“I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible.”
― J.D. Salinger,
I read an article yesterday about how almost half of the population in the United States would not be able to find $400 dollars right now if they needed it to handle an emergency situation. The struggle is real and so many people are faced with impossible financial challenges. What’s worse, is that we shame people for their financial challenges making it impossible for them to get the help they need.
I believe that this shame around life’s struggles and sufferings (financial and otherwise) is at the heart of so why so many people lie. Humans are wired for connection and we will do almost anything to establish and maintain social connections. Our social connections are valued at $133,000 a year (Barker, 2014). This means that having healthy and consistent social connections is worth it’s weight in gold. And, we will do whatever we need to do to keep those connections.
This sometimes involves lying about our lives. We’re petrified to say: I’m depressed, I’m broke, I’m unhappy, I’m scared, I’m suicidal, I’m in trouble, I made a mistake, I was fired, I had an affair, or I want out of my relationship. If we say these things we risk disappointing the other person and/or losing the connection. I would love to say that people don’t disappear when a friend or family member discloses a shameful vulnerability but it happens a lot.
A lot of people don’t want to be guilty by association. I can’t be friends with the broke person or the depressed person or the cheating person. What if others found out that I was your friend/family? I’d might lose my connections too, and that’s just not a risk many of us are willing to take.
The only option that remains is for me to lie to you about my life. I tell you I’m fine and life is good. I tell you that I’m on top of my game and there are no struggles here. I hide my pain and suffering because I don’t want to lose you. Then, the truth comes out, as it often does, and I’m labeled a liar in addition to my struggle.
I’ve been a therapist long enough to know that everyone does this in some way or another. Sometimes, the shame is so dark and so deep that the lies compound and the person lying doesn’t even know what’s true anymore. What I know to be true, is that if you have not dealt with your own life shames, you will not be able to deal with anyone else’s (Brene Brown). If you can’t accept that you are an imperfect person living imperfectly in an imperfect world, you will not have the capacity to hold the space for someone else’s imperfections.
So often we only ask “Why did you lie?”
without honestly asking ourselves:
“Am I a safe person to be honest with?”
“Would I respond with compassion and understanding?”
“Do I make fun of (trashy, weird, moody) people without consideration for my audience?”
“Have I ever left someone (ghosted) when they shared a shame/struggle/suffering with me?”
“Have I accepted my own human imperfections?”
This post is not written to excuse deceitful behavior. But rather to highlight that we’re all very complicated (so much more complicated than this post goes into). Ultimately we all want to be loved. Sometimes, we’ll sacrifice the truth if we believe it will keep us lovable and connected (and safe).
“The best lies about me are the ones I told.”
― Patrick Rothfuss,