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Behind Our Ordinary Lies

liesEverybody lies at some point or another, whether they be little lies or gigantic fibs. It may have seemed like the right thing to do at the time; however, you like to see yourself as generally upright and honest—as most people prefer.[1] You expect honesty from others, so why would you threaten your own self-concept by failing to live up to that standard of honesty?1

Psychologists state that there are many objective reasons to lie, depending on the circumstances.1 You may pad your resume to get your dream job, try to get out of a speeding ticket by claiming you weren’t going as fast as they say, or you’re late for a meeting and, instead of admitting the truth, you concoct an elaborate excuse involving a relative, pet, or weather conditions.1 While many of these scenarios don’t seem to be outrageous or look to hurt someone in the process, getting caught in the lie can have many unfortunate consequences on your relationships with others.1 Lying can also have a negative impact on how you view yourself.1 Even a tiny lie can do a little damage to your self-image as a moral, wholesome, and upstanding citizen.1

Joseph Gasper of Rutgers University and Maurice Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School published an article on deception in negotiations, stating that studies of deception look at the cognitive and motivational causes of lying, such as how much one stands to gain or lose from doing so.1 Still, it is just as important to look at the emotional basis of deception.1 For example, what emotions lead us to lie, and what emotions do we feel after they are told?1

Some of the feelings you have when you are lying may actually have nothing to do with the current situation at all.1 A neighbor is going on vacation and asks you to pick up their mail.1 You’re already feeling mildly annoyed about something else in life and think that the annoyance has to do with the favor.1 You begin to think, “How do I feel about doing this?” and with your already annoyed feelings, decide to come up with a lie about why you are unable to do the favor.1 If you hadn’t already felt annoyed before the favor was requested, you may have cheerfully accepted.1 If you were to take your best interests into consideration, you should have accepted, as they would return the favor for you in the future.1

Without any annoyances lurking below the surface to cause a lie, you may be in a pretty good mood; however, interpersonal situations can produce negative emotions on the spot that prompt a lie.1 Say a friend was talking about all the weight she lost by working hard dieting and exercising.1 With that having been your goal as well, and you weren’t as successful, this can spark envy.1 A feeling specific to the situation leads you to state that you have lost more weight than you actually have.1 You look foolish, as it is clear you have not.1 This happens with grades in school, salary, cost of your home, or receiving an honor or award.1 Psychologists call this “upward social comparison.”1

At other times, you may be prompted to lie by the emotions displayed to the person you are lying to.1 If they meet your exaggerated claims with admiration, you will only be tempted to lie further.1

The feelings you have in the moment of a lie, whether positive or negative, can influence you to do so.1 However, the feelings you think you will have after you commit the lie should also be taken into consideration.1 If you believe you will feel smarter, thinner, richer, or a better parent, the lie will easily roll off the tongue.1 On the other hand, if you feel like you’ll be caught or feel guilty, you will restrain yourself.1

People who lie and do not get caught experience what is called a “cheater’s high.”1 It feels nice to know you can pull off a deception and suffer no consequences.1 In fact, people who behave dishonestly and don’t get caught actually feel better than those who behave honestly!1

Lying is bad, for us and for others, yet emotions can get in the way of being completely truthful at all times.1 If you recognize these feeling before and after you lie, you may actually find yourself lying less and enjoying your relationships more.1



[1] Krauss-Whitbourne, S. (2013, November 26). The Ordinary Lies We All Tell, and What’s Behind Them. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 27, 2013, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201311/the-ordinary-lies-we-all-tell-and-whats-behind-them

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