Lying On and Off the Couch

There is little evidence that lying is useful.  It is usually easier to tell the truth because you don’t have to keep track of your lies.  It also feels better.  “If you have to lie,” I’ve told clients, “at least, don’t lie to yourself!” Lying starts early. Children begin to have the ability to lie around age three because, at that age, they have some understanding of their parents’ minds. They comprehend the notion of rules (and breaking them), and kids know that they don’t want to be punished. 

Adults lie for similar reasons – they want to look good, they are embarrassed or ashamed,

they are upholding some image of themselves, they don’t want to be punished, they don’t want to damage a relationship, and they don’t realize that lying will exact a high price from them.

Clients even lie in therapy – a strange place to lie when you consider the purpose of coming to therapy – but in many ways, therapy is like any other relationship, and people behave in similar ways. Why would people lie in treatment?  Same as outside. People want to avoid the painful consequences of telling the truth; they feel too ashamed to tell the truth; they fear being judged or rejected; they want to avoid the pain of the truth; and they want to be perceived in certain ways and the truth ruins that.

There is a real personal downside to lying. Lies place a high strain on your working memory and decision making abilities because you have to work harder to keep things straight.  If you are going to lie, it helps if you are the type of person who can detach yourself from the truth while you lie – like role playing or acting.  Not surprisingly, people who are natural born actors, those who are socially adepts, and extroverts do best as liars.

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