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How do I stop telling lies?

Lying just gets you deeper and deeper into trouble. You can never feel genuine self-esteem when you lie.
Lying just gets you deeper and deeper into trouble. You can never feel genuine self-esteem when you lie.

I found myself in a spot of trouble a few years ago and told a lie to get out of it. As time has gone by, the lie has become bigger and bigger and it’s taking a terrible toll on my life. I’m worried that if I tell the truth now my family and friends will despise me for being so dishonest with them for such a long time. What can I do?

You have to be honest. You already know that. This lie is now costing you too much personally. The whole episode has been an invaluable learning experience. You are discovering, first hand, that lying is not the easy answer it seems. In fact, lying is very expensive, and the cost mounts as time goes on.

I have known people on their deathbed consumed with worry about a simple lie they told in their youth. Repressed all that time, the lie eventually will out and, once conscious, it demands absolution.

You lied because you feared the consequences of telling the truth. That is always the reason we lie. We convince ourselves that our lie protects others from feeling hurt. That too is a lie. Our real objective is to protect ourselves.

Choosing honesty takes courage. Dishonesty is always driven by fear. If you doubt this, examine the underlying motivation for any lie you tell. If you cheat on your taxes, you fear poverty. If you lie to your boss, you fear being sacked. If you lie to your partner about flirting with another, you fear losing your partner. If you say you love him or her when you don’t, you fear being either alone, frustrated or insecure.

For most of us there is a difference between what society expects and who we really are. We put on a facade to cope with this discrepancy. Being agreeable seems harmless; we are just trying to keep people happy. But there is a cost. We gradually loose touch with who we really are. And that is painful. Over time, the emotional pain of pretence can make us physically sick.

You have continued to lie so others will like you. But all their positive feelings about you are counterfeit. Who do they really like? The real “you”? Or the false “you” created by the lie?

You are receiving no benefits from this lie. You must come clean. If they ask, explain why you did it but don’t make excuses or get defensive. Some people will be dismayed; some angry, and some will be accepting. Their reactions will tell you a lot about them. Those who reject you lack self-knowledge. They believe they never lie. They believe they are better than you. These are delusions.

Your friends and family will probably be upset when you own up. But this will settle down over time. If you keep choosing to be honest, your worthwhile friends and family will gradually rebuild trust in you.

2 thoughts on “How do I stop telling lies?

  1. The real reason we lie is to protect ourselves … that is true. But how can I get to a place where I feel I do not have to protect myself? I hold on to that barrier for dear life, despite knowing that to find any true happiness and respect I must let it go.

    1. Hi Jeff, great question. During childhood we construct certain patterns of behaviours to protect ourselves against negative feelings and pain. We call these protective barriers defence mechanisms. Remember, at some point it must have sorta-kinda worked and helped you “survive”, so honour it first and foremost while also “seeing through it”. Here are some other ideas:

      Go in the opposite direction:
      Break the cycle and practice doing the opposite of what you would normally do, even if it feels difficult, awkward or uncomfortable.

      Practice mindfulness:
      Take a moment to pause, connect with the feelings in your body before you take action. Get into a habit of becoming more mindful which will give you more spaciousness and awareness. Self-awareness is key to generating shifts and making change.

      Ask yourself how your defences are limiting you or holding you back:
      What’s the cost to me of habitually responding in this way?
      How do I get in my own way?
      What am I not seeing or ignoring right now?

      Give yourself permission to experience real intimacy:
      Being defended or guarded sabotages real opportunities for exploring and experiencing true intimacy. The self-protective barriers put you in a catch-22. Vulnerability requires letting down your guard, removing all or a good chunk of your armour and navigating uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory.

      Contemplate this question:
      How could I act differently if I did value connection over protection?

      Separate the event from the emotions:
      Part of breaking away from old defensiveness patterns means learning how to separate the event from the emotions. Too often it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that the intensity of your emotions will consume you. In fact the opposite is often the case. Practice being with your feelings, rather than pushing them away. Don’t try to change them, instead notice them. Soon the intensity of the emotion will subside and in time you will be able to see the wood for the trees.

      Have a dialogue with your defences:
      What was your original intention or purpose?
      What were they protecting me from?
      Speak directly with your defence mechanisms and let them know what you are grateful for and why you are now choosing to let them go.

      Over the next few days contemplate and reflect on the following quote from psychologist Dorothy Rowe:
      “Defences keep us stuck in one unhappy place. It takes truth and courage to abandon them, but once we do we discover a world of freedom and wonderful possibilities.”

      Remember, developing or honing these skills may take some support and some guidance, so please do seek the help of a good therapist or coach if you think it would benefit you.

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