I Can’t Stop Lying!

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW


I feel I am far too old to be grappling with this at this point in my life. I have a 2 year old, a newborn, a beautiful wife, a mortgage, and am a recent graduate from law school. I can’t stop lying though. The lying has always been for remedial things (telling people I played football when I was really in the marching band, etc.), but it has now infiltrated into all areas of my life. I have lied about past successes in school, work, faith, and general areas of character and integrity. I have been in sales for about 6 years now and I lie to customers about successes, mistakes that I have made, personal accomplishments, etc. I have most recently been caught by my boss lying about making a sales call I really didn’t make, and almost lost my job over it – over something he really wouldn’t have even cared about! I have a wife, a 2 year old, and a newborn who all depend on me, and I feel like I’m selfishly regressing.

I have thought long and hard about what is at the root of all this. My father, who died when I was 22, had a major stroke when I was in 7th grade. He was mentally and physically transformed, and at 13 years old in 7th grade I remember trying to cover up what was really wrong with dad to friends…even though I don’t remember any of them ever saying anything…just that feeling of ‘needing’ to cover it up. I remember it being very difficult to have dad come into a school function on canes or in a wheelchair, and then feeling ashamed that I was embarrassed of him. I truly believe that this is where the lying began, and it has continued ever since to some degree or another. I constantly embolden stories just to make them more interesting (perhaps because I don’t feel like I’m interesting enough on my own?). As an aside, I have also been caught for shoplifting twice before, have cheated many times in school and on taxes, and have struggled with my faith over the years; I also don’t do drugs and only drink alcohol in moderation.

So with my boss catching me recently, it just hit me that I can’t do this anymore. I’m tired of all the lies. And although I think I know why I lie and where it’s rooted, I can’t stop. I don’t know if I’m afraid of what my raw exposure to the world would surface, or if I’m even worthy of such a “re-start.” I don’t know how to wipe the slate clean and start anew. I just know that I have to because I hate who I have become. I have never considered suicide (because I do believe that I am here for a purpose), but I truly hate who I have become, and I want to be someone my 2 sons want to model.

I feel like I have allowed these years of lies to define who I am, and while I don’t want that to go on anymore, I am afraid I will not have the will to steer the ship. How do I do it? I just don’t know if I can come clean to my friends and family about all this because, quite frankly, where would I start?

This feel awesome to write though. I can’t explain how good it feels to write all this down (or think it all clearly through for the first time) because…it’s the truth! Please help me.

A. When people lie it is always for a purpose. In my experience, the purpose of the lies is to make someone appear to be better than they are, which is indicative of a poor self-image. People lie because they don’t think they are good enough. As you said, you lied about being a football player when in reality you were in the marching band. This indicates that you thought that being a football player made you appear better than being in the marching band. If you would have thought that being in the marching band was better than being a football player you would have told the truth. You would not have lied about playing football because the purpose of your lies was to make you look better. As you can see from my example, lying had nothing to do with anything external. It had to do with your internal feelings about yourself. In your mind, being a football player was better than being in the marching band. In other people’s minds, they may have thought that being in a marching band was better than football. You were lying to make yourself look better to yourself, not to the world.

It would be a mistake to think that you are the only person in the world lying. Lying is very common to human nature. People lie on their taxes; they lie on their resumes and in many other areas of life. They embellish stories, which is just another way of saying they lie. I’m sure there are plenty of times when individuals of the highest moral character are asked a question and they do not tell the absolute truth. For instance, a question such as “how does my new haircut look?” may generate the same response from many people — “oh it looks great” — but the truth may be that they believe the haircut is hideous. How many times does someone ask “how are you doing?” and you simply respond “great” when it reality you may not be doing well at all.

In life, there are ‘acceptable’ or understandable lies and in some cases one may need to lie as a way to survive very difficult situations. For instance, you lied in grade school about your father. You may have had to do that because the reality is that one’s peers in grade school can be vicious. At that age, your peers often search for any differences, any weakness, and use them to torment or bully you. Today we recognize this behavior as bullying. You may have had to lie in that situation because it was advantageous and it was essentially a survival mechanism.

Generally, lying is part of human nature and it is a mistake to think that you’re the only one who’s guilty of lying. Your lying fits a pattern. You are lying to make yourself look better to your boss, to friends, and perhaps even to your children.

The heart of the issue is that you do not think that you are ‘good enough’ the way you are. To be ‘good enough’ you need to lie to come up to ‘normal’ and this indicates that you have a poor self-image. This is an issue that can be dealt with effectively in therapy.

I also want to point out the very positive aspects of your letter. One is that you are fully aware of the issue. That may not have always been the case but it seems to be now. This awareness increases the likelihood that you can effectively deal with this problem. The second positive aspect of your letter is that you seem to have a new or heightened clarity about this issue. As you said, you felt very good about writing down your feelings and for the first time were able to think through them clearly. Third, you seem willing and open to make changes your life. I see this as the perfect time for you to deal with the possible long-running issue of a poor self-image. I hope you will consider therapy. Please click on the find help tab at the top of this page to locate a therapist in your community. I wish you well. Please take care.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Oct 2010

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2010). I Can’t Stop Lying!. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/10/17/i-cant-stop-lying/