Why People Lie

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					                              MUSE
                              MARCH 2009




                           WHY PEOPLE LIE
                           BY CINDY TREVITT, REGISTERED PROFESSIONAL COUNSELLOR


                              D     o you think it is right or wrong    can play a role in encouraging or       we lie to ourselves. This is the ego’s
                              to lie? Some declare they are dead        discouraging lying. Severe punish-      way of protecting us from harsh
                              against lying. Others think that you      ment for misdemeanours paradoxi-        realities by refusing to see them.
                              have to lie to protect yourself or        cally encourages deception, as the
                                                                                                                People lie because they don’t think
                              others or to get what you want.           child realizes a need to get out of
                                                                                                                anyone will be hurt or maybe the
                              Still others think they are not lying,    punishment by any means possible.
                                                                                                                liar will be the only one hurt.
                              but merely omitting the truth or          Inconsistent punishments for lying
                              being diplomatic. And of course,          or the total absence of punishment      For some, it depends on their value
                              there is a small minority who lie         will also encourage the child to lie.   system as to when lying is okay. For
                              without conscience whatsoever.            Punishing a child for lying all while   example, a man may confess to a
                              Interestingly, a vast majority fall in    the parent lies will do nothing to      crime he didn’t commit in order to
                              the middle and have lied – many           help the situation.                     protect his daughter from a life in
                              times. If the neighbour asks what                                                 prison – a lie in the name of altru-
                                                                        Normal teenagers may lie to gain
                              you thought of her home-baked,                                                    ism. Someone who upholds family
                                                                        their autonomy in an adult-
                              non-fat, no-salt cookies, you might                                               values might applaud his actions
                                                                        controlled world. Adolescents are
                              kindly tell her they were very good                                               but someone who thinks that too
                                                                        just beginning to discover abstract
                              – a lie of kindness. If your hair-                                                many people escape justice might
                                                                        principles and values and to begin
                              dresser creates a Marge Simpson                                                   think it appalling. If you have made
                                                                        to formulate their own ideas about
                              look, some will bite their quivering                                              a mistake at work, do you blame a
                                                                        right and wrong. There are many
                              lip, say ‘thank you’, pay and leave in                                            computer malfunction or confess
                                                                        moral levels – some people advance
                              a blur of tears – a lie of omission. If                                           and risk losing your job? Looking
                                                                        beyond adolescence and some do
                              you were going by the strictest                                                   through history – people hid per-
                                                                        not.
                              sense of deception, those of you                                                  sons of certain ethnic or religious
                              who are bleaching your teeth, stuff-      For some, it’s more desirable to be     groups to escape persecution, poor
                              ing your bra, living in a big house       lied to. They would rather know         treatment or death – lying to au-
                              but dining on Ichiban Noodles are         that Mr. Whiskers passed on peace-      thorities for philanthropy. The
                              misleading others – a lie to gain         fully in his sleep with his favourite   Trojan Horse was a very famous
                              acceptance and approval. If you are       toy tucked under one paw. The           deception in the guise of a gift and
                              feeling completely miserable but          wife of the philandering man may        in modern day it has been adapted
“By and large, language
                              masking it with indifference or           not want to know of his infideli-       to describe a computer program in
is a tool for concealing
                              pleasantness – you’re lying to pro-       ties. The woman with a lump in          which malicious or harmful code is
the truth.”
                              tect yourself or others.                  her breast may forego a medical         contained inside apparently harm-
—George Carlin                                                          appointment. Sometimes, we don’t        less programming or data. It was
                              People who come from chaotic and
                                                                        want to know the truth because the      deemed necessary to lie and deceive
                              dysfunctional families have a
                                                                        truth can force us to take action. It   on a monumental scale to Adolf
                              greater tendency to lie than those
                                                                        can thrust very painful facts into      Hitler and his troupes and yet we
                              who grew up in a caring household.
                                                                        our lives causing us to face assorted   are quick to condemn the very
                              Children from such families lie to
                                                                        unpleasant, inconvenient, and even      same government for its lies and
                              change or modify reality so as to
                                                                        humiliating change. Better to tuck      deceptions. Are there times it is
                              make life more tolerable. Lying
                                                                        that all in the closet sometimes -      okay to lie and times it isn’t?
