Saturday, January 19, 2013

The psychology of the lie

With all the ado about Lance I thought it was an opportune time to present this

Some young children play the game of: “Liar, liar pants on fire”.

This is the child who is a repetitive or compulsive liar. They habitually or continually tell falsehoods or lies. There are two main types of compulsive liars:

Type A) The child who tells a lie where they are obviously going to get caught. So why do they want to get caught? It can be for attention (strokes), there is some bigger issue going on and they want it brought out into the open (e.g. abuse of some kind, bullying at school), the child is a drama queen, the child is crying out for limits to be set and so forth.

Type B) The child who lies for expediency. To avoid conflict, punishment, escape the consequences of behaviour or obtain money/property. This is a more insidious type of lying and can reflect the beginnings of the development of the anti-social personality type.

Sitting girl

An adult version of the game, is the game of “The affair”. This is not the type of affair where it is a one off. For example both parties get drunk at the office christmas party and have a quickie in the storeroom. Instead this game refers to the affair that is ongoing and involves planned deception. For an affair to continue for any length of time there must be an ongoing series of falsehoods being told.

These are type A lies if the parties in the affair start taking more and more risks and thus continually increase the chances of getting caught. They want to get found out. Often this type of affair occurs because at least one party is desperately unhappy in a marriage and does not know how to deal with it, so they create a situation that brings it out. Finally, the ‘innocent’ husband or wife forces the issues to be dealt with when they find out.

Unstable marriage

There are other affairs that are long term and no one ever gets found out and these would involve more of the type B lies.

Game antithesis -
Type A - find out the motive for the lying or wanting to get caught and then deal with that.

Type B - consequences of behaviour, developing a sense of morality and the rights of others as being important.

As with any piece of behaviour lying can become habitual. One particularly sees this with drug users. To live in the drug subculture one has to lie at least reasonably often, so it becomes a habit and then you find sometimes drug users will lie when there is no reason for them to. They simply do it because it is a habit.

Is this lying?
I remember a long time ago a 20 something year old woman came to see me. When asked why she was there she announced that she was a compulsive liar. The first thing I did was to get her to redefine herself as a creative story teller rather than a compulsive liar.

One career possibility for such individuals is to consider creative writing. The good liar is a good story teller. Hans Christian Anderson was a very successful liar. He had the ability to present “false facts” in a convincing and effective manner. He made his lies seem very believable and thus people would ‘get into’ the story being told.

The good story teller and good liar get the person into a state of mind where they themselves will want to believe the lie even before it has been told.

This is done through the relational. If a man is about to deny to his wife that he is having an affair, he does not start with, “I didn’t do it”. Instead he starts with, “You know I love you”. He gives the wife exactly what she wants to hear because she at least partly wants to be lied to because the facts are too painful. She does not want to believe the truth and by professing his love to her the errant husband heightens her desire to not believe the truth. It’s not about him convincing her its about her convincing herself.

Without a doubt we all lie and the person we lie to most, is ourselves. Humans are continually lying to themselves. We are very good at telling ourselves lies and then believing them. How we do it is by such means as denial, repression, intellectualization, catastrophizing, projection, sublimation and so on endlessly. Technically these called the defence mechanisms, more accurately they could be called, “The ways we lie to ourselves”.

Head in water
A basic, childlike reaction of all children (and adults). If it hurts just pretend it's not there. In this way we all have a desire to be lied to. Lying not only makes things easier for the liar but also for the person being lied to. Many didn't want to believe Lance was a cheat as that would be painful. They chose to believe the lie because it was easier, even when it was bleeding obvious! When he finally said it, the lie could no longer be maintained in many people's minds and hence the emotional response by many.

When the truth hurts the Child ego state will naturally just closes its ears and eyes to reality. It wants to be lied to, at least in part. The effective liar will heighten the other’s desire to be lied to and thus the liar will be more effective.



  1. I am afraid that I have to confess to having to lie a lot as a child. It was either lie or get very severely punished for the most trivial things. As it was, there was also a punishment for honesty. I could not win. In the end I found it safer to say as little as possible. Not sure if that was good either but I suppose when I was a child I just did the best that I could considering what has happening around me. All turned out okay in the end.

    Agree with the creative writing approach.

  2. Thanx for your comments Linda. I think you make a good point that in some circumstances the child lies in order to survive physically and/or psychologically. It seems you had to survive some 'stuff'
    and have done so and ended up with what looks like a good domestic situation. Applause goes to you for that as it could have been quite different as I am sure you know Tony

  3. Somehow I feel liers more interesting now :) I really like your comparison with story tellers even though the intent is quite different.
    I would additionaly divide: white lie and black lie.

  4. Good point, about the difference between the white lie and the black lie. Calling it a white lie makes it sounds much better I think. But will people just use that as an excuse.