Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

On a Freud Quote

When does introspection cross the line into self-absorption?

Gregg Taveres, CC 2.0
Source: Gregg Taveres, CC 2.0

Freud said, “Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.”


Sure, a come-to-Jesus meeting with yourself is more likely than is advice from others to finally get you to look hard for a better job, lose that belly fat, stop doing drugs, meet Mr/Ms Right or divorce Mr/Ms Used-to-be Right.

But “being entirely honest with yourself” can require a time-consuming peeling of your onion's layers, a self-psychoanalysis, to finally get to The Truth. Such navel-gazing risks your becoming, as Vivian Gornick wrote, “whining and complaining, with the self-hatred and self-justification that make the analysand a bore to all the world but the analyst.”

Freud was ranked the 20th century's #1 psychotherapist. So one would think that if anyone would grow greatly from becoming "entirely honest with themselves," it would be Freud's patients, who typically worked with him for years. Yet Freud himself wrote, "When it comes to taking it (neurosis) away from patients, they will defend it like a lioness her young.”

All the effort to be “entirely honest with oneself” is more likely, not only to metastasize people's tendency to self-absorption but to force them to confront likely immutables: that they'll continue their substance abuse, won’t ever land let alone keep a better job, not lose the belly fat let alone keep it off, or that they're too flawed to attract a better romantic partner than the frogs they've already kissed.

Lastly, all the time and energy on protracted introspection could more constructively be focused outward: on how you can make the biggest difference: at work, in relationships, in donating time and money, and yes, in random acts of kindness.

“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise?”  Beyond brief gut checks on whether you’re being your best self, it may be wiser to be The Queen of Denial.

Marty Nemko’s bio is in Wikipedia. His newest book, his 8th, is The Best of Marty Nemko.