                              becomes a strategy of coping with a
                                                                        otherwise known as the ever-
                              hostile environment. Discipline                                                   People lie to be accepted and to feel
                                                                        popular ego-defense: denial - how
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they are a part of the group –         tivities that their beloved disap-    these individuals. They may
something that often starts in         proves of – staunchly. The activi-    believe that people (or them-
adolescence and carries on into        ties can be completely innocent       selves) should not be subjected
adulthood.                             but where a suspicious, rigid,        to hurt and pain (perhaps be-
                                       inflexible and demanding part-        cause they feel it is intolerable or
Sometimes people lie to protect
                                       ner is the counter balance – lying    unfair) and should be avoided at
personal and private informa-
                                       behaviour can actually be mani-       all costs. Ironically, it is their
tion they don’t want to share.
                                       fested by those who don’t wish        very attachments to these ideals
Others lie to hide things about
                                       to be lied to in the first place.     that are making them miserable.
themselves that make them feel
                                       The lying behaviour becomes a         If they learn a more accepting
embarrassed or weak. They
                                       survival tactic used to avoid         attitude, they will respect the
spend their precious life-energy
                                       unfair persecution and maintain       fact that a little rain falls into
covering up their perceived
                                       self-rule. Then the demanding         everyone’s lives. Life can be un-
shortcomings rather than invest
                                       partner is angry and hurt at the      fair but that’s reality, no one is
in short-term discomfort for
                                       lying behaviour. Behaviour they       exempt, and lying doesn’t build
long-term change and overall
                                       both manifested. Lose-lose. Self-     genuine relationships.
personal satisfaction.
                                       government is necessary to a
People lie to avoid persecution,       healthy relationship.                 Most often there is a motiva-
career damage, relationship                                                  tional factor compelling people
                                       Blooming liars can be rooted in       to lie. Many passive people have
harm, reputation blemishes,
                                       the foundation of a relationship      a greater propensity for lying.
being cut out of the will, paying
                                       with very thin-skinned people –       You may be surprised to know
fines, paying bills, or admitting
                                       the ultra-sensitive crowd. These      that such people lie not to hurt
defeat. Some people lie to bypass
                                       individuals have fragile inner        you but to save you or save them-
certain rules and laws that seem
                                       boundaries and very little can be     selves. In reality, they risk hurt-
arbitrary, discriminatory or
                                       done or said by another without       ing others but they deny this to
unjust. When people are faced
                                       them taking it to heart and feel-     themselves believing they had no
with a dilemma in which the
                                       ing incredibly hurt, offended, or     choice. Why? Well, for some,
personal consequences are great,
                                       rejected. Consequently, those         confrontation is terrifying and
they are likely to demonstrate
                                       around them find themselves           they want to avoid it at any cost.
lower-level moral thinking. The
                                       needing to couch the truth, be        A very strong programming may
greater the consequence, the
                                       falsely agreeable, and refrain        be deep in their psyche saying
greater the likelihood of lying.
                                       from honest disclosure in order
                                                                             they should never, ever, hurt,
The unfaithful spouse may be           to avoid hurting this delicate
                                                                             disappoint, anger, inconvenience
lying because he or she is so          creature. Ironically, the sensitive
                                                                             or otherwise bother others. To
angry and hurt they feel justified     one may take even greater of-
                                                                             go against this deep belief re-
in their extramarital pursuits –       fense at the withheld truths once                                            "Marge, it takes two to lie-
                                                                             sults in their conscience
one might say a type of revenge.       discovered. It is difficult or                                               one to lie, and one to listen.
                                                                             gnawing at them relentlessly.
