“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” – Abraham Lincoln
The Origin of Lying
Think about the first lie documented in spiritual texts. In the Old Testament, Adam and Eve were told by God that if they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die. They ate, they lived. When asked if they had munched on the apple which had them hiding their nakedness (which may be a metaphor for being revealed and vulnerable psychologically as well), Adam passed the buck to Eve who he said tempted him to eat the fruit. Eve then blamed the serpent for tricking her. The truth is each of the players made choices and the chain of events proceeded. Wondering if the tree was planted in plain sight so that Adam and Eve could be tested or beckoned. Consider that many people succumb to the temptation that is deliberately placed before them and expected to refrain from indulging. This is not meant to be offensive to anyone’s spiritual beliefs, but rather an assessment of a written tale.
Why we lie can vary from person to person.
- Fear of repercussion
- Desire to look more impressive
- Wanting to fit into a specific social norm or group
- Belief that it will get us what we want
- Covering over inappropriate behaviors
- Creating a persona
- Poor self-worth
- Seeing what can be gotten away with
- Wanting reality to be different than it is
- Testing relationship boundaries
- One-up-manship (can you top this?)
- Rebellion against authority
- Biding time until a justification or defense can be created
- A passive-aggressive way of speaking up
- Denying responsibility for choices
- Poor self-esteem
- Compulsion to hold power over another
Knowledge is power. When we are the keeper of information, we seem to hold power over another. Consider a partner who is unfaithful. He or she is aware of breaking the agreement of monogamy and may experience a sense of guilt and remorse. When asked if infidelity has taken place, an instinctive reaction may be to lie to cover those emotional states, protect what they fear to lose in the initial relationship or the new one. By withholding the truth, that imbalance of power can be maintained.
Set a good example. If you expect honest interaction with those in your life, it is important to be in integrity. The first of The Four Agreements, written by don Miguel Ruiz highlights the value of speaking truth.
“Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.”
Make your relationships a safe place for honesty. If someone tells you the truth, how do you respond? Do you accept their feelings or dismiss them? Is there room for a difference in perspective or do people need to agree with you to keep the peace?
A few examples:
Susan was married to Chris. She had grown up in a family in which truth-telling was valued and trust was a core value. When she did something that she thought, her parents wouldn’t approve of, at times she found ways to justify her actions but didn’t think of them as lies. When they found out, they expressed concern but not overt disapproval. They wanted her to make her own choices and mistakes if need be but reinforced the importance of honest reporting of her actions. Still, she valued their approval and there were things she didn’t tell them, wanting to maintain her stellar position in their eyes. She had not yet learned the difference between secrecy and privacy.; the former is an indication of a shame-based, if-you-knew-this-about-me-you-would-disapprove-or-abandon-me paradigm and the latter reflects each person’s right to sovereignty.
Chris was raised in a family in which his safety depended on lies and power plays. His father was an actively drinking alcoholic who was unfaithful to his mother and controlling and violent with Chris. He learned that he needed to create a confident (and at times arrogant) persona to survive. When the two of them got together, Susan was determined to stay in Chris’ good graces since his anger at times took a threatening turn, so she would withhold information particularly in interactions in the business they owned together. When he discovered her fabrications, his reactions were sometimes in excess of the ‘offense’. She justified her prevarications in her own mind since she felt she didn’t have the business acumen to successfully interact with costumers in a way that elicited a win-win. He had years of experience in various businesses and expected that she would model her own actions after his since it was not her forte’. She did not possess the ability at the time to admit those shortcomings and adapt her style to suit the needs. She found herself spiraling downward as he was escalating.
Melinda was a precocious pre-teen whose concerned parents brought her in for treatment after she engaged in behavior that alarmed them and the school. Appearing far older than her stated age, she told her parents and therapist that she should be able to make her own decisions without what she perceived was her mother’s and father’s unnecessary oversight. They volleyed back that although she perceived herself as being more mature than her age would indicate, she did require their guidance since she was making poor choices and lied to them and her teacher. One such example was that she justified being lethargic in class because she drank too much caffeinated soda the night before and couldn’t get enough sleep. When called on it in the session, she admitted that she didn’t want to tell the teacher that she stayed up playing computer games.
When Lying Becomes Addictive
The American Society of Addiction Medicine, defines addiction as: “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.”
Is lying an addiction? Pathological lying is defined as: “s a chronic behavior characterized by the habitual or compulsive telling of lies.” One who engages in this behavior has come to believe the stories they tell and often can’t differentiate between truth and fabrication. The desire to maintain appearances and power can instill that chemical high that occurs in any addictive process; whether it is experienced as the thrill of getting away with something or protecting one’s own position.
How Do We Treat the Addiction?
The first step, as is so in any case, is to admit the problem and the impact it has on the person’s life, asking “Does it make my life unmanageable?” From that point, a cost-benefit analysis is in order. How does it serve vs. harm? Each time the temptation to lie arises, take a moment to consider a line in front of you. On one side is truth and on the other un-truth. At each instant, there is a choice about which side of the line to stand. If you find yourself crossing the line, there is always an opportunity to pull back to safety. Have an accountability partner with whom you check in. The rewards are multi-fold in terms of elevating self-esteem and enhancing relationships.