I really, really, really dislike lies. In my home, my children know that if they do something and own up to it, they are likely to have a conversation about their decision but if they lie, there will be a consequence. I mean, in case it’s not clear….I really dislike lies.
I also struggle with people who lie. It’s hard to admit that, being a person who is on the path of being a force of love in this world. When I discover someone has lied to me, my internal response is about the same as if I were to step barefoot into a pile of dog poo. I just can’t stomach it, at all.
This strong response got me wondering WHY dishonesty provokes such a strong response in me and as I like to do, I began asking my friends and colleagues their thoughts. In a completely unscientific poll, I discovered that many people have the same strong feelings about lying as I do. This was curious to me — what is it about lies that gets to us so much?
When a person lies to another, there are a lot of reasons for doing so. There are the “white” lies that are lies intended to protect someone from what may be a painful truth. There are lies of omission, which are the lies where one person doesn’t actually TELL a lie but selectively omits part of the truth. There are bold lies, which are complete fabrications and defensive or character lies which is where a person doesn’t address the lie but rather shifts focus to his/her character such as responding to an accusation of infidelity with “I’ve been married for 20 years!”.
Despite popular opinion, not everyone lies and those who make that claim are often trying to justify their own dishonesty. When people are asked how they feel about being lied to, they often respond that they feel foolish, betrayed, violated and hurt. Although often, especially in the case of “white lies”, people think that lying to someone protects them from pain but that is not the case. When the truth is revealed, the pain is double because there is now the betrayal to deal with.
Here’s the ugly truth about lies and why I believe they are so harmful. Lies are an attempt to shape another person’s reality. Many times, the person who is being lied to senses they are being deceived but out of their desire to trust, they believe the other party. The person who is lying is, in his or her lie, trying to make the other person believe something that they know isn’t accurate. The lying person is trying to protect him or herself from whatever perceived consequence they fear if they tell the truth. Perhaps they are clinging to their own sense of who they are, or how they want the other person to think of them. Perhaps they are afraid to hurt the other person’s feelings, so they think they lie is easier than the truth.
Whatever the motive for the lie, at the core, it is an attempt to make someone believe something that is not true to benefit the person who is lying.
The ugly truth about lying is that it is manipulative, selfish and often cruel.
So what do you do when you are the one who is lied to?
It takes some time to heal because the multiple ways in which lies impact us. When we are lied to, we question our perception, and because the person who lied was intentionally trying to shape our reality, we are often left trying to rebuild our now violated sense of knowing. Many times, we know on an intuitive level that we are being deceived but because there are no facts to support our knowing, there is a sense of being uncertain. When the truth is finally revealed, many people feel both vindicated and violated, as they know their intuition was correct and yet, they questioned it. Being lied to is a manipulation, it is a violation and it also impacts our view of the other person. When someone has lied to you, they are now in a category of someone who cannot be trusted. If that person is someone with whom you have a long history, a significant relationship or with whom you are in intimate partnership, there is a sense of grief of the loss of the safety of the relationship and the image you held of the person. After they have lied, you now have to rebuild a relationship and trust which takes time, effort and consistency.
The biggest mistake I see people make when they are lied to is that they allow that experience to change them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard clients say “I’ll never trust someone again” and to me, that is the biggest tragedy. Never allow a bad experience with one person to have the power to change you and make you hardened. Rather, make an intentional decision to remain open hearted rather than cynical and jaded…and trust that inner knowing when it alerts you that something is off.
And to those who lie — please stop. The truth will come out eventually and you can avoid a whole lot of extra pain by just being honest and upfront. When you are given the opportunity to be dishonest, stop thinking that you are trying to protect the other person and realize that you are really trying to protect yourself at someone else’s expense. It can be hard to tell the truth — you may hurt someone’s feelings with frank honesty but you also maintain your integrity. Tell the truth, even when it is scary. Believe me when I say that knowing that you are truly being a decent person and not simply pretending to be one is way better than any falsehood and façade you might successfully build.