Almost all of us have told a lie during some occasion in our life. Many of these lies might be seemingly harmless such as telling your best friend that her new haircut is cute, even though you feel the haircut makes her face look really fat. Another harmless lie might be telling your employer that the speech he gave to the company was great, even though you really felt it was a bit dull and unenthusiastic.
Some of us tell lies that are harmful and for reasons that we ourselves may not understand. I used to have a really good friend who was a liar. He would tell lies that were just ridiculous and ultimately resulted in him being unable to make friends easily or to maintain a long term relationship. He would tell lies like “oh, I went to the movies last night” even if he was simply just working or proclaiming that “he had all these exceptional talents in math, instruments, and on” when he was maybe talented in just one of those areas and not in any of the other things he listed. These were purposeful lies that were confusing once discovered and resulted in distrust amongst his friends and in his relationships.
You may fall into any of these categories. You may fall into a habit where you tell an unusually high amount of harmless lies or where you make up stories or tell harmful lies to others.
So here’s how to handle this situation.
Acknowledge that you have a problem. Admit to yourself that you are lying and that it’s unhealthy. Some people often fall into the pattern where he will say to himself “oh, it’s just this one time”, or “no big deal, I’ve only lied a few times about this one situation”, or even, “he or she made me lie, so it’s not my fault.” Saying these statements to yourself only makes you not take responsibility for your own lies. You will continually fall into a pattern where you will feel everyone else is at fault, but you, or that the lies do not matter if done every so often. Admit that you have a problem lying and that it needs to be stopped. You cannot truly stop lying until you are able to acknowledge that lying is problematic for your relationships and you will ultimately not be happy if the habit continues.
Understand what lying is. Many of us lie and make so many excuses for those lies. You have probably heard of situations where someone cheated and felt it was okay because he or she did not get attention from their partner, or where you feel it’s okay to not admit a lie until someone asks you about it. Lying by omission is still a lie and does not excuse you from that lie. Try to spend time understanding what lying actually means and what constitutes a lie.
Ask yourself why you are lying? Where ever you may be at on this spectrum, you must understand why you feel you are lying. Try not to be consumed with each individual lie, but focus on why these lies are actually occurring. I remember when I was younger, I used to purposely exaggerate my achievements or say that I had participated in something, when I had not. After thinking about why I was lying, I realized I was lying because I wanted people to not think I was stupid and that I was lacking confidence in myself. This helped me tremendously with not exaggerating so much and not saying I had done something that I never did. So what are your reasons for lying? Are you lacking confidence? Are you insecure? Are you seeking attention from someone? Do you want to feel accepted by others so much you feel the need to lie? Are you afraid to tell the truth? Are you having such a tough time facing the consequences of your actions that you feel the need to lie as a way of coping or dealing with problems?
Communicate your problem to others. If the lie is compulsive and/or hurting relationships with others then be honest about those lies. My friend, at one point, had admitted to me a few lies he had made in our friendship. He admitted those lies to me and told me that this was a problem. Afterwards we had worked through it and have both tried to make an environment where he can be open with me and this has helped him tremendously with being honest. I was able to give him good feedback on how to quit lying and he felt like he was able to communicate that he had a problem with me.
Start small. Work on being honest one step at a time. Try being honest about things that you normally wouldn’t be honest about. Do you usually tell your friends you are adopted, to avoid admitting your poor relationship with your parents? Instead tell people you meet that you have parents and aren’t all that close. Do you tell dates you do not have a history of cheating? In your next relationship admit that you have cheated in the past before. Do you usually tell people you are really good at math? Instead, tell people the truth about how poorly you do in that subject. This will help you make honesty a habit and realize that it’s okay to be honest.
Satisfy your needs in a healthy manner. After the process of trying to understand why you are lying you may find yourself having emotional needs but feeling like there are not any ways to satisfy those needs except through the use of lying. Try to think of ways you can satisfy those needs without lying. Trying to satisfy needs through the use of lies will only create unhappiness for you in the long run and will result in poor relationships with others. It’s necessary to find other ways to meet those needs.
Apologize. If you have lied enough to hurt meaningful relationships then it’s time to stop and apologize to that person. Do not give excuses or try to explain away the lies. Tell them you did something terrible and that you are genuinely sorry, and are working on trying to stop this habit of lying. If you are in relationships where you have not yet admitted the lie, then now is the time to admit that lie. It may be difficult but continuing to lie will only make matters worse. Admit your lie and be ready to apologize and work to strengthen that relationship again.
Admit you are not perfect. Lying can result when trying to maintain a certain self-image to others. You may lie because you do not want to look stupid or you think others will judge you for not knowing something. Realize you are not perfect and never will be. Nobody knows everything and very talented people may not know even very simple answers. I just recently heard a very talented writer proclaim that she thought Poland was a city, and did not realize it was a country. Her saying that did not make me think that this woman of high talent was suddenly stupid. If you do not know the answer to something, then admit that, and be honest about what you do know. You will earn greater respect for your honesty.
Seek help. If necessary, find help from a counselor or psychologist. Seeking guidance from a counselor will provide you with the extra help you need to battle problems that are making the problem of lying worse.
Remind yourself of the benefits of honesty. Honesty is a wonderful thing and will allow you to be confident with yourself, to accept yourself and the world around you, to have stronger relationships with others, and to cause less pain and feel less guilt. We all have our own personal benefits for not lying. Do you feel more accepted being yourself? Do you have a happier relationship with your spouse when being honest? Are you spending more time being proud of real achievements than fake ones? Remind yourself of the beauties of honesty and how honesty is continually making your life happier.