Some people lie in order to gain something for nothing. The “gain” consists of money, property or respect from others.
However, most people who lie don’t do so for this reason. Most people who lie do so out of fear. Fear of what? Most often, fear of not being seen as smart, acceptable or — most of all — normal.
If you’d ask me to name the greatest fear or phobia that I have encountered in people, it’s not fear of flying, fear of spiders, fear of bridges or heights. It’s fear of not being normal — most particularly, fear of not being seen as normal.
“Normal,” in people’s minds, means exactly what the term describes: A statistical or numerical average. I psychotherapeutically “argued” with a client about this once. She bottom-lined the whole point when she stated, “Dr. Hurd: Most of us want to be part of the pack. Don’t you understand that?”
Reason and majority feelings/opinion occasionally collide, and this is one such example.
Reason tells us: To be normal is simply to be average. If average is all you are capable of being, or perhaps wish to be in some context, then that’s fine. But there’s nothing about departing from the average that is, in itself, shameful or embarrassing.
Rationally speaking, embarrassment only applies to contexts where you had choice. “I should have chosen differently, and better. But I didn’t. Now I’m embarrassed.” Rationally, speaking, to be below average — if it’s the best you can do — is not shameful. If you knew you could do better, and wanted to, then embarrassment (in your own eyes, most of all) makes sense.
Fixation on being normal does a lot of psychological damage. The damage is gradual and cumulative, over time. Eventually it escalates and takes the form of psychological symptoms known as self-esteem issues, anxiety disorder or depression.
If you’re below normal for reasons beyond your control or ability, then you’re (irrationally) feeling ashamed over something about which you had no control. If you’re above normal and you conceal or impede your capacities for fear of going “outside the mainstream,” then you’re impairing your ability to be all that you can be, which is devastating to your inner sense of serenity and self-esteem.
Most of us claim to admire successful people, i.e. those who stand out in some way. But when you review their biographies, you invariably find they took loads of chances and experienced many more failures than normal. By the standards of “normal” or “average,” the people we so admire in sports, entertainment, business, inventions or elsewhere are phenomenal failures.
Fixating on being normal or average makes the perception of others your primary concern. Instead of focusing your energy on what’s important to you, and what’s objectively or factually real regardless of what anyone says, you become concerned with how you look and appear in the eyes of others.
This has two damaging effects. One, it takes your focus off far more important matters, such as what’s real and what’s important to you. Two, it requires you to read minds. Much of the time, what you think other people think about you isn’t accurate; most of the time, others are not even thinking about you at all.
Lying comes in as a way to help oneself not feel the anxiety which inevitably results from fixating on being normal. By fabricating or doing whatever must be done to get across to others that “I’m normal, just like you,” one can (momentarily) feel less anxious, kind of like taking a drink or a drug makes you feel less anxious (without changing any of the facts.)
If you filled a room with ten people, chances are good that nine out of the ten people suffer (to some degree) from this normal-fixation anxiety I’m describing. The great irony here? Each of those nine people is concerned with what the others are thinking. Joe is very worried about what Suzie and Mary and Don are thinking of him. Yet Suzie and Mary and Don are equally worried about how they appear — with respect to normal — in front of all the others. When you stand back and think about what’s actually going on in the respective psyches of everyone involved, it’s absurd to the point of humorous.
Yet this is how many people operate in their daily lives. And yes: they lie, conceal, evade and distort the truth for this reason. They’re really not trying to harm others. They ultimately don’t wish to even harm themselves, in most cases. They would like to feel less anxious than they do, or perhaps don’t realize how anxious they are.
All they want is to be part of the pack.
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