I’ve spent a lot of time lately wondering about lies: the lies we tell and why, who we hurt and how we hurt ourselves. If there’s one thing I know to be true, it’s that lying is complicated, and it makes a big ol’ mess of our lives.
Ask a bunch of people what they think about lying and most everyone would agree that lying is bad. Most people appear to value honesty, except when you look a little closer you find that we all have a slightly different interpretation of what being honest looks like. Lying seems to be one of those ethical issues that leads us down a slippery slope, a sliding scale of truth versus untruth.
In order to determine what we think of as a lie, we each tend to choose whatever is worse than what we do ourselves. At some point, we all draw an imaginary line in the sand that determines what level of untruth is acceptable to us. Yet, everybody’s line falls somewhere different on the continuum.
None of us considers ourselves liars, even when we know that we’ve told lies. I believe that’s because in order to really commit to the lie, we convince ourselves that whatever we are asking others to believe is true. When we lie, we are choosing to accept an alternate reality, a world divorced from what actually is, and we offer it to others.
Have you ever noticed that when a relationship is broken due to dishonesty, it is rarely repaired? Why is that? Because in order for reconciliation to happen and for connection between two people to resume, we both have to live in the same reality. The person telling the lie would have to renounce the world they have convinced themselves is true, and often they aren’t willing to do that.
People tell lies for all sorts of reasons. On the surface it may appear that we want to save face, avoid confrontations or protect someone’s feelings. But here’s the truth behind every lie: we are being selfish. We pretend that our lying comes from a place of benevolence because we aren’t willing to face the truth ourselves.
Here’s a fictional example: I lied to my friend about what I did on Friday night because I didn’t want her feelings to be hurt that she wasn’t invited.
The subtext here is that I lied out of concern for my friend. I lied because I care about her so much. I wanted to save her the trouble of being upset, when I knew this thing just wasn’t worth it. But, here’s the truth: that lie was to protect myself.
I didn’t want to face the drama that would ensue if her feelings were hurt. I was afraid of the consequences of what might happen if I told the truth. I didn’t want to stand in someone else’s judgment. I didn’t want to be seen as someone who wasn’t being a good friend. I wanted to take the easy way out.
Lying is a way of manipulating how others see you. And often, we become so good at lying to others because we need to see a false version of ourselves as well. Lying always comes down to fear, the fear of shame and abandonment. I’m afraid that if you knew the real me- what I’ve done or haven’t done, the mistakes I’ve made, the flaws I’m hiding- you wouldn’t or couldn’t love me. I live in fear of the shame and rejection that might come if you were to see what’s really happening in my life. So, it becomes worth the risk to lie and hope to get away with it rather than face the man in the mirror that is so irretrievably broken.
Sometimes, we aren’t even lying for ourselves, but we are lying to protect another. Somehow this person has communicated that in order to be in relationship with them, there are certain untruths you must accept. You must operate within their reality in order to keep things afloat. Liars tend to choose partners who will accept or tolerate their destructive habit. A perfect symbiosis requires two consenting parties- one who tells the lie and one who agrees to believe it. If one person chooses to live in truth, either the habit won’t survive or the relationship won’t survive.
Here’s the real kicker: when you lie, the person you hurt the most is yourself. You’ve created a false version of yourself to offer to another person. They may not know that you’ve lied, that you’ve falsified who you are, but deep down, you know. Lying keeps you from being your authentic self and keeps you from offering your authentic self to another to be loved. It’s an intangible and unseen wall erected between the two of you. Even when someone says they love you, you will never fully be able to accept their love because you know it is based on a fallacy. You won’t feel worthy of their love and acceptance because you’ve never offered your real self, and your relationship will feel shallow and temporary.
We want love and acceptance, but we’re afraid we won’t measure up. We fear isolation and abandonment, so we lie to get what we want and need. We accept a poor substitute, a counterfeit in the form of shallow relationships, believing it’s the best we can get. It seems like a vicious cycle that can’t be broken.
But, here’s the antidote to lying. It’s simple, really. Think of others before yourself. That’s it. Lying is an inherently selfish act, and if you were to place the needs and wants of others before your own, you would choose the truth. You would save face not by lying about what you’ve done, but instead making choices that didn’t need to be covered up in the first place.
If you want to love and be loved, show up with the real you. Tell the truth. When you mess up, say you’re sorry. Give up on lies and poor substitutes. Be who God created you to be.