- People lie. All people lie. Sometimes it’s a big lie and sometimes it’s a little lie. Sometimes the lie is
kept just to ourselves. Sometimes the lie is shared with others. It would be awesome if there was some
super easy way to tell if someone’s lying…like how Pinocchio’s nose would grow. But alas, that’s not a
There are two separate things to address here: Why people lie and what to do when someone lies. We
will start with the first one.
People lie for lots of reasons:
- Out of guilt, shame, embarrassment = lies surrounding this stuff are pretty easy to understand
- To stay out of trouble = lies surrounding this are also pretty easy to understand
- To avoid disappointment = this is more about the lies we tell ourselves, often about others, which may look like, “Oh, his yelling isn’t THAT bad (even though it makes me cry all the time)” or “I don’t mind that she smokes cigarettes (even though it makes me sick to my stomach)”. These lies allow us to tolerate things we know are not really ok and/or good for us. Because change is hard and ending relationships is tough.
- To spare someone’s feelings = think about when your co-worker buys a new dress that she loves that you think is totally hideous. You very well may tell her she looks pretty.
- To just to keep getting the thing that you’re getting, because sometimes a crappy thing is better
than no thing. Think about when someone cooks food for you and it’s not really very good. You
are (hopefully) grateful that they went through the trouble and are (hopefully) thankful that you
didn’t have to cook for yourself. So you tell them that it’s good so that they might cook for you
again. And hey, maybe next time it will be better!
There are lots of variations to the why’s people lie, but this list seems to cover the basics.
Now, what to do when someone lies. Therein lies the struggle. Do you address the issue? Do you
“break up” with them? Do you ignore the lie? Do you pretend everything’s ok? Do you put your head
in the sand?
There are no easy answers to this question. None. This is hard, hard stuff. And the closer and more
emotionally intimate you are with someone, the harder this question is to answer. And, unfortunately,
there is no right answer. From a professional perspective, a clinician will hopefully manage untruths
appropriately and not create an environment of guilt/shame. And actually, hopefully loved ones will
refrain from this too. Guilt/shame over lies do not help the situation. What can help is if someone feels
safe and if the pain of holding onto the lie becomes too heavy of a burden to manage. But again,
without a safe place to drop the load, the load continues to be carried.
And here is a message for the liars. Keeping up a lie is work, an awful lot of work. And the guilt and
shame that you so fear is happening anyway, because you are lying. Very few people feel good about
deceiving those they care about. And if you are in a relationship where you feel you can’t be your true,
authentic self, there may be some other issues that need to be addressed.
So in a nutshell, lying, while it may serve a purpose in the moment, generally is not something that is
helpful or sustainable long term. If you find yourself lying, try to really understand why you are lying.
That may help to prevent future lies and may help you figure out a way to come clean. And if you are
being lied to, try to really understand why you are being lied to. And try to foster an environment of
safety and unconditional love and positive regard. Truth tends to thrive there and tends to die in a place
full of guilt and shame.
May the truth be with you!