Is Lying Really a Big Deal?

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Lying vs telling the truth. It’s big territory, and has crashed relationships and even governments.

But at the same time, most of us have lied at some point, particularly if we include white lies in the equation.

So then are or aren’t lies a big deal?

The meaning of lying

As for the definition of lying, it is really an umbrella term that can mean slightly different things to different people.

Stanford University’s dictionary of philosophy outright admits, “There is no universally accepted definition of lying to others.”

For example, for some of us, hiding information is a lie, for others, it isn’t. And different cultures might draw different parameters around lying. Exaggerating something as part of a story might be normal in one culture, and seen as deceitful in another.

Cambridge dictionary’s best attempt at the definition is, ‘to say or write something that is not true in order to deceive someone’ . Which brings in an important aspect of lying.

What is your intent here?

When we lie, we generally do it in order to lead someone astray. We have the intent that they don’t know something that we do.

This is why white lies are indeed lies, as we tell them on purpose. And why if you are upset with a partner as they hid something, you might have a case for dishonesty, if they intentionally hid it over just being absent-minded.

But why, for example, if they exaggerated a story slightly in the heat of the moment, without meaning to deceive or pre planning it, you would have less of a case.

So lying is a big deal then?

There is no guidebook for life. No exact list of ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’, although many that are generally agreed to be wrong, such as physically harming another.

But whether lying is or isn’t a big deal within your relationships comes down to what your shared personal values are (or aren’t). Personal values are what really matter to us, when everything else falls away. For some, that is honesty, charity, and peace. For others, it might be beauty, adventure, and excitement.

If two people share the value of honesty, then any sort of lie that comes to the surface is likely to upset the relationship. If one person has the value and the other doesn’t, it might cause very intense conflict. But if both people value fun and excitement over honesty, then a certain amount of lying might not ruffle too many feathers.

So it isn’t a big deal?

Of course that is not a green flag to get out there and start lying. It’s not a great practice, and here’s why.

1). It complicates things.

Poet Walter Scott said it best. “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive". Lies tend to lead to other lies. And they take a lot of headspace. We have to remember who knows what. And that’s headspace that could be used for better things, like, say, planning your next positive life goal.

2. People get hurt.

Even if the person you have recently lied to was okay with it, your lie might then mean they have to lie, to cover for you. And the person they lie too might not be happy about it and might get hurt (as we said, it’s complicated, lying).

And sometimes regrettable actions are the result of even small lies. A lie about checking the air in the tires when you haven’t leads to a traffic accident.

3. It can affect your character long term.

Lying is constantly letting yourself off the hook. When we stop holding ourselves to account on one front, it might mean we start to hold ourselves less accountable on others. We start stealing a bit from others, disrespecting others.

And it turns out that there is a rather addictive quality to lying, in that the more we do it, the easier it becomes. A 2016 study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience showed that our brains are affected by lying in a way that makes it a slippery slope, with each lie feeling easier to us.

4. It can affect areas outside of your relationships.

We can think we are hiding things from others, but many people sense things. We often tend to sense, for example, if someone is unreliable, or manipulating us. And this can mean you don’t get hired or promoted. Or invited to things.

5. You can start to lie to yourself.

We can get so used to being slightly dishonest that we hardly notice when we are now lying to ourselves. Pretending our partner left us as they are jealous of our success when meanwhile it’s as we disrespected them. Or that our drinking issue isn’t getting worse. If it gets to a point we don’t trust ourselves, it can lead to anxiety and depression.

So then lying is a big deal?

In summary, lies happen. Sometimes we panic, we want to protect others, or we hide something and then later don’t know how to set the record straight. It doesn’t instantly make you a bad person.

But constantly lying does have consequences, and it’s worth thinking over whether those consequences are worth it.

But I can’t stop lying

Can’t stop lying? Want to, but things just fly out your mouth? Lying can be connected to other issues, like low self-esteem and loneliness. We lie to get attention, or to seem like someone we wish we were but aren’t.

Therapy can help. A therapist will not judge you for lying. They’ll work with you to understand where the habit comes from, and help you work at ways of dealing with the root issue so that the lying feels less and less necessary.

Time to stop the stress of lying about who you are and what you want? Find the right therapist for your budget now and talk your way to feeling you again.

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