Why do people lie? We’ve all been there–that tricky moment when someone asks you a question you don’t think they’ll like the answer to, or the moment you know you can get away with a lie and nobody will ever know. Whether it’s a “white lie” or a complete fabrication, everyone has altered the truth at some point in their lives. There are a lot of reasons to lie, it can be a strategic move that gets you out of trouble or puts you in a position to gain, and sometimes it might even feel like the “right” thing to do if the truth will hurt someone you love–an “ends justify the means” approach. Ultimately, though, we’ve all grown up knowing things like “the truth will set you free” and “thou shalt not lie.” It’s wrong to lie, plain and simple… but why should you be honest?
If you stand to have an easier, more peaceful life by lying about where you were on Friday night, why you got a D on that test, or the reason you were late to class, it might not seem like there’s much incentive to tell the truth, especially if your lies aren’t actively hurting anyone. So what’s the point of telling the truth? Are there any real disadvantages to telling lies? If nobody is getting hurt, and if you’re not going to get caught, who cares about the tiny details? It’s a victimless crime, lying, right? Wrong.
You Are the Victim of Your Own Lies
Even if your family, your teachers, your friends, or your coworkers have no idea that you’ve told them lies in the past, you know. In the moment, one lie might save you from getting grounded, getting written up, hurting a friend’s feelings, or having to explain something embarrassing. Over time, though, you’re chipping away at your sense of self. In the words of Sally Kempton, “Some part of you feels the effect of every lie you’ve ever told.” With each lie, you lose a little bit of trust in yourself, and that eventually takes a toll on your ability to regulate your emotions and maintain a healthy perspective on reality. If you’re lying on a regular basis, regardless of the reason, the victim of that deceit is, frankly, you.
That may sound dramatic, but there is actually a bit of psychological research out there on the “Science of Honesty,” which says that the more you lie, the more you stand to suffer in aspects of both your mental and physical health. The stress of juggling multiple versions of yourself leaves you feeling tired and wondering which one is the real you. Eventually, no matter how hard you try to portray a version of yourself that is acceptable to everyone, you’re going to end up feeling lonely. Even if you’re popular and surrounded by “friends” and people who think the world of you, inside you’ll know that nobody has actually had the chance to know the real you. You haven’t been sincere with the people in your life, or with yourself, so how can you be sure that anyone sincerely accepts you?
If you’re ready to live a more authentic life, it can feel like a pretty daunting task. Lying becomes a habit or a “default mode” when you just get used to making up what you think people want to hear rather than risking their rejection or disapproval. It’s hard to simply flip the switch and start being truthful all the time. One scholar said that being sincere is a process. After 5 weeks of practicing honesty, her study showed people experienced a decrease in poor physical health symptoms like headaches and fewer mental health complaints, such as depression. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you commit to practicing authenticity, after a while, you’ll notice that your relationships feel stronger and more genuine, you’ll begin to feel more confident in who you are, and you may even experience few symptoms of mental health disorders.
How to Tell the Truth
What does being more honest actually look like? What happens when people start finding out that you’ve been living dishonestly? What if you find yourself in a situation where you don’t feel safe telling the truth, or when lying truly seems like the best option? Here are some thoughts on how you can practice more honesty on the future:
1. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Even if this seems small, practice saying how you really feel when, for example, someone invites you to hang out. Instead of saying, “Sure! I’d love to. I’ll get back to you,” and then bailing, try saying, “Thanks for the invite, but I have plans.” Even if those plans are to stay home and watch a movie by yourself, this is a small way you can cut a lie out of your day and begin to practice being true to yourself in conversations.
2. Don’t edit the details of your stories. When your parents ask you about your day, it might be easy to say, “I hung out with the girls after school.” But if you are only saying that because they’d be upset if they knew the guy they don’t approve of was also there, that’s dishonesty. Practice including the full scope of a story, or observe that you’re not being authentic when you make changes to the truth.
3. Own who you are, even if you anticipate rejection. It’s Monday morning, and everyone’s talking about the cool things they did over the weekend. You went on a road trip to watch your little sister’s dance recital and had a blast singing along to old songs with your mom, but when you retell the story to your friends you roll your eyes and make it sound like it was torture. Notice that you’re masking your real feelings, and ask yourself if your friends would really reject you for having fun with your family. If they would… why are you friends with them? Try practicing authenticity and see what happens.
4. Start small if you need to, and choose one or two trusted people with whom to begin your journey of authenticity. This can be a school counselor, a doctor, a best friend, a sibling, etc. If you’ve dug yourself into some pretty deep holes with your lies, it may take more than simply “practicing authenticity” to turn things around, and if you need help figuring that out, that’s okay! You don’t have to give everyone in the world a complete list of every past lie by tomorrow at 8am. Make one small step toward honesty today, and go from there.
You Are Worthy of Being Fully Known
If you’ve developed this habit of dishonesty to protect your reputation, your self-esteem, or even some of your relationships, you might be deeply afraid that you’d be rejected if the people in your life knew the truth. But there is someone who already knows the whole truth, the full truth, the deep truth of who you are, even if you’ve never shared that with anyone before. Christ loves you and accepts you completely–there is nothing you can do to make Him love you more and nothing you can do to make Him love you less.
When you feel like you can’t admit the truth to anyone else, you can talk to Him, because He already knows and loves you anyway. If you need a neutral third-party to talk to about your lying habit, or if you want to hear more about Christ’s love for you, please reach out to one of our Hope Coaches today. You are not alone, and we are here to listen without judgment!
Understanding how lying hurts us and others is key to greater honesty. Click here to get help and support to stop lying and start telling the truth.