Why do people lie? We’ve all been in a situation where we either know someone is lying or we have a sinking feeling they aren’t being truthful. Recently, someone I know lied to me. It didn’t seem like a necessary lie, so I decided to probe more to see if the truth would emerge. To my surprise, the lie got even more elaborate. No surprise, secrets are complicated.
Typically, it doesn’t feel good to be lied to or to tell a lie. This is because our brain processes it differently when we lie than when we are honest. It takes a lot less “brain work,” to be truthful. Lies come in many forms:
Lies of commission: Blatant lies
Omitting: Intentionally leaving something out or not telling the whole truth.
Character lie or lies of influence: “I’m your best friend; I wouldn’t do that.”
Pathological lying: People who constantly lie for no apparent reason.
Exaggerated lies, white lies, minimization, misrepresentation, and so on…
Why Do People Lie?
We lie to survive: The average person lies around 50 times daily. Shocking, I know, yet these include the “How are you? I’m fine”, “The party was amazing,” and “It was so great to see you.”, which quite honestly are necessary to survive in society.
We sometimes believe our lies: We bury, justify and protect our lies, and sometimes we even convince ourselves that our lies are true. At some point, they take on a life of their own.
Lying is often part of addiction: A central part of working with people in recovery is facing their lies from the past, as well as identifying and changing the habit of lying. For example, it’s not uncommon for addicts to inadvertently become pathological or compulsive liars. My co-worker, Derek Bylsma, has a clever tool he uses with clients to help them pay attention to and diminish the impulse to lie: He instructs them to mark their arm with a marker each time they lie on a given day. So, let’s say they caught themselves lying ten times today. Now, tomorrow, the goal is to try and lie less than nine times, until lying is no longer second nature.
Shame is a central component of lying: Lying is also used to protect oneself from the immense shame that led the client to use, in addition to the shame of using substances. Also, people lie to cover up shame.
We learn to lie in childhood: Learning early on that lying can prevent you from suffering the consequences and being punished in an abusive home positively reinforces the benefits of lying. Perhaps lying helped you survive your childhood, but now it has become a character defect that impacts your relationships.
In trying to better understand lying, I asked several people I know about lying and here is a sample of what they said:
- It allows you to control how you are seen in a certain way
- To cover your ass!
- Either for financial or personal gain
- To protect someone from being hurt
- To avoid getting in trouble
- Scared to tell the truth of what might happen
- Scared to admit the truth to myself, so why would I tell someone else?
I often tell my clients that we all have a public self, a private self and a secret self.
We show the world the public self (probably ego driven). We choose to share the private self with those we trust or those in our inner circle, and our secret self is the part we don’t want anyone to know or see. Secrets could be an addiction, an affair, a double life, a trauma, etc. Shame often lives and grows in our secret self because we fear being seen or seeing this part of ourselves. We may compartmentalize this part, dislike it or reject it. We lie to protect our secrets – from ourselves and others.
Trust is essential for a solid foundation in relationships and lying ruptures that foundation. It takes courage to show up authentically, admit when we’ve lied and then choose to be honest. It’s difficult but necessary and this evolution starts with becoming brutally self-aware of the truth and lies we tell ourselves, how our relationship with ourselves impacts others and then choosing to show up in our truth.
“Integrity is the willingness to be introspective,
honor your truth, and have the courage to live it every day.”