Uncovering the Truth Behind Lying

We've all told them: lies, cover-ups, white lies, fibs, untruths, omissions. Why do we lie? We lie for two main reasons: to protect others and to protect ourselves. This article is about lying--not compulsive lying--but the human tendency to not tell the truth when it serves us or our interests to do so.

We lie to protect others: We may lie so we don't hurt the other person. Faced with the question: "How does this outfit look on me?" , to spare the other person's feelings, we tell an untruth.

We lie to protect ourselves: We may lie so we don't look bad, stupid, unscrupulous, unworthy, not good enough, etc., and effectively, so that we don't have to face the consequences of telling the truth. Like the child who says they didn't take a cookie from the cookie jar.

Types of Lies
  1. The little white lie - both self and other protecting, these are spontaneous lies. Feeling put on the spot, we tell an untruth, telling ourselves that it's just a little white lie, what harm can it do?
  2. Lies of omission - self-protecting, we use these strategically. When asked, I may tell my partner that I bought several items and leave out one particular item, knowing they may not agree with the purchase.
  3. Outright lies - can be both self and other-protecting. They are strategic and also used to cover up as we carefully and consciously weigh the consequences of truth-telling. People who are addicted to substances may outright lie because their disease is one of shame and cover-up. Certainly this is self-protection and designed to avoid the consequences of their behaviour.
  4. Lies of denial - these are very self-protecting in that sometimes we don't even know we are lying. We have a blindspot. This can protect us from the pain of the reality as we deny that something terrible happened to us. We might see this in people who deny being abused or parts of the abuse. 
To lie or not to lie...?

Here are some questions to ask...
  • What do I value?
  • Am I telling lies to cover up other lies?
  • Are the consequences of telling the truth more uncomfortable than living the lie?
  • How do I honor my conscience? My integrity?
  • Might I adopt the policy of: "I will tell the truth if I am asked."?

Generally, no one wants to look bad or feel bad for upsetting another person. Our default is to save face, and it is only human to act in our self-interests. Often lying enables this, albeit at a cost. That cost is a false sense of well-being because lying risks producing guilt feelings and often begets more lying. We can get caught up and caught in our lying. Ultimately lying is self-protecting, and in the end, we are accountable only to ourselves.


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