Lies, fibs, porkies, spinning of truths, call them what you will. They are a part of our way of coping with awkward situations for many. Whilst for others they are simply an integral part of their behaviour. But, how do they affect the person telling them and those on the receiving end?
WHAT HAPPENS TO OUR BRAIN IF WE TELL LIES?
If we tell the truth, based on facts, actual happenings, things that were really spoken, then we have the memory of these events tucked away. Tucked away to be retrieved if we subsequently re-tell what happened, what was said. However, if we make up something, in the form of a lie, then we have no fixed truth on which we can fall back. We only have that spoken lie – and this can be harder to remember; so easier to be caught out if we go on to re-tell the lie. Luckily, the majority of lies are not used in public situations allowing for fact checking to take place! Says she who has often taken to fact checking what politicians have said or what is posted as being truthful on social media. So much better to do this than to share and then find that you have spread a falsehood.
The telling of lies apparently also changes our brain. An article in ‘The Joint’ which draws on several pieces of research says – ‘Scientific American is telling us what happens when we lie. They say a new study has found lying gets easier for humans the more they lie, because lying changes the brain!’ ‘Nature Neuroscience reported a study of the amygdala (located in the temporal lobes of our brain), the part of the brain dealing with emotional responses. The researchers said the amygdala shows up less and less, as we lie more and more. Essentially, our guilt feelings tend to weaken and shrink.’
So, the brain of a frequent teller of lies becomes an ally in support of their spreading of mistruths as the more they tell, the less their brain chides them or acts as that conscience perched on their shoulder.
For those of us who don’t fall into this category of being a high frequency liar, when we lie, our limbic system (which supports emotion, behaviour and long-term memory) is stimulated due to heightened anxiety. This probably with recall of our lies along with the associated hurt and deception we are causing. The frontal lobe of our brain is stimulated as part of the suppression of the truth. So measureable brain changes taking place when we thought it was just a matter of covering our back, hiding the truth, taking advantage by pouring words out of our mouths!
I know that if I tell a lie, I go red with embarrassment. I have always presumed that this was back to those childhood messages that telling lies wasn’t being a ‘good girl’. My parents remain as my head pecking conscience perched on my shoulder even now. My personal version of Jiminy Cricket – my conscience.
A CONTINUUM OF MISTRUTHS?
As with so many things in life, there is a continuum along which the lie that you are giving or receiving will fit. It then becomes an individual choice as to whether you accept that all are equally wrong, or if some are actually acceptable to you whilst others are questioned, kicked in to touch or wrongly accepted as being truthful.
At what is generally considered to be the more acceptable end of the continuum are those white lies. Often included is the word ‘little’ signifying that many consider that little white lies are OK to use, are of little import, even insignificant. In fact, there is often a kind, even a positive intention with a white lie. This is in contrast to any other kind of a lie where the intention can be to deceive, to steer towards a personal gain, to avoid the consequences of actuality, the truth.
Included in these would be telling a friend that no, their bottom doesn’t look big in that dress, or she doesn’t look like the proverbial mutton dressed as lamb. Sadly, if you are saying what you feel they want to hear rather than the truth, you could be leaning on an easily opened door here. We need to consider just why we feel we need to tell that white lie and what are the possible implications; the impact those words will have. Will said friend wear the questioned garment following your comments? Then will you, and probably others, wonder why she chose to buy it in the first place. If the question is asked, I believe it deserves an honest response. If not, then said friend is presumably happy with the choice and it really doesn’t matter what others think.
But, whilst I, sort of, agree that we should be able to wear anything that we choose, I also believe that there are times when we may need to re-consider due to age, size, even the situation in which the clothes are being worn. Maybe at such times, a trusted friend could intervene? I knew someone who insisted that she was size 14 whereas she was probably a size 18 plus. However, she obviously bought leggings in size 14. This meant that they were stretched far too much and it wasn’t a case of a VPL, rather, visible pants and buttocks too along with an overflowing of flesh. Fine, if this was the look that was being aimed for, but I rather doubt that this was so. Maybe her friends thought differently to me, or had they told one of those little white lies when the truth could well have been kinder in the long run?
What of more universal white lies around Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy? Is it ok to tell children such white lies? Presumably many people believe it is especially as it would be difficult to explain away the many old men with white beards and wearing a red dressing gown what appear in the run up to Christmas. Whoops, am I having a bah humbug moment here? And, yes, I did join in with the whole Father Christmas thing when my children were young.