Or they don’t want to be in that       seemingly impossible to ‘win’. In                                            (Homer Simpson)"
relationship to begin with so          either case, we want to offer         The ‘nice nice’ person will
                                                                                                                    —Matt Groening
they lie rather than deal with the     empathy to the very sensitive         offer false promises. Have you
difficult, painful and sticky as-      person but not sacrifice our own      met the individual who says yes
pects of breaking up. Or they          wants and desires – calm, em-         to your invitation but never
don’t want to be monogamous            pathic assertiveness is good with     shows up? No word of explana-
but to get their beloved and have      these people. A path built on lies    tion? They tell you they will do
all their desires met – they lie. If   only leads to mutual degrada-         something when really they have
they have no functional coping         tion.                                 no intention of doing it. They,
mechanisms for major stressors                                               too, have an overdeveloped con-
                                       Some folks have trouble dealing
in their lives they may flee into                                            science that subscribes to the
                                       with hurt and criticisms and
the exciting and temporary es-                                               ideas of never saying no or let-
                                       they presume it is the same for
cape of a new affair.                                                        ting anyone down ever – which
                                       others so they withhold, or deny
                                                                             of course, is impossible to
Some people lie to their partners      their true feelings. It’s hard to
                                                                             achieve and have any personal
because they desire certain ac-        know where you stand with
                                                                             wants requited – so they lie –
                                                                                                                       Page 3




leaving them to live a life of        person and there are no alterna-     more positive self-perception or
cowardice with frustrated ac-         tives they can see. They use the     change the inadequacies them-
quaintances in their wake.                                                 selves.                                 "I have to admit that I lie
                                      common ego-defense of ration-
                                                                                                                   on my Weight Watchers'
                                      alization proving to themselves
In the face of an angry or aggres-                                         One of the dangers of fre-              food list. I'll put down
sive person, many people feel         that their behaviour is reason-      quent lying is people will              that I had 3 eggs...but I
compelled to lie out of self-         able and justifiable and thus        begin to believe their own lies         won't put down that they
preservation – to get to neces-       worthy of the approval of them-      – leaving them to disembark             were Cadbury Chocolate
sary safety. Confrontations leave     selves and others.                   from reality. It maintains a            Eggs."
them feeling defenseless and           People lie to get what they want.   sense of inferiority sometimes
                                                                                                                   —Caroline Rhea
vulnerable. So, the safest route is   You may be familiar with the         projected onto others in the
to avoid, hide and lie. They          manipulator. We see this com-        form of blame, resentment, and
hope, against all hope, that no       monly in advertising, politics       bitterness.
one will be hurt. They cannot         and the legal professions – where    When a person lies, especially
see beyond this insurmountable        it seems almost necessary to         about important matters, they
wall of fear and they deny the        confound, bedazzle and distort       have broken a bond – an
tangled web they eventually find      to get what they want: money;        unspoken agreement to treat
themselves in.                        power; or ‘wins’.                    others as we would like to be
Some people lie to gain sympa-        Exaggeration is a form of lying –    treated. Serious deception often
thy. They may be perpetuating         usually to impress the listener.     makes it impossible for us to
their ‘victim’ mode and avoiding      Often times people who don’t         trust another person again. Be-
personal accountability.              feel heard, valued or interesting    cause the issue of trust is on the
                                      may be inclined towards this         line, coming clean about the lie
A sense of entitlement can be
                                      method. Sometimes a little           as soon as possible is the best way
behind many lies. People feel
                                      ‘locker-room’ bragging is in-        to mend fences. Personal culpa-
that they are entitled to what
                                      tended for a specific audience       bility is essential to the success of
they want so they feel their lies
                                      but gets out and causes damage.      a relationship. If the truth only
are justified. Sometimes this
                                      Gossiping also falls into this       comes out once it is forced, re-
stems from perceived injustices
                                      arena and can involve fabrica-       pair of trust is far less likely.
in their life – they feel they have
been wronged and are entitled to      tion – perhaps to give the lis-       Normally, telling white lies
take what they need by whatever       tener the impression we have         doesn’t escalate to habitual lying.
means necessary. It’s a ‘dog eat      some inside information and          It rarely happens where a person
dog’ world.                           therefore have value.                becomes entirely untrustworthy.
