The truth – and nothing but the truth! It sounds great, but we all understate, embellish and sometimes say things that are not true. At what point can you be considered a pathological liar? What can you do about it?
There are a million different shades of fate, and the weight of each “fake” is, of course, different. It is one thing to remain silent when talking to a child, e.g. about the family’s financial situation, or not to mention until the child’s 18th birthday that he or she has been adopted. It is another to make up tall tales about one’s family and previous relationships when getting to know a new partner, to lie to an employer when applying for a job, to parents about one’s marital status or attitude to religion.
Sometimes you can catch yourself lying all the time – about what time you actually finish work, how long a project took you, how many drinks you had at the bar – and the amount of such ‘micro-lies’ starts to make you nervous.
Thus, at the reception of a psychotherapist, patients sometimes confess: “I lie even when it is not particularly necessary,” “Although I have done nothing wrong, lying seems like a safe option to me.”
Psychologists point out that lying can have many causes. Sometimes a maladaptive coping mechanism is to blame, sometimes lying acts as a self-soothing technique, and sometimes it is simply unconscious behaviour.
So how do you understand why you lie? Try taking three steps towards the truth.
STEP 1. STOP BEING ASHAMED
The first step is to realise that you lie, and you do it often. You may feel ashamed and find it hard to justify yourself by remembering the situation in which you lied and the consequences it led to.
Add to this the burden of responsibility for the consistency of your lies – after all, it takes resources to maintain a legend.
Then – it sounds very simple, we understand – tell the truth to the person to whom you have been lying. A study published in the Personality and Psychology Bulletin says that secrets and secrecy have a negative impact on our mental health. The only way to get rid of this burden is to confess both to yourself and to the person you lied to.
STEP 2. FIGURE OUT WHERE THE LIE CAME FROM
Sometimes the habit of lying is a symptom of an entirely different problem. Try tracing your hoax all the way back to the beginning to get to your triggers. Try asking yourself the following questions:
- Are there certain topics that your loved ones occasionally bring up in conversation with you that make you lie?
- Maybe sometimes you just can’t remember certain details of a story and you make them up?
- Do you lie to please people?
- Do you lie to improve your self-esteem, to show people your high status?
By the way, sometimes the habit of lying can be a form of self-protection that you acquired as a child. Sometimes the role model is your parents.
Incidentally, various studies explain compulsive lying as a side effect of having to hide another compulsive problem – such as addiction to gambling, alcohol, drugs or shopping.
STEP 3. THINK BEFORE YOU LIE AGAIN
Once you’ve recognised your triggers, try a few thought exercises to help you become more honest with yourself and others.
- Remind yourself of the consequences of your lies on your relationships – both personal and professional.
- Think about how much easier life would be if you now said what is true.
- If you find it difficult to tell the truth, take a notebook and write it down. You can even write a message to someone who is not involved in a difficult situation, telling them what is on your mind. This will help you decide how and when you want to tell the truth.
- Choose an area of your life where you want to be more truthful, like work, and focus on being completely honest in it.