Lies and liars | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 28, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 28, 2020

Lies and liars

Occasional white lies are part of human life. None of us can claim that we have never lied. If someone dares to claim so, others will raise their brows with a smirk on their face and would call this very statement “a big fat lie.” People lie consciously-unconsciously, intentionally-unintentionally, deliberately or automatically, out of fear or to scare others, for a greater purpose or for a small selfish reason, to uplift personal image or to destroy others, to avoid consequences or to displace the responsibilities on others, so on and so forth. It is a long list of why people lie.

Well-orchestrated systemic historical lies are used to oppress others. Lies repeated over and over again becomes perceived truth to the public. Those lies are used deliberately for political gains. Culturally accepted lies (e.g. in our culture, people lie about age all the time) allow people to cater more lies.

Shame is culturally transmitted to truth tellers by downplaying their honesty and labelling them as ‘stupid’. Education system encourages children to lie by dismissing the strength, insight and honesty in admitting “I don’t know.” Children are sometimes not allowed to use “I don’t know” as a viable option!

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In addiction and mental health, different types of lies carry different meanings, some lies are taken seriously, while others are dismissed as mundane lies. Addiction and mental health assessment heavily rely on self-reporting, although getting it verified by a third party is also a common practice. Lying to mental health professionals can cause many unnecessary complications. Inaccurate false presentation can misguide the clinician and lead to misdiagnoses and maltreatment.

Mentally ill people may suffer from delusion of grandiosity, delusion of paranoia etc. Sick, inflated or insecure ego perceives the reality in a distorted way which does not match the reality shared by others living in the same environment. It is usually easy to detect these symptoms when they are full blown. However, milder subclinical symptoms (lies) often become a source of nuisance, it becomes an ethical dilemma when psychiatric intervention is solicited.

Addiction and many mental illnesses tend to run along a continuum. Intervention is justified only when it progresses to a level of posing real threat to self or others. Sometimes, these people who seek treatment voluntarily have much higher insight than the group of people who have to be forced into treatment.

Shame, stigma, lack of access to proper services and other environmental factors also play a role in it. In the meantime, they develop an image of ‘liar’ if not ‘crazy’ among the public. This scar in the reputation may linger for a very long time, which is a steep price they have to pay for their undiagnosed disease.

Addiction and lies go hand in hand. Addicts often have to make elaborate lies to support their using behaviour. Sometimes, the line between lie and truth gets so blurred in the head that their sense of reality becomes compromised. Besides, children coming from alcoholic homes learn to lie to cope with life situation. Likewise, children coming from rage addicted families learn to lie to protect themselves, etc.

There are also habitual liars. These people lie when it would be as easy to tell the truth. Lying is a very difficult habit to break. Growing up in dysfunctional home, sometimes there is a payoff for lying (e.g. “I broke the glass, but I knew admitting it would mean punishment, so I learnt to lie to avoid getting punished”). As an adult, that habit of lying can become so deeply entrenched in the character that it becomes automatic and unconscious response, even if there is no pay off. Sometimes, habitual liars have to take some measures in adult life to break this habit when the penalties of lying make life unmanageable. Once people start to see through the lies, liars lose respect and are not easily trusted again.

People who want to break this habit, can start by acknowledging that there is a choice — to lie or not to lie. There is a difference between conscious measured lies and automatic lies. Make your own judgement and take ownership of it.

Self-awareness is a big step in the process of breaking this habit. Take small steps like committing to one lie-free day. If that is difficult, try to make it half a day. Do not judge yourself too harshly if you fail. Do an honest self-inventory to assess what makes telling truth so difficult. After trying a few days, if it continues to happen automatically, then make a commitment to yourself that if you find yourself lying again — you will own up to it, make corrections to any misstatements as quickly as possible.

It is possible to change this habit with self-compassion and determination. In case changing this habit becomes more difficult than you have anticipated, do not give up. Some things are resolved easily and simply, while others are not. Some assistance in counselling or therapy session may help to resolve those underlying issues.

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