it completely changed how I saw myself,” Jimenez said. ”I didn’t hate myself anymore. If you hate yourself for most of your entire life and then all of the sudden you don’t, and you’re not ashamed and you’re happy… it’s the best feeling ever.”
Martin said as a general principle, honesty is the best policy. Though lifting those barriers and inviting vulnerability may seem like an extremely daunting task, Martin believes the end result is always worthwhile.
“I also think it’s important that we all have a goal to be more honest of ourselves,” Martin said. “At the end of the day, even though you might not want to always be truthful, I think that the tough job of being honest with yourself and others leads you to a better and happier life.”
By Jenna Liu

Multiple personalities

Sophomore Ben Rouder makes sure to carry himself in a polite, professional manner whenever he is around his teachers, always referring to them as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” and never cursing when they are within earshot.
Around his classmates, however, Rouder acts differently. He walks with an easy-going stride, cracks a lazy smile and says a lot of things he may later think sounded stupid.
“With my friends, I’m just… more casual… and I’m not really afraid to say anything,” Rouder said. “[But] with teachers specifically, unless you’re really casual with them, a lot of times… you just subconsciously end up using a more professional voice or a completely different voice than what you mean to use.”
Rouder said he believes everyone acts differently around different groups of people based on the environment they find themselves in. This behavior is not uncommon, Clinical Psychologist Kenneth Mace said, particularly in teens.
“Many people —especially young people— have not established an identity yet, so they’re trying out different… characteristics of themselves, and people have a tendency… of wanting other people to like them,” Mace said. “They haven’t matured enough yet to outgrow that, so they’ll try showing different characteristics around different people depending upon what they think those people want to see in them.”
Mace said the different personalities that people take on around others are ones people will eventually outgrow as they gain maturity and discover our own beliefs and opinions. Junior Kay Thompson, however, said she believes these different behaviors occur based on someone’s comfort in being around the other person and don’t really disappear as you get older.
“Around other people you can be yourself, but you can be different facets of yourself. Like, around my house… I’m still myself but I’m a little more no-nonsense because I’ve had to… be a bit more responsible,” Thompson said. “Your personality doesn’t change, but how you present it changes around the people you’re with and where you are.”
Mace agrees and said even though displaying different personalities to different people is something that most will ultimately outgrow, he doesn’t believe it means they must act exactly the same way around everyone they meet.
“It’s impossible to act the same with everyone. There’s some people you open up more with than other people. There’s some people, for example, that you’re going to be quieter around because you don’t trust them or you just don’t feel as comfortable [around them],” Mace said. “So even as a healthy adult, you’re never going to act exactly the same way around everybody.”

“Many people —especially young people— have not established an identity yet,” Mace said. “So they’re trying out different… characteristics of themselves.””

In the same respect, Rouder said he feels that having different personalities around others is not necessarily something people should feel negatively about. He said it is simply the situations people may find themselves in that can affect their behavior.
“It’s not really a bad thing [to act differently],” Rouder said. “It’s not like we’re a different person, it’s just the environment that we’re in changes small… bits of how we act.”
While the environment can affect the ways people present themselves around one another, Mace said he still believes in order for someone to truly develop their individual personality, they need to grow comfortable enough with different groups of people that they’re willing to show their own beliefs and opinions.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of how you act. I think it’s people developing enough security to just do what comes naturally to them— to trust their own instincts,” Mace said. “I think [a healthy person’s] instincts tell them, ‘this is you.’ A healthy person doesn’t have to laugh at everything or even be quiet at everything. They can be themselves around other people.”
Though she behaves differently around different groups of people, Thompson still agrees with Mace. She said she is always acting like herself, even if it is only a small part of her whole personality.
“With my friends I feel like I can act a little more irresponsible and… act stupid. With family they remind you what your responsibilities are [and] they keep you grounded a bit,” Thompson said. “It’s like holding a helium balloon in one hand that could lift you, or a cement block on the other foot. It sounds like one is really worse, but they’re both necessary to stay where you are.”
By Nicole Schroeder