Self Betrayal

I’ve been reading a book called Leadership and Self Deception lately, and it’s really challenged me on the way that I see basically EVERYONE in my life. I’m only halfway through it at the moment, but the basic premise of the book is that through a series of interactions with other people, we develop beliefs about them, and consequently, about ourselves in relationship to that person. Furthermore, once we [perhaps, unknowingly] develop those beliefs, we bring those to the table every time we interact with that person, and we posture ourselves accordingly.

For instance, I may see my boss as a very legalistic, hard-edged person, which makes me react as more subservient than I would to my brother, who presents me with a totally different relationship dynamic. He obviously has no authoritative role over me, and is a very lax person, so I react much more casually and personally to him than I do to my boss.

This isn’t news to most people, nor is it a revolutionary way of thinking. But, what really caught me off guard is this cycle that the book illustrated that literally had me astounded and convicted to the point that my jaw was hanging open.

This is going to be a long ride, so stay with me…

The author began talking about self betrayal. He defined it as “an act contrary to what I feel I should do for another person.” For example, when we pass by a homeless person asking for change and we ignore the pull of the Holy Spirit to help them out, in this author’s vocabulary, we have betrayed ourselves.

To illustrate the author’s point in its fullness, let’s run with an example all-too familiar to each and every one of us: tipping wait staff.

Note: If you want to get anything out of reading this, approach it with an open mind. Don’t introduce your own details to the story to excuse a behavior or weasel your way out of applying this to yourself. Just run with me for a few minutes here, and I think we’ll both see something very powerful at work.

Imagine it’s Thursday night after Immersion, and you’re out with a group of friends at our dearly-beloved Buffalo Wild Wings for some socializing and spicy chicken. While you’re there, you are forced to wait longer than you’d like several times for your drink refills, your food took over 20 minutes to arrive at the table, and you were infrequently visited by your server after it was delivered. It was a busy night due to the large Immersion crowd, and your service was suffering. In addition to all this, when your server was at the table, she seemed very rushed and was struggling to keep up with all of the refills and miscellaneous requests from people at the table.

Finally, the bill comes, and you pick up the pen to fill in how much of a tip to leave. You’re faced with the decision to either leave a tip based on the service you actually received, or based on the situational factors that made your server’s job incredibly difficult. Being a person who receives grace weekly through the body and blood of Jesus, you know what the right choice is: Show your server some grace and give her a generous tip despite the inferior service.

But, let’s say for argument’s sake, you make the wrong choice. You choose the action contrary to what you feel you should do, and betray yourself. You leave a lousy tip. And in the blink of an eye, BOOM! The guilt hits you, and you’re faced with the weight of the lousy tip you left.

…But, the service was still really lousy, right? And, I’m just as important as every other customer there, right? Plus, if that server was waiting a ton of people like that, she probably still made out all right for the evening. I’m really not a tightwad. If that server really wanted to earn a good tip from me, she could have. She wasn’t working to her full capacity. I made the right choice.

You walk out of B’Dubs with no guilt, no shame, and your head held high.

Does this sound familiar? Making a poor choice, and then justifying it by distorting the situation? Think about these questions:

  • What did you feel about yourself right after you made the choice about the tip?
  • What about now?
  • What did you feel towards the server while you were there?
  • What about now?
If you’re not following me, I’ll help you out. Right as you left the tip, guilt struck you and you felt cheap. You felt bad for ripping your server off. You knew that the poor service was out of her control, and that she was doing her best to keep you and your friends happy.

And now, after distorting the situation to justify your behavior, you see yourself as generous, and the server as a slacker who needs to learn to work harder. Is this even close to reality?

No, it’s not. But it’s what you walked out of BWW believing in order to cope with the self-betrayal, the sin, the poor choice you made.

The author goes on to assert that this kind of self-justifying behavior can become characteristic of us. That, in explaining away our self betrayal, our view of reality becomes distorted, and that we carry those distorted views around with us. I’ll continue the example…

Let’s say you’re back at BWW a couple weeks later and you get the same server as last time. Before she even has a chance to greet you, because of the last interaction with her, you already believe she’s not a very hard worker, and that your experience at BWW is probably going to be a negative one. Your expectations of her performance soar sky-high, and you continue to see yourself as a justified, generous person.

