Understanding why people lie

Published 3:49 am Friday, October 25, 2019

We live in a world where lying has become a fairly common occurrence. Indeed, there are now organizations specializing in fact checking political statements and business releases to uncover the fabrications often presented.

Of course, it’s not just political figures or business leaders with a monopoly on fibbing to us. Lies happen in most homes, whether it’s the little boy standing over the smashed vase he says he didn’t break, or the teenager offering a story for why she was two hours past curfew last night.

For many lies, the reasons are complicated. Sometimes it’s to protect the liar from being punished, or to protect someone else from punishment. The lie might be to avoid being embarrassed, to hide an awkward situation, or to simply have others think better of the person telling the fib. Such lying isn’t admirable, but not hard to understand why it occurs.

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It’s harder to fathom why some people often tell lies with no clear purpose and when the lies are usually easy to disprove. Researchers say there are various reasons why some people lie compulsively.

One is that the lie being told may not seem a lie to the person telling it. Repetitive liars can sometimes feel so much pressure that their memory is unreliable. They try to relieve that pressure by saying something that will make the situation work. For that person, what was just said is what they want to believe. The person lying may so badly want the lie to be the truth that the lie becomes his or her actual truth.

People who lie repeatedly often have a desire to be in control. When the truth of a situation doesn’t agree with such control, they produce a lie that does conform to the narrative they desire.

Such people may also worry they won’t be respected if the truth can leave them looking poorly. Instead, they offer a lie that casts them in a good light, but they aren’t able to see that in most cases that what they offered has no basis in reality.

It would be nice if we could believe everything we are told, whether from that child with the broken vase or from that politician at a political rally. But that’s not going to happen and therefore it’s important for all of us to sometimes dig just a little deeper and try to find the actual truth.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.