Why do we tell lies?
Can you remember the first time you told a lie? Were you very young or perhaps it was later in life, or maybe you have no recollection of that ‘first one’. Whenever it was, we will have all told a lie at some time or another in our lives.
We may have told a lie to save ourselves from a difficult situation, or a telling off from a parent/care giver. We may have told it so that we would not be rejected, such as when we are with our friends at school and we want to belong. It may have been a small one, what some people call a ‘white lie’ or it could have been a whopper. Whatever the details around it, most of us will have known that what we were saying was an untruth. In that, we would have had a physical and psychological reaction to what we were doing.
In some religions, to tell a lie, is a sin. Something to feel incredibly bad about, to feel guilt and shame around that lie/lies. We are a bad person’.
Lying is a tricky area because we know that lies can be told for positive reasons and with good intentions behind them. Protecting someone from a painful truth or wanting people to see us in a certain way, so they will not worry about us. Lies can be defensive; to stop us from being hurt by others when we are feeling vulnerable. Lies can also be told for very negative reasons; to manipulate, trick or abuse someone; to get our needs met without due care for the impact it may have on others around us; lying can be selfish, needy and cruel.
We may find ourselves in relationships with others who seem to lie constantly. Even when they can quite easily be 'found out’ and the person does not seem to achieve anything by telling lies. It can be very confusing to live with this but if we try to understand some of the nature behind lying, it can help.
Pathological lying is a mental health issue and it can take over any rational judgement. This type of lying can produce an almost fantasy world where there seems to be an addiction to telling lies. For the outsider, it may be confusing, as there seems to be no gain in the lies being told. For example, this person may lie about how much money they paid for something in a shop or for a meal in a restaurant. This type of behaviour is usually due to a lack of trust in the world the person is living in and they will find relationships very difficult to maintain. They may also believe that they are being lied to constantly and lack trust in others.
Compulsive lying is again, a mental health issue but when this person tells a lie, there will be no emotion(s) attached, such as guilt or shame. The reason for this is simply because the compulsive liar believes the lie to be true. This type of lying quite often comes about through feelings of inadequacy/ low self-esteem and there can be links with possible alcohol and drug use. There could also have been a possible trauma in the past that may need to be worked through. With compulsive lying, it is important to get a professional diagnosis before seeking any type of help. If therapy is decided upon, it can be long-term but it can help to determine the underlying causes.
A sociopath is incapable of feelings around their behaviour and will not feel empathy for those they may be hurting with their lies. They even feel a sense of excitement at telling lies, creating a web of deceit. It could be done for fun or this type of behaviour could be used to commit a criminal act. With a sociopath, their needs come first and they will often blame others if ‘found out’. They can quite often be expert at creating a whole new web of lies once they have been discovered.
If you are worried about someone that you are in a relationship with or perhaps worried about your own need or desire to tell lies, please seek help. If therapy is decided upon, a professional therapist will not judge or criticise you for the times you have told lies. A therapist will also be aware that the lies may come into the therapy but they can be used to understand what is behind them.
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About Jayne Phillips
Jayne is a fully qualified, professional Integrative Psychotherapist and Counsellor. A registered member of the BACP, working in private practice, in the city of Bath.