Hide and Seek: The Psychology of Self-Deception
by Neel Burton
Acheron Press

"Human beings are not rational, but rationalizing animals. They find it frightening to think and painful to change, because thought and change threaten the beliefs that make up their sense of self."

Psychiatrist and philosopher Burton presents a nuanced examination of how and why humans exercise what Freud called "ego defenses." Employed—most often on a subconscious level—to diffuse "threats to the ego or fear and anxiety," such self-deceptions are categorized into five basic clusters. These include abstraction, transformation, evasion through fraud or fantasy, evasion through people or the world, and projection. The book's five sections mirror these categories. Abstraction, writes Burton, involves "trying to ignore or suppress the source of anxiety" in an attempt to deny its existence. Transformation involves "converting the anxiety itself into a more manageable form." Evasion of the self entails "trying to distract from the anxiety so as to minimize its impact." In contrast, evasion through others "seeks to distract from uncomfortable feelings by altering behavior in relation to other people, or the world." With projection, one "externalizes the anxiety" to deal with it in that externalized form.

Burton's exploration of self-deception proves intellectually appealing, both for readers steeped in psychoanalytic thought as well as the general layperson. An abundance of everyday examples clearly illustrates a range of related behaviors, from denial and repression to scapegoating and magical thinking to inauthenticity, regression, grandiosity, and devaluation. Burton adds color and literary context to his analysis by including germane examples from such classics as Catcher in the Rye, Don Quixote, fairy tales, and children's stories. Fears and anxiety, which Burton writes "can be a normal and even healthy response to life experiences," are basic psychological notions with which people are intimately familiar. There is much in these pages that the reader will find of interest and likely be able to relate to, even when the described mental processes often occur subconsciously.

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