Psychological Self-Help

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Nonchalance is the ability to look like an owl when you have acted like a jackass.
Excuses (explanations or actions, used when we have goofed, to
make us look as good as possible under the circumstances) are an
excellent example of deception. Note that excuses are deceptive in
three ways: (1) our attempt to hide our bad parts and "save face" with
others, (2) our attempt to justify our own bad behavior to ourselves
and (3) we are quite often not aware--and don't want to be--of what
we are doing. Snyder, Higgins and Stucky (1983) claim that excuses
come in three basic forms: (1) "I didn't do it." Sometimes we say,
"Someone else did it" or our memory (our "story") distorts the facts so
we feel better. (2) "I did it but it's not so bad." Sometimes we fail to
be helpful (see chapter 3) and say "I didn't think it was serious" (when
there is famine) or "It isn't my responsibility" (when Kitty Genovese
was killed while many watched). When we harm others, we may blame
the victim (when we discriminate) or discount the harm we have done.
When we get negative feedback, we attack the source and say the
critic is stupid or we say the test is unfair. Men are more likely to use
this type of excuse than women. (3) "I did it and it was bad, but I
have an explanation." Sometimes we say, "Everybody does it" or
"Anyone would have done the same thing" because the task was hard,
"I just had bad luck," the "situation was awful," "I had a bad cold," "I
didn't know," "I was confused," etc. Sometimes we reduce our shame
or guilt by implying we weren't ourselves: "I didn't mean to" or "I only
did it once" or "I didn't really try" and so on. Women are more likely to
use this type of excuse. 
Excuses are a way of saying, "I'm really better or more able than
you might think (based on what you just saw me do)." They are our
"public relations" efforts. They also soothe rough relationships: "I'm
busy" sounds better than "I don't want to be with you" and "I forgot
the assignment" is more acceptable than "I thought it was a waste of
time." Snyder says excuses also help us accept our limitations, help us
feel better about ourselves and help us take chances, since we know
we can always come up with an excuse if we fail. So, excuses may do
some good. However, there are several major difficulties with using
excuses: (1) we seldom work as hard to excuse other peoples'
behavior as we do our own (see chapter 7). (2) Constant excuses
become irritating and drive others away. (3) Denial of real weaknesses
may undermine self-improvement; if the excuses work well, we feel
little need to change. (4) Excuses can become self-applied labels and
self-fulfilling prophecies, such as "I had a little to drink" used as an
excuse becomes in time "I was drunk" becomes "I have a drinking
problem" becomes "I am an alcoholic." Excuses can become
permanent and serious disorders (of course, the etiology of alcoholism
is more complex than this). 
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