Lying is so pervasive in our society that most of us couldn’t go an hour, let alone an entire day, without telling some sort of lie. By definition, a lie is a statement, believed by the liar to be false, made to another person with the intention that the person be deceived by the statement.
There are many reasons why we lie. The main reason is fear, as people lie to avoid punishment for some action. If you’re afraid that someone will be angry with you over something you’ve done you will lie to cover up your actions. This is so simple even a small child will do it to protect themself. People lie because they feel if they tell the truth won’t get what they want.
There are many kinds of fear though. Fear of being rejected, fear of conflict, fear of losing something. You tell your date that you make more money than you actually do because you’re afraid she’ll dump you if she knew the truth. You lie and say you weren’t out drinking with your buddies because you want to avoid another fight with your wife. You lie and say the check is in the mail because you’re afraid of having the cable service cut off.
Lying comes down to fear. We’re afraid that something bad will happen if we tell the truth. Sometimes we lie because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings—we say their hair looks great when it really looks like someone cut it with a weed whacker. We’re afraid of hurting them.
Sometimes we lie to benefit ourselves in some way, say exaggerating our experience on our resume. We’re afraid we won’t get the job based on our true merits, so we lie. Most adults are aware of it when they lie—they do it consciously and on purpose. In some rare occurrences lying is related to a brain abnormality or other physical cause, but mainly we lie by our own free will. If someone lies so often that it becomes habit it is called compulsive lying—lying even when you could tell the truth with no punishment.
What makes some liars so dangerous is that they actually believe their own lies. They have lied to themselves and to others so much that these lies have become their reality—they honestly can’t tell their fact from their fiction any longer.
Lying is even acceptable in some parts of today’s society—it’s seen as an admirable skill to have in business situations. Some salesmen can lie through their teeth to get the order and the customer never even realizes it—the lie doesn’t even matter to the company, just the money the salesman brings in. This type of liar thinks the world revolves around them. They feel they have the right to twist the truth in order to meet their own agenda, even if someone else gets hurt along the way. They’re out to get as much as they can from the world, even if that means stretching the truth.
Lying to protect yourself is the most common sort of lie. Another common lie is the lie of self-deception. You can convince yourself you weren’t speeding to protect yourself from feeling bad about breaking the law. We lie because we honestly believe it is the best thing we can do for our own well being at any given moment.
It is a normal part of human behavior to lie in some way, often starting in children around 4 or 5 years old. In adulthood, most people lie all the time, just to get through the day. Studies have shown that the average rate of lying is 3 lies for every 10 minutes of conversation. That works out to about 288 lies per day. The problem with this amount of deceit on a daily basis is that it destroys relationships. How can you trust anyone if they are lying all the time?
Chronic liars do it because of low self-esteem. In an attempt to create a more interesting identity, they lie repeatedly. More important than the actually lie though is the feeling of superiority they get by successfully fooling someone with their lies. Successful lying is a way to exert power over another person—by getting a person to believe what you want them to believe you shape their perception of reality.
Pathological lying is an impulse disorder. As with other impulse disorders such as drinking, gambling or shopping, the liar gets a thrill out of telling a lie so he does it over and over again. Psychologists say that people who suffer from certain personality disorders, such as antisocial and narcissistic behaviors, are most likely to lie. Learning disabilities and certain types of brain dysfunction are also seen frequently in pathological liars.
So if everyone is lying to you all the time, how can you tell? Body language is the big give away here. If someone won’t look you in the eye when speaking to you or is acting jumpy or uncomfortable, these are indications that they’re not telling the truth. If there are inconsistencies in their stories from day to day, that’s also a tip-off. If the person refuses to answer any questions it could mean they are trying to hide something. And if someone turns things around on you and accuses you of lying instead, this could actually be a reflection of their own behavior—they’re projecting their lie onto you instead. If you think someone is lying to you, call him or her on it and ask if they are indeed lying. They might find it a relief to actually tell the truth instead.
Lying is a survival mechanism developed thousands of years ago—we lied to others and said there wasn’t enough food to share, so we could keep it all to ourselves. Survival of the fittest and all that. But we continue to lie even today, proving once again that mankind hasn’t really advanced all that much!