The following question came up on my radio program, Ask the Counselor.
Q: “I have been telling myself for months now that “I had to” do something very radical in order to survive a very difficult time. Most of my trusted friends, family and counselors disagreed with my action. I felt very frustrated. Why could they not see that I had no choice and that this was the best possible solution to a bad situation? Why did they have to judge me? I was100 percent sure I did the only possible thing I could do. In the last few days I have begun to doubt my action. I am beginning to understand the concerns my support network has had about what I did. But why could I not see it before?”
A: The bottom line is the same for every one of us. “People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart” (Proverbs 21:2 NLT).
Our normal operating procedure is to always see what we think, do and say as the right thing to think, do and say. Self-reflection is rare. But to be really sane, stable and spiritual, we have to be able to question our own thoughts, words, or actions.
You were caught up in what is called Cognitive Dissonance & Self-Justification.
When we face a really hard group of circumstances, we go into survival mode and take the best action we think we need for survival. However, this does not mean that we actually came up with the best answer to our problem.
But to doubt this makes us worry that we might not have survived if we had not acted in the way we did. We also cannot handle the fear of failure by doubting what we did.
This is especially true if what we did hurt others. We can justify “collateral damage” but only if there was no other choice.
What is a sure sign that we have fallen into self-justification? If you hear yourself saying the following things to yourself or others, then it is likely that you are in this emotional trap.
“There was nothing else I could have done.”
“Actually it was a brilliant solution to the problem, but I would never do it again.”
“I was doing what was best for everyone, even though it hurt a lot of people.”
“I’m entitled to my happiness, and God would understand.”
How to respond
So now I know that I am involved in self-justification, what can I do about it? Here are some keys.
When trusted people who love you think you made a mistake don’t assume they are wrong or get defensive. Ask for their reasons why and repeat the reason back to them. Reflect on their point of view.
Ask God to show if they are right. Remember that there is always at least a little wrong with everything we do, so if you are justifying yourself 100 percent then you can be sure you are wrong.
If your best friends came and told you they had done what you did, would you be quick to agree that they did the right thing? Or would you be raising questions because you cared about their well-being?
On judgment day could you look the Lord in the eye and expect him to really accept that you didn’t have any choice?
These three questions can help us to overcome our normal desire to always see what we do as the right thing to do and excuse our behavior due to hard circumstances.
Dr. Norman Wise is the executive director of Living Water Christian Counseling, senior pastor of First Church West and host of Ask the Counselor Tuesdays at Noon on GraceNetRadio.com. Living Water Christian Counseling can be reached at 954-452-4407.