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Hide and Seek - The Psychology of Self-Deception [Paperback]

Neel Burton
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Mar 2012 0956035361 978-0956035363
What we believe to be the motives of our conduct are usually but the pretexts for it. - Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life. Self-deception is common and universal, and the cause of most human tragedies. Of course, the science of self-deception can help us to live better and get more out of life. But it can also cast a murky light on human nature and the human condition, for example, on such exclusively human phenomena as anger, depression, fear, pity, pride, dream making, love making, and god making, not to forget age-old philosophical problems such as selfhood, virtue, happiness, and the good life. Nothing could possibly be more important.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Acheron Press (1 Mar 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0956035361
  • ISBN-13: 978-0956035363
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 434,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Neel Burton is a psychiatrist, philosopher, writer, and wine-lover who lives and teaches in Oxford, England.

He is the recipient of the Society of Authors' Richard Asher Prize, the British Medical Association's Young Authors' Award, and the Medical Journalists' Association Open Book Award.


Product Description


Burton provides an excellent explanation of how we use psychological defence mechanisms to protect ourselves from painful truths ... [The book] would make a great present for friends interested in psychology, and a welcome change to the standard examination revision texts in psychiatry. --The Psychiatrist

About the Author

Dr Neel Burton is a psychiatrist and philosopher who lives and teaches in Oxford, England. He is the recipient of the Society of Authors' Richard Asher Prize, the British Medical Association's Young Authors' Award, and the Medical Journalists' Association Open Book Award. His other books include 'The Art of Failure: The Anti Self-Help Guide', 'The Meaning of Madness', and 'Plato's Shadow', all also with Acheron Press.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How do YOU deceive yourself? 2 April 2012
This is an absolutely fascinating, worrying and thought provoking read. We all like to think we know ourselves better than anyone else does but do any of us realise how much we are deceiving ourselves about some things in our lives? I found myself alternately laughing and frowning as I read. I was laughing as I recognised other people's self deceptions and frowning as I was forced to recognise that some at least of these issues are mine.

The author suggests that it is never going to be possible for any of us to eliminate self deception completely from our lives and that some forms of self deception can actually prove very productive for us. Many forms of self deception are ways in which we can deal with difficult situations.

A good example is having a bad day at work and rather than taking it out on family and friends you might go and play a fast and furious game of tennis. Now I know why when I am angry about a situation where it is going to be counter-productive to express that anger I take refuge in doing a lot of household chores very fast and with a great deal of energy! Sublimation can be useful.

There are many other forms of self deception and the author cites many interesting examples of where self deception has been used in public situations. I am a glass half full person and I was slightly annoyed to realise that this could be classed as self deception as I am always ignoring the bad things about any situation and focussing on the good things. I cheered up when I realised that the glass half empty people of my acquaintance are also guilty of self deception.

This is an interesting read for anyone who is interested in human being and how they behave and the reasons for that behaviour.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound, wise and very interesting 11 Mar 2012
By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER
Writing from a Freudian perspective with insights from evolutionary psychology, Greek philosophy, the "Bhagavad Gita," Buddhism, and everyday life, psychiatrist/philospher Neel Burton makes it clear that self-deception is and has always been the norm in human behavior.

Dr. Burton organizes ego defenses into four basic categories: "abstraction," "transformation (or distortion)," "evasion," and "projection."

Abstraction includes denial, repression, anger, intellectualization, depression, and some others. Transformation recalls reaction formation (a term I haven't heard in years), minimization, etc. Evasion is about being vague or inauthentic, or maybe regressing or daydreaming, or telling jokes. Projection is basically tagging others with your own failures or shortcomings.

This all may sound somewhat abstract but Burton's straightforward and uncluttered prose makes this book a surprisingly easy read. Some of that is due to the vivid examples from history and literature that Burton provides to support his elaborate taxonomy.

I very much liked Burton's defense of depression especially in light of the overmedication we are getting from the psychiatric profession these days. Burton writes "The time and space and solitude that the adoption of the depressive position affords prevents us from making rash decisions...," allows us "to see the bigger picture" and "to reassess our social relationships..." (p. 60). I would add that seasonal depression at least may well be adaptive in that staying put (depressed persons typically don't want to do anything or go anywhere) when the weather is not good may help in avoid danger and prolong life.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to peek through the curtains of the mind 22 Mar 2012
By Feast
On the surface, Burton's Hide & Seek purports to describe the many ego defence mechanisms we use to protect ourselves from painful truths. It is certainly an effective summary of them, and its short chapter format allows it to act as a concise reference guide, especially for readers who come at the subject without prior knowledge of this area. At a deeper, more subtextual level, it encourages the reader to identify which mechanisms they are using in their own lives, and whether they are helping or hindering the search for personal happiness. A worthy exercise for all to undertake!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book on Self-Deception 13 May 2012
For those who are interested in Self-deception, this book is a must read. It is very informative and yet very, very easy to read! Though I must add that it can be a bitter-sweet self-awareness experience. However, for those who are interesed in developing their 'self' further, while reflection upon one's behaviour, this is definitely a book, which sheds light upon one's various unconscious actions related to self-deception.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The importance of being earnest with yourself 20 April 2012
By Nicholas Casley TOP 500 REVIEWER
From the outset, I should point out that Dr Burton sent me a complimentary copy of this book to review. I was pleased to do so because, whilst I do not have a professional interest in the fascinating subject of the defence mechanisms we construct in our lives to protect us from mental pains, it is a subject in which I have more than a passing interest. Thus I should also state that I studied at degree level many of the philosophers and psychologists referred to in Dr Burton's book, but that I also have undergone two periods of professional psychotherapy in my forty-seven years.

So what of the book? My first impressions were not good. Burton calls his subject the "science" of self-deception, which might trouble philosophers of scientific method, but, more damningly, he ends his very first sentence with a preposition! Mercifully, he does not repeat this crime too often; indeed, his prose is generally clear and should be readily understood by anyone with a half-decent education. In short, Burton writes for the general reader.

The importance of the subject is made manifest in Burton's introduction, where he writes that self-deception "is responsible for the vast majority of human tragedies ... I don't think anything could possibly be more important." He goes on to warn the reader that his book might be difficult, not in an intellectually-demanding way, but because it might "provoke violent reactions". Believing myself to have an open and curious mind, with a determination to seek out truths, I found Burton's assertion here a little melodramatic; but it is he who is the professional here, it is he who has had to cope with his patients' refusals, however violent, to come to terms with the `reality' of their own ego defences.
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