We have so many different fears, and we try to solve these fears in fragments. We don’t seem to be able to go beyond that. If we think we have understood one particular fear, and have resolved it, then another fear comes up. When we are aware that we are afraid, we try to run away from it, try to find an answer, try to find out what to do, or try to suppress it. We have, as human beings, cunningly developed a network of escapes: God, amusement, drink, sex, lies, anything to avoid reality. — Krishnamurti
“You can’t handle the truth,” Jack Nicholson said in the movie A Few Good Men. Sometimes it is difficult to face an uneasy truth, but many people have difficulty with the truth. Lying is ubiquitous in this society. It is an addiction for many people, like the habits of smoking and drinking alcohol.
Deliberate lying has caused irreversible damage to many lives and institutions in America: churches, academic institutions, corporate America, marriages, friendships, government leaders, government institutions, media outlets and the arts.
It is difficult for many human beings to go through a full day without being deceptive about something. Humans are constantly looking for an escape to remove themselves from their pain, loneliness, guilt, fear and uncertainties. There is no escape hatch from life.
Real liars are metamorphoses, chameleons and camouflaged individuals. They exaggerate or tell blatant untruths to anyone who listens to them. Liars are those persons who have problems with commitment and their views of the world are distorted. They create calamity in the lives of others.
Think about the last lie you told? Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be ¾ Epictetus
There is no recipe or formula to teach us how to deal with or face life on its own terms. We all need some guidance to navigate our way in this world. There is one ineluctable truth: There is no good outcome when one uses lies to make their way in this discombobulating world.
Why do we lie? No one really knows why so many people make the choice to manipulate, or use deceptive behavior to reach some kind of emotional satisfaction. Some people use lies to conceal their true selves or their relations with others. Many people lie about their career status or money they may have or may not have.
Some individuals lie because they see no other way to articulate who they really are. Such ill ways are used to shield one’s self from guilt or embarrassment. Some people rely on the lie to see their way through complex situations they face. They have to shade or bend the truth to make their lives worthwhile. Lying often places individuals at odds with their lives and their relationships with others. Misleading lies are not only hurtful, but they can create hate, animosity, anger, tear families apart, destroy friendships, and can damage careers.
There are many versions of lying: cunning, diabolical, conniving, exaggerated, blatant, deceptive, fallacious, spurious, superficial and surreptitious. Folks! There is only one version of the truth. You know that is the truth. You may think you can bend, obscure, obfuscate or shade the truth, but the truth always springs back as a whole.
In some cases, lying is given a pass as in some mental health disorders. According to the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, lying is associated with some mental disorders such as antisocial personality, borderline personality, histrionic personality and factitious disorder. Deliberate lying is an inherent part of this group of disorders.
According to a study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, men and women lie at the same frequency. Women use lies for self-preservation or to shield their families from outside negative influences that may or may not harm them. Men use lies to boast or stretch their status in regard to wealth, careers, images and other manly endeavors to boost their images. As you see, men and women use lies to mask their well-being in different ways.
We all use lies to avoid certain situations. It is not the lie, it is the habit, severity and the motive. Look at the several types of liars. Where do you fit?
White liars. Everybody must plead guilty when it comes to this type of lie. We all use white lies when attempting to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Such as, if the wife asks her husband if she is too fat. He might say, “You look good to me, sweetheart.” He is only saying half the truth. He knows that she is pudgy. White lies are difficult to break. But don’t make white lies a habit in your relationships, because they may progress into bigger lies.
Careless Liars. Careless liars are not trustworthy. They will lie to you at any moment. I had a friend who told me with a straight face that she had been a dean of au. I was dumbfounded when she said that. I knew right away that she had just told me a careless lie. I knew that she had never been a dean of that particular university because I attended that same university that she had once worked for in another capacity. I also found out that her husband had been up for a promotion at a community college. He placed on his application that he had a master’s degree. Human Resources called the school and found out that he did not have such a degree. Confront or avoid such individuals.