                                      More and more these days, the        We have all exaggerated and told
Those with strong ego defenses
                                      best of students feel there is no    lies before.
may lie more often. The ego
                                      possible way for them to achieve                                             "I'm not upset that you lied to
defenses often involve the need                                            If you know your friend is lying
                                      the grades necessary to attain                                               me, I'm upset that from now on
to uphold their belief that they                                           or exaggerating about something         I can't believe you."
are a good, successful and decent     their goals so they buy ready-       should you confront them? De-
person. They will desperately do      made reports or plagiarize. Even     pending on how the lie or exag-         —Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
whatever it takes to protect their    certain career professionals may     geration impacts on you. If the
ego – their self-image of the         feel uninspired and desperate        impact is serious, consider con-
‘good person’. To let their ego       and take from others.                fronting. Don't confront them
down is incredibly painful from       People lie to appear more like-      in front of others but later when
a psyche standpoint. They may         able or competent and often          you’re alone. Tell them you’re
thrust the burden of blame on a       times to feel better about them-     their friend, you care about them
scapegoat; bad luck; or you.          selves.                              and would like them no matter
They may also maintain the                                                 what so they don’t have to lie. If
cognitive distortion of black and     We all need to be accepted and       we take away the prospect of
white thinking. They believe          loved and yet many of us have        feeling rejected for truth-telling
that something is either all or       acquired a sense of inadequacy.      more people would not lie or feel
nothing – there are no grays. So      It is better to address those in-    they had to.
they are either a good or a bad       adequacies and either adapt a
                                                                           Remember Hansel and Gretel?
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A children’s fable talking about       stand that telling the “truth” will
the horrible realities of poverty      cause more harm than good.
that lead a family to trick their      Imagine what would happen if
children into becoming lost in         we spoke every unedited opin-
the forest only to encounter a         ion, thought, or feeling? What
wicked witch with cannibalistic        would happen to society? Think
intentions who tricks the chil-        of all the uncensored, bizarre,
dren with her candy house. The         outrageous thoughts that cross
witch tries to mislead Gretel into     our collective brains on a daily
checking the fire by putting her       basis and what would happen if
head in the oven. Gretel outwits       we spoke it all? Maybe we can
her and pretends she doesn’t           also pat ourselves on the back for
know how so the witch eventu-          our discriminating wisdom and          www.mycounsellor.ca
ally falls for it, puts her own head   tactful diplomacy.
in the oven where Gretel pushes
her to her death. A children’s
story full of deception for many       If you wish to copy this material
and various reasons: for the good
                                       to other publications please ask for
of the many, for selfish gain and
for survival. Interesting – no?        permission by writing
As you can see, lying is often not     cindy@mycounsellor.ca.
done out of malice, but out of
self defense or self interest. At      Thanks for your friendship.
worst – it is a sign of deep vul-                                                Cindy Trevitt,
nerabilities and at its best, a kind                                             Registered Professional
heart.                                                                           Counsellor

Is there an upside to lying? Is it                                               Member in good standing of the
possible that lying is integral to                                               Canadian Professional Counsellor’s
the fabric of society? I, for one,                                               Association: www.cpca-rpc.ca
am grateful for storytellers, song-                                              Contact information:
writers and actors. Make-believe                                                  Phone: 604.518.1394
challenges us and expands our                                                     Email: cindy@mycounsellor.ca
minds. Sometimes, a good fish-                                                    Web: www.mycounsellor.ca
tale can be very entertaining.
There are times we know a per-                                                   Business hours & locations:
son is not seeking our genuine                                                    Tuesdays–Thursdays
opinion, but validation or reas-                                                  9:30–5:30,
surance. Do these pants make                                                      Broadway & Victoria
me look fat? Do you like my
singing? Do you love me? In-                                                       Fridays
credibly, lying does play a valu-                                                  10:00–7:00,
able role. Virginia Woolf held
                                                                                   Broadway & Cambie
that telling the truth without
considering others feelings is “an
                                                                                   Saturdays
outrage of human decency”. We
                                                                                   10:00–6:00,
lie to maintain our friendships
with people, keep our jobs, and                                                    Broadway & Cambie
to cultivate some semblance of
kindness in our world. We weigh
the impact of our words against
the value or necessity of telling
the truth. Sometimes, we under-

				
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