by Donald Best, ACMHC
Ways to think about lying that I find helpful. Hopefully these will help you think more clearly about lying as well.
Most Science on Lying isn't useful. Many scientific studies define lying as - saying what isn't true with no regard to the motive behind the lie. So when you hear that in most conversations people tell at least 3 lies it is a deceptive truth. So why isn't it shocking?
When working with the Neurodiverse I tell them being polite is not even lying because no one is deceived.
The cashier isn't deceived when you tell her you are doing fine. She is just glad you didn't unload on her.
Your buddy isn't going to be outraged when he finds out there was some major things “up” you just weren't ready to talk about it, right then. He knows you, he knows something is up and how to get you to open up - later.
Then there is flattery:
When you tell an older lady she doesn’t look a day over 29, she is complemented, not because she believes you but that you care enough to say what isn’t true.
Then there are lies to entertain;
Fish stories and tall tales often fit here. If the motive is to entertain not to self aggrandize. These are when no one believes it but loves how entertaining it was.
White lies are distinguished from Polite ones by the fact that they are believed. While the lack of deception distinguishes a polite lie from a bad one, the unselfish motive is what makes a lie white. You really hope they believe those pants make them look thinner. Not that you are so fat that what you wear makes no difference. Does the other party want to be deceived and benefit from the deception? Dangerously there is always a selfish motive too. Part of not insulting someone serves them but it serves you too. As the benefit moves from primarily the other person to the actual person fibbing - the lie gets more and more grey. The person might really be served better by telling them they aren’t a good singer before they embarrass themselves. Even if they might shoot the messenger.
While any good liar will believe the lie while telling it. These lies are simply natural consequences of the lies people tell themselves. You are not the intended victim just the collateral damage.
The classic example is the alcoholic who doesn't think he drinks too much so he or she can drink as much as they please. Then they grossly underestimate how much they drink to you. A person cannot possibly be more honest with others than they are with themselves.
These people are lying to themselves to avoid pain, comfort themselves, endure hard things, etc.
They tend to be believed because they believe what they are saying, They get away with it long term with others who they can foster sympathetic denial – co-dependence with.
Deceiving another person to obtain personal gain. Whether it is to avoid punishment, nagging, or to make yourself look good. The motive is selfish and the people deceived are going to feel harmed if/when they learn the truth.
The science here is good. One of the things science tells us is people are very good at keeping score and tracking cheaters of any sort, whether they verbally lie or not. Which is one reason these people keep lying, because they don't realize people are keeping score and tracking.
What feeds these liars?
A cheating liar is really what people mean by lies. This is our focus.
If a lie gets someone an extra piece of cake, others eventually notice even if they don't say anything.
Without the liar realizing it they are under more scrutiny and no longer get the benefit of the doubt. The next time it is convenient - under the bus they go. They don't understand the cost they paid for that piece of cake. This is the truth behind cheaters never prosper.
Unfortunately that is a lie.
“Good liars” don't prosper simply when others believe them at the time. Their long term success requires manipulative or moralistic tactics. So they can lie and get away with it.
One common way to manipulate is to use feelings as facts. These kinds of liars attach such emotional value to the situation, the truth never matters even when it is eventually discovered. These people can tell you what you know isn’t true but the emotional backlash makes you behave like it is. It basically gas lights the entire system.
Another system is “stooping to it.” Most people will not sacrifice self-respect to get ahead. So when someone is willing to play the victim card, others will be forgiving. Yes, they told you what you wanted to hear but they were desperate.
Often the most consistent lie these people tell is: “I care about my self-respect.” You believe them because you care about your self-respect despite every indication they don’t care about theirs.
There is a touch of a moralistic, empathetic, and codependent manipulation here – “if you are a good person you will have compassion and help me abdicate my responsibility.” True compassion empowers. If you are focusing on how pathetic and powerless someone is don't call it compassion.
Perhaps the simplest ploy, that cheating liars use, is tallying all the other kinds of lies. So they can say “I'm not the liar, you are.” Then when you make a distinction they can say – “Oh that's just your justification”.
There are too many of these to go over here often many are employed at once.
Point is if you find yourself wondering how someone in your life “gets away with it (lying)” all the time. Get help. It’s probably pretty sick, pathological. You may need support to hold your own.