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- “I have started to lie even when there is no need to do so. Why do I do this?”
- “Even though I have done nothing wrong or objectionable, lying always seems like the safer option. How do I get over this?”
- “Whenever people confront me about my lies, I have no answer to give them. Am I just a horrible person?”
There can be an infinite number of reasons behind a lying habit, and many of them do not have to do with your character. It could be a maladaptive coping mechanism, a self-soothing technique, or simply an unconscious pattern of behavior.
Therefore, self-awareness can be a more powerful way to combat compulsive lying than self-control. Here are three research-backed steps to get to the bottom of your lying habit.
1. Dismantle the shame
Being inauthentic or misleading can be a burden on the person doing the lying. Not only does one have to worry about keeping the lies consistent, but they also have to deal with the shame for having lied in the first place. Sure, there are some personality types that may not experience shame in the same way most of us do (e.g., antisocial personalities), but those types of people are the exceptions. Most of us cannot self-justify our way out of the negative feelings that are stirred up when we lie.
A study published in the Personality and Psychology Bulletin explains how keeping secrets can lead to rumination and negative mental health consequences. Lying and concealment come at a great cost to you—it is a weight on your shoulders that can only be shaken off by coming clean.
While owning up to all of your lies might seem too daunting, accepting that you might have a lying problem can be an effective first step. Shame and guilt can prevent you from asking for help or even admitting that you have an issue.
Once you have acknowledged the existence of the problem, you will be able to view it more objectively, which leads to the next step.
2. Understand the root
It is very likely that your habit of lying is a symptom of another problem altogether. You can start following the trail of your lies to get to your triggers. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Are there certain subjects you want to steer clear of that force you to lie?
- Are you simply not able to remember certain details and you lie to fill in the gaps of a story?
- Do you lie to please people?
- Do you lie to protect your self-esteem?
You may not get a clear answer on the first go, but this process will help you recognize lying as a manifestation of a deeper problem rather than a character flaw. Your lying habit could be self-protective. Or, you may have learned it early in life from a role model.
Studies published over the years explain compulsive lying as a byproduct of constantly concealing another compulsive problem—like a gambling, drug, or shopping addiction. One article draws links between excessive lying and borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, delusional thinking, and others.
It is always helpful to consult a mental health professional, as they can help you determine if your lying can be dealt with through basic habit-changing interventions or if other factors need to be addressed.
3. Practice, practice, practice
Once you’ve accepted and explored the root of your lying problem, you can try making small changes to the ways you think and act. This way, you may be able to avoid your triggers and catch yourself in the moments you give in to them.
Some thought exercises to help with excessive lying are:
- Reminding yourself about the consequences of your lies on your relationships as well as your personal and professional life.
- Considering how much less stressful life will be when what you say what you mean.
Here are two behavioral changes you can make in parallel to the thought exercises:
- When saying the truth is too much, pick up a notebook and write it down. You can even text a third person, unrelated to the triggering situation, and tell them what’s on your mind. This will create a window of time for you to decide how and when you want to tell the truth.
- Pick a sphere of your life you want to be more truthful in, like work, and focus on being fully transparent there. Remember that you will not change every habit overnight. Take the journey one day at a time.
Living authentically is one of the core pillars of happiness. While little lies may benefit you on occasion, their usefulness is short-lived. Honesty is always the best policy—it will help you unlock a deeper level of fulfillment in your life and relationships.