Lies & Lying
The average person tells four lies a day.
For many of us, reading that statistic is disturbing. How can we ever know when we are being deceived, and why are there so many liars out there?
I think what is most interesting about this statistic is that it indicates that while we may plainly and outwardly object to the idea of being lied to, we also comprise part of this average. We are complicit because most, if not all, of us do tell lies. And often.
A deeper look into the research around lying reveals that those in relationships are likelier to lie more often than those who are single. There is something about the increased amount of social contact, the lack of privacy, the fear of judgment, that occurs within coupledom that creates an elevated need to lie. In the context of a married relationship, this means that you’re likely to lie in one out of a dozen interactions with your spouse. This number is likely to increase if one (or both) partners is experiencing external stress.
To better understand these patterns of lying, it is important to first look at its adaptive value and evolution. Researchers have asserted for quite some time that lying is a sign of evolutionary intelligence. It is also suggested that as we evolve as a species we have developed more awareness and empathy, which appears to be implicated in an increase in lying. This seems to indicate that, at least some of the time, the lies we tell are told to protect others, to prevent harm, or to preserve relationships.
Some also argue that there is something innate about lying behaviour. Babies often display manipulative “lying” behaviour – they cry to test the responses of their caregivers, often being observed to cry and then pause, testing the response before deciding whether to proceed or not. These lies and manipulations precede the development of language, thus indicating a relationship between primal behaviour and lying.
Certainly, the advent of the internet has further complicated this by making it much easier to hide behind a screen, to create mental and emotional separation from our public beings, and to engage in dishonest or misleading behaviour simply out of boredom.
There are plenty of experts in lying who are kind enough to share their gift with the world. There are plenty of websites and YouTube videos to check out that will give you an idea of red flags to be on the lookout for. Perhaps the area we need to put more of our attention next is better understanding where to go from here. Are these lies, to this extent, worth it to us? And are there better ways of going about getting our needs met?
When it comes to our own mental health, it is certainly important to acknowledge that we will all have different needs. Certainly, in the context of trauma for example, our sense of safety is primary, which means that there is likely to be circumstances in which being truthful may compromise our sense of security. Some lies are important, and some are necessary. But perhaps if we place more of our attention on the unnecessary ones; the ones that present barriers for us for becoming the people we want to be; the lies we tell because we don’t feel ready to push ourselves at the right times.
Many of the best things to come out of therapy can lead us where we need to be – the practice of silencing our inner critics, of forcing ourselves to consider both sides of a story, and of learning to assert ourselves in healthy ways so we don’t have to resort to deception – these are strategies that will take us closer to building a more honest and transparent relationship with others.
Considering what we hope to gain from the relationships in our lives may help to create perspective here. Lies are ubiquitous, but we have the autonomy to establish what is important in our lives, to communicate our needs and desires to others, and to create strong understandings of what we will and will not tolerate from those close to us. The first step is following through ourselves with our own behaviour.