LIES INTENTIONALLY TOLD TO CAUSE HURT
Getting to the other end of that continuum …. I am thinking of lies as a part of a pattern of abuse, such as in gaslighting where the perpetrator uses lie after lie as part of the pattern of their abusive behaviour. Lies which are used to corrode their victim’s self-belief, peace of mind, self-confidence. I refer you back to earlier blogs on this subject https://deechadwick.co.uk/blog/gaslighting-part-2 I have to say that I am still left wondering if such lies and hurt leave the teller with any feeling of regret, maybe even guilt, for the hurt caused and the damage done. If they do have such feelings, they seemingly keep them well hidden from those around them who are not shown this despicable side of their character.
THE EXTREME END OF THAT CONTINUUM
At the extreme end of the continuum we have those who regularly throw out a multitude of lies. A different sort of liar to those causing hurt. Rather, a liar telling lies for self-aggrandisement, self-promotion. I have put this liar further along the continuum simply because of the quantity of lies they are able to churn out.
They can be labelled compulsive or pathological liars. In some cases this can due to a personality disorder or narcissism. The lies are important to them even though to others they may appear to be immaterial, irrelevant. They do not wish to be thought of as a liar.
For some it is simply their way of being. They have repeated the same lies time and time again, often building on the original version to make the lie more and more of a whopper, yet the lies can frequently be readily disproved. I guess we don’t have to look too far for a candidate for this problem. Someone who is constantly being fact checked; with the facts being obviously out there for all to see, yet the lies continue. People are seemingly taken in by them, believing the erroneous version of the truth or possibly simply accepting as a part of the person they continue to admire. A good old saying springs to mind – ‘there’s nowt so queer as folk’ with this applying to both the liar and the believers of the fake info! A certain president who averages 14.2 lies a day – these simply being the ones that are out in the public domain that is. Lies that cover a whole host of topics, usually with the aim of making the lie teller appear to be better than he is, achieving more than he has, especially in relation to others who are on his dislike/hate lists.
WITH MY OPTIMISTIC HEAD ON –
I like to believe that most people tell the truth most of the time. Yet, I imagine there are few of us who can hold up our hand and say that we don’t lie. Some lies are easily seen through, as when a client or a friend who is obviously struggling insists that they are fine. A lie that with either my therapist or friend hat on cannot be simply accepted.
For others, the lies that they tell can so obviously be falsehoods that they jump out at us. The problem is that these lies tend to take over and the surrounding truth can easily become lost. At the same time, the lies can have become that other person’s truth, so maybe they wouldn’t consider themselves to be a liar!
Psychlogist Paul Ekman has done a lot of work on lies and the reasons for people telling them. He considers that there are around 9 reasons for people – including children and adults – resort to telling lies.
These reasons include – to avoid punishment for themself or another; to win admiration; to avoid embarrassment; to get out of an awkward social situation; to protect from a perceived threat of physical harm.
I wonder if you can relate to any of these? I have certainly lied that there is someone arriving on my drive to get out of an unwanted phone conversation from an unsolicited source – you know the type of call I mean! However, I hope that most haven’t lied for the final reason he gives – ‘to exercise power over others by controlling the information the target has.’ A dangerous motive for telling lies, an abusive reason.
Remember that lies tend to snowball – an article in Psychology Today says ‘I remember a cartoon my kids watched years ago about how lies grow. We tell a little bitty lie, but then to cover that lie, we have to tell another one, then another, and another — each gets bigger and bigger.’
For the receiver, it’s a matter of when to let the lie pass by and when to challenge it. This usually depends on the setting, the relationship and any hoped for outcome. As for the teller – even of those little white lies – they can have adverse affects through trying to remember to whom they said what – with why thrown in for good measure. That’s before we even move further along that continuum.
When push comes to shove, it can be a matter of trust. Do we trust a person for whom the truth may be way down their list. Do they respect us, understand how their lies make us feel no matter whether in our professional, personal, family lives? Then again, what about our respect for others if we tell them lies, or do we endeavour to class most of them as being just those of the little and white variety?
ps – this piece was written when the current pandemic hadn’t got such a major world-wide grip. I do wonder how many lies are currently floating around about this topic alone? If you are worried, anxious, or it is causing you any other mental health problems, doget in touch. Yes, we may be socially isolated but we can still work via phine or Skype. Take care. Keep safe and well.