Little White Lies

We all tell lies at one time or another. Most likely they’re ‘little white lies’ to spare somebody’s feelings, or to get out of some commitment that we probably should never have made in the first place. The majority of people feel a little guilty after telling a lie. Why? Well, maybe it’s because they took advantage of somebody’s trust — somebody who cared enough to believe what they said — and now, in some small way, they’ve betrayed that trust.

Lies fall into several categories. The first is the lie we tell because we don’t know how to say ‘no.’ We’re asked to do something, and we say ‘yes’ because it’s easy and it feels good at the time. But when the chips are down, we don’t follow through. How many times have you been stood up by a service person, a friend or family member who simply chose not to follow through? They might have said ‘yes’ before, but they never meant it. Did this increase your respect for them? And what do you think it did for their own self-respect?

The second category is a lie told to mislead or cheat. Sadly, the more regard that person has for you, the more likely they are to believe you. In most people, the toxic combination of betrayal and deception can lead to a sense of guilt that lingers long after the short-term benefit of the lie has worn off.

Either way, lying can be hazardous to your mental health. As kids, we are duly instructed not to lie, but usually without any explanation other than, ‘it’s wrong.’ But as adults, when lies can so conveniently become woven into the fabric of our daily lives, it’s important to realize that they not only damage our self-esteem, but also bring about a sense of anxiety. Let’s face it: It takes enough energy to keep up with the things that are real, much less having to keep track of things that are fictitious!

Honesty isn’t just a blind commitment to ‘doing the right thing.’ It’s the end result of self-awareness and a clear understanding of what’s going on in your mind. This can be achieved by keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings, thoughtful participation in counseling, or having personal conversations with trusted friends or family. The result is a better understanding of why you’re doing what you’re doing, and the capacity to question yourself when necessary. And that leads to honesty. When you’re honest, you have nothing to hide from anyone, including yourself. You achieve self-esteem and serenity. You feel good about yourself.

Obviously, a key aspect of mental health is a solid grounding in reality. We tend to think of people as ‘crazy’ when they’re wildly out of touch with facts, logic and reason. What better way to ground yourself in reality than to know the truth and have the courage to act on it? For example, a friend or relative asks you to stay at his house when you visit from out of town, but you’d actually prefer to stay in a hotel. Do you tell him that? Or do you do what you think he wants you to do? What purpose has been served by making your stay less enjoyable? Or, a person writes substantial lies in her resume in order to get a job she wants. She now has to live with the nagging apprehension that someone might discover her deception. The threat of being found out is like an emotional time bomb — maybe it will go off; maybe it won’t.

For people who are self-aware, lying feels foolish and contradictory. They want no part of it, because they don’t like feeling that way. They understand that once they lie to somebody else, they’re depending on that person’s ignorance of the truth in order to maintain the lie. Having to rely on the ignorance of others doesn’t sound very healthy to me.

For people who are emotionally repressed, it’s easier in the short run to fudge and fabricate. But in the long run, they will feel conflicted. Most people who lie are not con artists or criminals; they’re just psychologically unhealthy. They’re not comfortable in their own skin, and they never will be until they stop trying to make themselves up.

Honesty is both an ethical and a psychological matter. It starts with introspection and an awareness of reality. Instead of faking parts of your identity, or telling stories to get out of what you don’t want to do, an honest person looks at the facts and sticks by them without apologies. All the platitudes and childhood lessons aside, honesty is truly the best policy. It’s a tribute and a compliment not only to yourself, but also to your friends and loved ones.