5 Statements That Justify Bad Behavior

“This isn’t that bad. Everyone does it at some point.” That’s what I kept telling myself. I’d never cheated on a test in my life and had told myself I never would, until that moment. It’s amazing what desperation can do to your character. Throughout my life, I earned A’s and B’s, but that year, my grades plummeted to four D’s and a C. I needed a good test grade to save me. I missed the exam because I was “sick.” The next day, I made it up in the library, along with a friend who also missed it—a friend who had all the answers. Slowly and methodically, he read me the answers one by one from the other side of the desk wall. It didn’t feel right, and I felt shame all over. So I kept repeating those statements over and over, attempting to justify myself and soothe my feelings of guilt.

When we do something wrong, we go in one of two directions. We either repent of our wrongdoing or attempt to justify it. The problem with justifying it is we weaken our conscience. The more we justify ourselves, the less often the alarm bells go off when we violate ethics and morality. That’s why need to avoid statements that justify our bad behavior, even if we just say them to ourselves. Here are 5 self-justification statements we need to avoid.

1. “I deserve this.”

We all need to take care of ourselves. There are times when our hard work merits rest and maybe even some pampering. But there is never an appropriate time to be selfish or to pursue leisure or pleasure at the expense of someone else’s time (unless they offer), feelings, well-being, or dignity.

2. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

It actually probably will. They may not know, but you do. It’s a secret, and secrets cause separation and disconnection. What you do in secret spills over to the other parts of your life. You’ll behave with less integrity, become agitated more easily, and take the people you care about for granted. It may be subtle, but those who love you will pick up on the fact that something’s off.

Just because you don’t see the hurt doesn’t mean it’s not there.

3. “I’m not hurting anyone.”

Just because you don’t see the hurt doesn’t mean it’s not there. I often see this self-justification argument made about viewing porn. “It’s victimless,” they’ll say. At the very least, it supports exploitation. But it hurts more people than that. When we do wrong things, we align ourselves with everything that’s wrong with the world. We become more intimate with carelessness, malice, greed, self-indulgence, and ill will. Meanwhile, repentance and taking responsibility for those we’ve hurt has the opposite effect.

4. “It’s no one else’s business but mine.”

It becomes more than your business when your behavior affects others. And as I said in the previous points, it may be subtle, but your bad behavior is going to cause you to act differently. You will be at least a little more disengaged and colder. Years ago, I worked with a man who suddenly became standoffish. He seemed mad at me. When I asked him about it, he said he was angry but didn’t want to talk about it. When I pressed, he said he was a private person and didn’t want to divulge why he was mad. That’s fine, but his anger was negatively affecting everyone around him. Your bad decisions will lead to an unhealthier you and that will impact how you treat the people around you.

5. “He/she deserves it.”

When someone hurts you, it’s understandable to want justice. However, taking joy in someone else’s misfortune or seeking vengeance doesn’t help us find closure. A 2004 Swiss study of brain activity during revenge found that it was rewarding in the short term. But as philosopher Francis Bacon said, “A man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal.” Forgiveness and doing what is good in the face of disgrace is a better way. In fact, Romans 12:19–21 says, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Sound off: What are some other self justification statements?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What do you think it means to take responsibility for our actions?”