Why people lie — and how to tell if they are

Lying is not as simple as telling the truth versus falsifying it. If you are truthful in a relationship, nothing hurts more than hearing a lie from your partner; sometimes knowing the truth may hurt even more, yet still, in the longer run, a lie causes more damage than truth.

Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

Lying is not as simple as telling the truth versus falsifying it. It is deeper than that. It is not always about distortion or non disclosure of facts, it may well be about creating a whole new set of truths that only the liar knows of. Today, I reflect on an interesting topic: why do people lie?

It appears some lie for no reason at all, while many lie with great reasoning, some lie for a cause, and many build a cause to lie. It is not always about the flip side of truth. Sometimes, a lie stands on its own two feet. Upon deep examination, you will find that lying is a complex act, a complicated aspect of one’s personality, it is more than a habit, almost a natural human trait. Here are the three primary causes of telling lies, they are not mutually exclusive:

1. To hide information
Anything or any relationship that can be labeled comes with a set of expectations. Whether you are a teacher, student, husband, wife, CEO, manager, son, daughter, friend and so forth, anyone at all, living in the society, you are expected to behave in a certain manner. When you traverse the boundaries, you are suddenly out there in the open, unprotected and vulnerable. You have to protect yourself now, you have to safeguard the expectations and save your relationship.

If you hide the information, if no one gets to know you crossed the line, if you are perceived to be within the bounds, treading only the thoroughfare, you continue to be a functional artefact of the social apparatus. It leads to a temporary sense of peace, a sense of match, of fitting in the society. You just bought yourself time, you did not have to put up with the arguments that might have taken place had you shared the truth. You did not have to hurt the sentiments or trust of the other person by covering up your truth. This is the foremost cause of lying. People lie because they want to avoid confrontation and conflict. Lying becomes the easier route.

2. A matter of habit
Often pursuing the first one, that is, hiding information, one gets into the habit of lying. When you repeatedly do the same thing over and over again, it becomes your habit. Perfection, carelessness, lack of detail or attention to detail etcetera are all habits as are telling the truth and lying. The habit of lying is formed, like many other habits, right from the childhood. Why? It must trace back to certain incidents during their early years or the atmosphere at home where speaking truth mostly ended up in an unpleasant conflict and undue scolding. When parents start to behave like kids too, it gives their children a strong reason to lie. By lying, they feel safe. However, this becomes their habit, their coping mechanism, their strategy to put up with all undesirable situations later on in their own lives. Unfortunate. It is incredibly hard to break the habit of lying.

Like many other habits of smoking, drinking, punctuality and so on, children also pick up lying from their parents, other elders and peers. If you lie frequently, do not be harsh on your children expecting them to tell the truth. They will not follow what you tell them to do, they will follow what you do yourself. In other words, they do not learn from your instructions but actions. If this is how they see you living, it is but natural that they will follow suit.

When lying becomes a habit, it leads to one of the two outcomes, and both are not mutually exclusive: the liar becomes fidgety with a wavering mind, or, they become aggressive with a depressed mind. Constant lying puts a tremendous burden on them to remember, to protect information, to bear the load of false information, to live the false identity. Over time, impatience, aggression, withdrawal, artificiality, depression, self doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and the rest find a permanent home in the mind of a liar.

3. To gain attention
This third reason comes with a powerful revelation. It can help one gain attention, respect, power. When someone lies to you about an incident where he was the only witness, he now has access to information that no one else does. He has just created a new truth. Exclusive information naturally leads to greater power and more attention. It was not just greed that triggered the greatest corporate scandals in the world, it was also about an inherent, an innate, an obtuse sense of gaining more power and control.

I remember reading stories of a certain hunter during my childhood. This hunter would come to the village and make up stories on how he gallantly killed a lion with his fists alone, or courageously wasted a bear with just a small knife and so forth. All the villagers would gather around him to listen to his fascinating, if not fantastical, accounts of valor and bravery. He got attention and respect. If this formula works for the liar, he continues to lie till eternity.

There are some who live a life of lies, there are many who justify their lies, it is even possible for some to protect their lies, however, it comes at the cost of their inner peace. They may not lose relationships or respect, they will, sooner or later, be robbed of their inner peace, however.

So, if you want your partner, your child, or your friend to tell you the truth, if that is important to you, you had better encourage an atmosphere conducive to truth. If you are going to pounce upon hearing a confession, that may well be the last time you will ever hear a truthful version. It is for this reason, forgiveness is considered a divine virtue. Because by forgiving not only are you strengthening yourself and your relationship but also making a difference to the life of the other person and subsequent generations.

Next time you feel like reacting to someone’s lie, just take a moment and look within you. A realization may dawn and you may find it easy to forgive the other person. On the other hand, if you are the one telling lies, just remember the price is paid in peace and bliss. Truth is bold by nature, and lie, arrogant. The former instills courage, the latter, fear. Truth stems from inner strength, and lie, from the inability to gain such strength.

Tell them there is really nothing more sacred in your relationship than your trust of each other. Of course, all this presupposes that we have discovered an untruth — some people are so expert at deception that it often takes a long time to find out that we have been lied to.

How, then, can we best detect whether we are being misled? There is no foolproof way, but there are often clues you can see in behavior that should make you suspicious:

Avoidance of eye contact: Usually someone makes eye contact at least half the time they are talking to you. If you notice them avoiding eye contact or looking down during a specific part of a conversation, they may well be lying.

Change of voice: A variation in pitch of voice or rate of speech can be a sign of lying. So can lots of umms and ahhs.

Body language. Turning your body away, covering your face or mouth, a lot of fidgeting of hands or legs can indicate deception.

Contradicting yourself:. Making statements that just don’t hold together should make you suspicious. If you lie all the time, even about unimportant things, you are likely to have a problem that will eventually — if it hasn’t already — cause you real relationship, financial or legal troubles. Figuring out what is driving you to lie in the first place will help heal this self-destructive behavior.

This may mean going into treatment with a therapist to discover why you feel the need to deceive. Discover your own truth; it will set you free.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here