Occasional Liars. As humans, people fall back on these types of lies when they feel stuck in some situation, especially when they see no way out. So they use the occasional lie to squeeze out of problems, uncomfortable situations, or when confronted by someone or some unforeseen event. The person often feel terrible about the lie they used to maneuver themselves out of something. They are conscience feeling individuals, and they often admit their guilt.
Compulsive Liars. Compulsive liars are elusive and difficult to pin down. They have so many faces. They are unpredictable individuals. They care little about life and the consequences that follow. They rarely retract their lies, unless they are found out. Be aware. Lying is their way of life. They have no conscience. They are pathological in nature. Such liars are dangerous to have a close relationship with. If you find yourself in the company of this type of liar, you better have your eyes wide open. They will lead you down a path that could possibly be detrimental to your well-being. Stay alert.
Sociopathic Liars. RUN! They are dangerous individuals. They live behind a wall of lies. Their agenda is to maneuver, cheat, lie, swindle, persuade, and backstab anyone who gets in their way. They have no shame or guilt when they hurt others’ feelings. They use lying as a lifelong strategy. They will chew you up with lies and spit you out when you no longer fit their taste. Their depthless and nefarious eyes seek to create turmoil in the lives of others. I would suggest, if you are close to someone like this, then you better think twice about being around them. They are going to wreck your life with a plethora of lies and try to pluck the life out of you. There are unforeseen consequences for being involved with this type of person. As I said — RUN.
By now, you may be feeling down or up about yourself as to the question of lying. Some of you probably saw yourselves in one of the above categories, while others realized that they do not fit in any of the above categories, except for telling white lies.
How do I purge myself of the habit of lying? You are not the Lone Ranger with this problem. The questions below may help you identify your triggers to lie.
Do you lie when you feel confused or anxious?
Do you lie to have control over friends or relationships?
Do you lie to make yourself feel important?
Do you lie to disguise your imperfections?
Do you lie because you know no other way to articulate yourself to others?
The questions above and below are needed to resolve one’s dilemma with the habit of lying. Compulsive lying is a difficult practice to break. This is when people need some imperative intervention to see themselves when they are trapped in this frame of destructive behavior. The suggestions below may help you. Remember: Everything that is faced cannot be changed; but it can’t be changed unless it is faced. — James Baldwin.
Seek out a cognitive behavior therapist.
Take inventory of your strengths, weaknesses and passions.
Place high value on your integrity
Surround yourself with trustworthy people
Make yourself accountable for your actions
If you can’t say anything truthfully, don’t say anything at all
The point is to highlight an issue that has devastated and crushed the lives of so many people. Deliberate lying continues to tear families and relationships apart, leaving many individuals in a state of stupor. Lying has evolved as a fashion brand. Many people use deception as a way to normalize their lives. You know that self-serving untruths have never led to anything good. As Socrates said, “False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.”
We are connected by foibles, imperfections, carelessness, forgetfulness, which are part of managing our daily lives. We need imperfections to learn how to be human.
This essay is not meant to cast a doom and gloom over the entire human race. This world is cluttered with law-abiding citizens with unshakable integrity who would not engage in deceptive plots. The aim is to create an awareness of the kinds of people who engage in such inimical behavior.
Between those intervals of human imperfections, we do not need to use lying as a way to manage our lives. Life is difficult enough to live, without using lies. Lies cannot and will not fix human imperfections. They only bring shame, incompetence, guilt, and embarrassment. Just tell the truth. You may lose or gain new relationships once you make that transformation from lying to being truthful.
When you make that transition from being untrustworthy to being trustworthy, then you become exhilarated about your life. Your smile gets wider, your laugh is louder and the food you eat becomes tastier rather than tasteless. Final thought: We must as individuals look at the inerrability of our lives, and the recklessness of our misdeeds and the deficiencies of our actions, before we make any decisive decision about who we think we really are.
Charles De Flanders works in the field of psychiatry and lives in Ojai.