Are You Deceiving Yourself?

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was recently accused of physical violence and sexual abuse by four women. He will step down from his job but denies the charges on the grounds that everything he did to these women was consensual. He said “While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office, they will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time.” With this statement he is drawing a line of separation between his public life and private life. In spite of what other’s perceive as abusive behavior he believes himself to be a champion of women.

It is not an unusual human trait to consider ourselves good when we are not. Self-deception is a process of denying or rationalizing away the relevance or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument. One theory is that humans are susceptible to self-deception because we have emotional attachments to beliefs, which in some cases may be irrational.

Schneiderman would like to believe that what happens privately has no bearing on his professional life. Except that he was an advocate of the #Me Too movement and women’s rights. He was involved in a civil rights lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein. He praised the “women and men who spoke up about the sexual harassment they had endured at the hands of powerful men.” And he wrote many laws, including one for making life-threatening strangulation a grave crime for domestic violence perpetrators.

The allegations come from four women that he was in romantic relationships with. They all accuse Schneiderman of nonconsenual physical violence. It is alleged that he repeatedly hit, often after drinking, frequently in bed and without consent. It is also alleged that he abused alcohol and sedatives. Two of them sought medical attention after having been slapped hard across the ear and face, and choked. He threatened to kill them if they broke up with him. You cannot be a public champion of women when you are hitting them and choking them in bed privately unless you have deceived yourself into believing your behavior is normal and healthy.

Schneiderman’s self-deception is rooted in rationalization. He told one woman “A lot of women like it. They don’t always think they like it, but then they do, and they ask for more.” One of the accusers, Tanya Selvaratnam, disagrees. “It wasn’t consensual. This wasn’t sexual playacting. This was abusive, demeaning, threatening behavior.” Schneiderman refused to be influenced by the women’s tears, pleas and protests. He maintained his perception that they enjoyed it. He preferred to believe they wanted it, rather than believe that he was a perpetrator of lethal domestic violence.

Vecina, Chacon and Perez-Viejo conducted a study called “Moral Absolutism, Self-Deception, and Moral Self-Concept in Men Who Commit Intimate Partner Violence.” In it, they found that perpetrators of domestic violence are uninhibited by concerns over the moral consequences of their actions. They consider their own point of view as more correct and are more affected by self-deception than others. They feel they are moral enough and they strongly deceive themselves.

In Schneiderman’s case, it is no surprise that he blurs the line between his public and private life. He truly perceives himself to be a good and moral person in spite of the evidence. If this is a human trait, we could all benefit from shining a light on our own self-deception. Ask for feedback from others. In what ways are you deceiving yourself?

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