What keeps us from telling the truth? Lying is common to human nature. We all lie on occasion and there is often a purpose for lying. In some cases, lying has become a habit or reflex that appears uncontrollable to the point that we lie about even the smallest things. For others, lying is a way of controlling others or of sparing someone else’s feelings. Lying can be a way to feel better about oneself and bolster a fragile self-esteem. It can also be an attempt to avoid conflict, punishment, and/or rejection. Lying appears in many different forms such as exaggeration, self-protection, gossip, controlling a response and lying by omission. Research has found that the brain has to exert more effort to lie than tell the truth. Of course, lying hurts and can even destroy relationships.
Compulsive liars typically have a long history of frequent and repeated lying even with no motive or external benefit from lying. They typically have an inability to consider the consequences of their actions and experience very little or no guilt, shame or regret. Pathological liars lack empathy, emotional responsiveness, and look to manipulate in an effort to gratify their own needs. They often have a deficient or absent conscience and look for vulnerability in others. For people with certain personality types, lying is more natural than telling the truth and they have become accustomed to avoiding honesty. Sometimes they are even confused about what the truth is since they have convinced themselves that what they are saying is accurate and real. Where did they learn this behavior and can they change it?
It is possible that they witnessed a parent or close friend modeling lying behavior and saw how this enabled them to avoid experiencing the consequences of bad behaviors. Maybe lying was a necessary coping mechanism early in life that allowed them to avoid harmful punishment and severe consequences. While it may have been adaptive in the past, that lying behavior is maladaptive today. Change is always difficult, but can be accomplished through consistent and committed effort. First the person needs to be aware of their lying behavior and openly acknowledge that the problem exists. Next they need to find an accountability person that they can rely on to call them on their lying and hold them responsible. They also need to consider the consequences of their behavior and the impact it has on others. Journalling can be helpful especially when trying to understand the driving force behind the lies. For example, if insecurity is the motivating factor, then figure out other ways to increase self-confidence. Lastly, set positive goals and stick to a plan. Honesty and transparency build trust which is mandatory for healthy relationships. Quoting from the Bible, John 8:32, “then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”