Taking Steps Toward Greater Honesty
Over the years, I've counseled people many times on how to break free from addictive behaviors that harm them and their relationships. If you were to guess what we talked about, you might think of substance abuse, pornography, or self-harm. Those things come up often, but there's another addictive behavior that I hear about in my work, and can be just as destructive to our self-esteem, and our ability to have healthy relationships.
To stop lying and start telling the truth, it's important to understand lying for the addictive behavior it is. Treating it this way, rather than as a simple mistake or personality flaw, will be key in greater honesty. Changing your mindset about lying, and your understanding of the role it plays in your life and relationships, will help you understand how to change the behavior itself, and start living more honestly.
It is hard to stop lying if it's been a pattern in your relationships for a long time. But there is hope to stop, and you can start that journey today. Here are some of the steps and suggestions that have helped people I care about stop lying in the past. I believe they'll help you, too.
Understand the Addictive Cycle of Lying
When and why does lying become an addiction? Like other addictive behaviors, people who lie feel stuck in a harmful cycle. The cycle always starts off with the high that you get from the behavior. In this case, it's an emotional high.
When you tell a lie, you probably feel a deep, strong sense of relief that you were able to get through a conversation without a painful or difficult truth being discovered. And perhaps the other person doesn't suspect anything yet, so it seems like no harm is done, and that feels even better.
So, you keep telling lies. But it gets more and more difficult to feel good after lying. The more lies you tell, the harder they are to maintain, and the more stress and anxiety it causes you. So, it becomes less and less satisfying, and you start to feel trapped. Lying may have already led to conflicts, arguments, and broken relationships, but you're so overwhelmed and unsure where to start fixing things that you tell yourself and others, you're fine, or that it’s not a big deal. That only adds to the dishonesty, without relieving any of your emotional pain.
Be Honest with Yourself: Lying Is a Problem
If you feel trapped in a cycle like the one, I described, or if you feel like you're starting to lose control of the lies you've told, it's important to get help for lying as soon as you can. That help and freedom are there, and it can start today. But it has to start with you. You are the only one who can change how truthful you are with yourself and others. That's why it's so important to be honest with yourself:
- How do you feel after you lie?
- How do you feel when someone close to you discovers you haven't been telling the truth?
- How do you feel when you realize it's getting harder to keep track of lies you've told?
- How would you feel if you could be honest with yourself and others?
- How would your self-esteem and relationships be transformed and strengthened if you started telling the truth?
Answering these questions helps show the damage lying does to relationships. When you truly believe other choices are better and healthier for you, you can start practicing intentional honesty each day by telling the truth, breaking harmful patterns, and setting new expectations in your life and relationships.
Think About Why You Keep Lying
I believe people are kind and caring. Deep in people's hearts is a desire to do the right thing, and to have loving, happy relationships with their friends, their family, and their significant other. And I believe the best about you, too.
So, I don't think you're lying because you enjoy it, because you don't care about others, or because you think lying is the right thing to do. But there are likely other reasons you lie that are based on deeper needs you have and fears you feel.
Think about why you're lying. Understanding what drives any behavior we want to change is key to addressing it and stopping it. Here are some of the reasons you might be telling lies, even though you don't want to:
- You feel protected or safer: You might be telling lies because you are afraid of what will happen if you're truthful, so you say something false instead of opening up or being honest.
- You are afraid to disappoint others: Sometimes we let people down, and that can leave us with a deep sense of guilt, or even shame. Is your fear of disappointing others' high expectations keeping you from being honest with them?
- You have broken a promise: If you've broken a promise, it is very difficult to take responsibility for your role in that. When you know a friend, partner, or parent will be deeply disappointed, it may be more tempting to lie.
Tell People When You Aren't Truthful
This is a difficult step, but a necessary one to overcoming lying and breaking free of its grip in your relationships. It's important, when you tell people you haven't been truthful, that you do so clearly and directly. Tell them you haven't been honest, let them know what the truth is, and ask for their forgiveness.
"I wasn't truthful with you the other day when you asked me if work is going well. I had an argument with my boss and I'm afraid I might lose my job. Please forgive me for lying about that. I will do my best to honest from here on out."
Keep this part of the conversation short and simple. Understand that people will likely be upset but know that their sadness or frustration doesn't mean you did the wrong thing. Many times, when people love and care about us, they are forgiving, even if it takes a bit of time for them to feel comfortable doing so. Give them time and space and let them know you're available when they're ready to talk.
Be Open About Needs and Expectations
If you are lying because you are afraid of what will happen if you tell the truth, you can let people you care about know that you are fearful of letting them down, of opening up, or of frustrating them. Maybe you feel like their expectations of you are unrealistic, or maybe you're worried about their anger. Try telling them how you feel.
Saying, "I feel a lot of pressure to be perfect and I don't want to let you down, so I don't know what to say when I mess up", or "I'm scared you'll be angry if I make a mistake. Can we talk about it?" will go a lot farther toward strengthening your relationships with people than telling lies will.
Be Patient with Yourself
I am really proud of you for wanting to work on stopping lying, and for wanting to break free of its traps. Even though it's difficult, it's worth it. Honesty will give you a greater sense of confidence and trust in your relationships, and the positive impact of being truthful can really help your self-esteem.
But some days will be hard. It will be tough to come to terms with how lying has harmed your relationships. Don't give up in those moments. Remember you were created for loving, meaningful relationships, and they can be a part of your life, even if getting there is a struggle. If it helps you to think about God, know He forgives us completely. He wants us to start fresh every day with hope and promise. And He puts people in our path who can help us get to a place of greater freedom and truth.