Why do people sometimes tell lies? Sometimes the reasons are obvious: to avoid getting into trouble when we have done something wrong; to make things easier for ourselves; to make ourselves look more impressive in certain situations.
The reality is that human beings are all born liars. Small children typically go through a phase of telling their parents many lies—often when the truth is staring mum and dad in the face. For instance, they might insist that they haven’t been at the box of chocolates, when the proof of the transgression is smeared all over their face. For children at an early stage of development, experimenting with telling lies is also a way of exploring boundaries, and figuring out a sense of self. While they obviously need to be gently corrected and taught the importance of telling the truth, it is not appropriate to punish them for what is a normal developmental phase.
As we grow up, we become more adept at telling lies to get what we want. Older kids and teenagers often attempt to mislead their parents in an effort to obtain more screen-time or time with their friends, or to convince them that their homework has been done carefully, when it really hasn’t. Adults lie for much the same reasons: to cover up behaviour we feel guilty about, or to make it look as though we have achieved more than we have.
Whereas lying is developmentally appropriate for very small kids—whose grasp on what is “real” and what isn’t can be pretty shaky, anyway—it’s not good for older people to get into the habit of lying, for a whole host of reasons. First of all, we are deceiving the people we care about, whether they are members of our family, friends, or our boss at work—and that is just not an ethically sound position to take. Secondly, as lies pile up, it typically becomes increasingly difficult to sustain them. When we are found out, we’ve let people down twice; the first time by doing (or not doing) whatever it is we’re lying about, and the second by failing to tell the truth. Thirdly, if we allow ourselves to develop the habit of lying frequently, we may find it progressively more difficult to tell the truth about our lives—even to ourselves. This is an infantile form of behaviour that will not help us to do well in the adult world.
The good news is that people who find themselves telling a lot of lies can learn how to be more truthful. Ultimately, becoming able to deal with setbacks and disappointments in a truthful, rather than deceitful, manner, will provide the foundations for a much happier, more balanced life.
WHO CAN I SPEAK TO FURTHER ABOUT THE ISSUES IN THIS ARTICLE?
For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.