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Why does my mind tell me things that aren’t true?

Our minds are complex and sometimes tell us things that contradict reality. This can be confusing and concerning when our thoughts don’t match the facts. Some common examples include:

  • Forgetting where you put your keys or wallet
  • Thinking you’ve done something you haven’t actually done, like sending an email or locking the door
  • Hearing sounds or voices that aren’t there
  • Seeing things that don’t exist or are distortions of reality

These disconnects between our minds and reality can be distressing. But what causes our minds to lie to us? And what can we do about these strange thoughts and perceptions? Keep reading as we explore the psychology behind why our minds tell us things that aren’t true.


There are several possible explanations for why our minds sometimes depart from reality:

Memory Failures

Our memories are imperfect and prone to failings. Some common memory issues that can lead to false thoughts include:

  • Absent-mindedness – Forgetting to do something or where you put an item due to lack of attention.
  • Transience – Struggling to recall events or details after time passes.
  • Misattribution – Remembering something accurately but attributing it to the wrong source.
  • Suggestibility – Having false memories implanted by leading questions or other influences.
  • Bias – Recalling events in a biased, distorted way.

These memory problems can convince us of events that never truly happened.

Perceptual Errors

Our perceptions don’t always accurately reflect reality. Some examples of perceptual errors include:

  • Apophenia – Seeing meaningful connections between unrelated things.
  • Pareidolia – Perceiving images or sounds that aren’t really there, like seeing faces in inanimate objects.
  • Simultagnosia – Inability to see multiple objects at once.
  • Prosopagnosia – Impaired ability to recognize faces.
  • Illusions – Misperceiving sensory information, like in optical, auditory, or tactile illusions.

Flaws in how we perceive the world can make us believe in things that don’t match objective reality.

Cognitive Distortions

How we think and interpret events also impacts our connection to reality. Some thinking patterns that lead to distorted thoughts include:

  • Jumping to conclusions – Making assumptions without evidence.
  • Magnification/minimization – Exaggerating or minimizing the significance of events.
  • Overgeneralization – Applying global rules based on limited experiences.
  • Personalization – Blaming yourself for things you aren’t responsible for.
  • Black & white thinking – Only seeing extremes, with no middle ground.

These skewed thought patterns can make us believe things that are unrealistic or irrational.

Mental Health Conditions

In some cases, false thoughts and perceptions stem from an underlying mental health disorder. Some examples include:

  • Schizophrenia – Seeing or hearing things that others don’t due to hallucinations and delusions.
  • Bipolar disorder – Experiencing distorted thoughts during manic episodes.
  • Dementia – Memory loss and confusion may lead to false beliefs.
  • Anxiety – Worrying excessively by imagining unrealistic outcomes.

If your symptoms are ongoing and interfering with your life, it’s a good idea to talk to a mental health professional.

When Should I Be Concerned?

Occasional disconnects from reality are normal and happen to everyone. But when should you be worried? Consider seeking help if:

  • The false thoughts are very distressing or frightening
  • You have trouble telling what’s real from what’s not
  • Others tell you the beliefs seem disconnected from reality
  • The issue persists over time and impacts your daily life
  • You see or hear things others don’t

Consult a doctor or mental health provider if your symptoms are severe or ongoing. Early intervention can help manage issues stemming from mental illness or age-related cognitive decline.

Coping Strategies

For mild episodes of distorted thinking that don’t severely impair your functioning, these self-help strategies can help:

  • Reality testing – Ask someone you trust if your belief makes sense.
  • Evidence gathering – Look for proof to confirm or disprove your belief.
  • Slow down – Don’t act on your first instinct. Give it time.
  • Perspective shifting – Imagine how others would view the situation.
  • Write it down – Keep a journal to identify patterns.
  • Relaxation exercises – Quiet your mind through yoga, meditation, etc.
  • Get quality sleep – Lack of rest exacerbates cognitive issues.

Leaning on your support system can also be helpful. Talk to friends when you’re confused to get an outside opinion.

When to Seek Help

Connect with a doctor or mental health professional if:

  • Your symptoms are severe or worsening
  • Issues persist over weeks/months and disrupt your daily functioning
  • Self-help strategies aren’t improving the situation
  • You have suicidal thoughts or self-harm urges
  • A loved one recommends you seek help

Don’t write it off as just being forgetful or imaginative. Seek professional guidance to identify if any underlying conditions are impacting your mental health.

Treatment Options

Treatment will depend on the cause but may include:

  • Talk therapy – Counseling helps develop coping strategies.
  • Medication – Prescriptions can improve mental health disorders.
  • Brain training – Exercises may enhance cognitive functioning.
  • Lifestyle changes – Adjusting health habits can sharpen cognition.
  • Support groups – Sharing struggles and successes can reduce isolation.

Work closely with your treatment team to find the right interventions to improve your mental clarity and quality of life.

Prevention Tips

While we all experience some minor disconnects from reality, you can proactively protect your mental health by:

  • Getting enough sleep, nutrition, exercise, and socialization
  • Managing stress through relaxation practices
  • Challenging distorted thought patterns
  • Staying intellectually engaged and learning new skills
  • Treating any mental health conditions
  • Avoiding drugs and excess alcohol

Protecting your brain health reduces the risk of severe impairment down the road.

The Bottom Line

It’s common for our minds to occasionally lie to us or play tricks on us. Memory issues, perceptual errors, cognitive distortions, and mental disorders can all contribute to thoughts that contradict reality. If it’s happening frequently or severely, seek professional support. With compassion for yourself and proper treatment, you can find relief.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I hear noises and voices that aren’t there?

Hearing voices or sounds that others can’t hear could stem from auditory hallucinations linked to mental conditions like schizophrenia, PTSD, severe depression, or bipolar disorder. Tell a doctor, as treatments are available.

Why do I sometimes see weird shapes, lights, or shadows?

Seeing visual disturbances could indicate issues like ocular migraines, epilepsy, or Charles Bonnet syndrome. Consult an optometrist or neurologist to identify the cause and appropriate treatment.

Can dementia cause false beliefs?

Yes, memory loss and confusion from Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias can lead to fabricated memories or misunderstanding reality. Safety measures, medication, and compassionate caregiving can help.

Are my strange thoughts a sign of psychosis?

Maybe, but not necessarily. Occasional distorted thinking is normal. Consul a professional if your false beliefs are highly distressing, persistent, and impact your functioning. Early psychosis treatment is ideal.

Can anxiety cause me to imagine unrealistic dangers?

Yes, anxiety disorders can spark excessive, exaggerated “what if” thinking about worst-case scenarios. Therapy helps confront fears, while medication relieves symptoms.

Type of False Thought Possible Causes Example
Forgetting events or details Absent-mindedness, memory deficits Forgetting a meeting you were supposed to attend
Imagining you did something you didn’t Source misattribution Thinking you sent an email that’s still in your drafts
Hearing noises or voices Hallucinations, psychosis Hearing your name called when home alone
Seeing objects that aren’t there Visual disturbances, illusions Seeing a shape in the shadows that isn’t really present
Exaggerating or minimizing threats Anxiety, cognitive distortions Imagining worst case “what-ifs” around everyday events

This table provides examples of different types of false thoughts, potential causes, and illustrative situations where they could occur. Memory issues, hallucinations, illusions, anxiety, and cognitive distortions can all lead to thoughts disconnected from reality.

In Summary

It’s unsettling when our minds tell us things that don’t align with facts. But these temporary disconnects are often not cause for concern. Give it time, reality test, and seek support if needed. For ongoing issues interfering with life, pursue professional treatment. With compassion for ourselves and proper care, we can find peace of mind.