But here’s the clincher, do you suppose the server remembers you? The group of people that she busted her butt to serve and got slapped with slave-wage tips to thank for it – you bet she does! Before she even has a chance to greet you, she already believes you’re a tightwad and that you’re probably going to be demanding more of her than anyone else she’s waiting on. She believes she is a good server, and that she deserves better tips than what you offer.

How do you suppose your interaction with the server will feel for you both? I would guess that the greetings would feel pretty forced seeing as you both actually have pretty negative feelings towards one another (which are based in distortions of reality, remember). I would also venture to say that she would be less inclined to work hard and serve you well because of how you treated her last time, which would further enforce your mis-belief that she’s a poor server.

How well do you suppose you’ll tip her this time? Do you think she’ll be surprised? Probably not…

So, what’s the point? Well, if you look at the example closely, you’ll see that in making the poor choice about the tip, justifying your self betrayal by blaming the server, and interacting with her based on those distorted beliefs, you invited the behavior that upset you in the first place!

By choosing to believe that your server was a lazy person who deserves low tips, you provoked her to believe that you’re an unappreciative tightwad. Thus, she feels that she has no reason to try to earn a good tip from you, and puts very little effort into serving you. Your distorted reality is reinforced, as is hers.

Gosh Luke, that’s a pretty elaborate example with a lot of assumptions.

Yea, it is. But, I can say with 100% certainty that this kind of mutually destructive behavior occurs with EVERYONE to some degree, and most of them are completely unaware of it. It’s certainly not limited to something as tangible as a serving tip either:
  • I have a friend who finds a particular individual overbearing and annoying, so he goes to great lengths to avoid that person. Consequently, that person tries even harder to get attention from my friend, which annoys her further. Do you suppose my friend should just give that person the time of day, and maybe that would solve her problem?
  • I know another friend who is extremely opinionated and combative about musical opinions. As such, many of us who know him see him as narrow-minded, and opinionated, and consequently, we feel we have to go to great lengths to justify our opinions to him. And, go figure - that makes him want to argue more. Do you suppose that if he were to lighten up, our views of each other might change?

The examples could go on and on, but I think you get the point. I’ll leave you with a paraphrase of this whole cycle that the author outlined in his book. It’s been a powerful reminder for me to approach every person and every situation as objectively as possible, and to make the choices I know are the ones Christ would make, even if I don’t feel like it at the moment.

Self Betrayal
An act contrary to what I feel I should do for another

  • When I betray myself, I begin to see the world in a way that justifies my self-betrayal.
  • When I see a self-justifying world, my view of reality becomes distorted.
  • So – when I betray myself, I become distorted.
  • Over time, certain distortions become characteristic of me, and I become them.
  • By being distorted, I provoke others to be distorted.
  • While distorted, we invite mutual mistreatment and obtain mutual justification. We collude in giving each other reason to remain distorted.


  1. Kate Steele said...
    Great post, Luke.

    Sadly, we all do this and don't even realize it most of the time. Emphasizes the need for us to be more tolerant of each other.

    So what if some one is overbearing and annoying? Have we taken in to consideration things this person may be struggling with? These behaviors may reflect something deeper in this person's heart, so let's love them and help them as we are called to do if we truly desire to live more like Christ.
    Luke Brown said...
    Thanks for the reply Katie!

    I would've loved to continue writing about this topic, but maybe I'll continue it next week.

    The bottom line is that, the best thing we can do isn't even to try to interpret an analyze the other person's behavior (which can, and most certainly will, lead to wrongful assumptions) - we simply need to ask.

    In this giant scenario I've painted, the customer at BWW could've very easily made a comment like "Wow, you guys are busy tonight, huh?" to which the server would've likely responded "Yes, very!" And, there would've been no problem.

    Ok I'll quit now... :)

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