People lie for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they can’t face themselves; they can’t reconcile what they want with what they believe they should want, or think other people think they should want. Sometimes people want to do what they want to do, and understand they might meet with resistance if they talk about it, so they lie to avoid confrontation. People lie when they feel trapped, or when they know they’ve done something wrong and don’t want to face the consequences. People lie when they’re afraid, or ashamed. Sometimes they lie when they want power, or adoration, or control. There are people with personality disorders who lie and believe in the lies they’re telling, at least to some degree–dissociative lying. There are people who lie pathologically, or compulsively, and people who lie because they’re addicted to something and don’t know what else to do.
It feels terrible when our trust has been violated, and this is especially true when it’s at the hands of a family member, loved one, or someone we considered a friend. If you’re in a close relationship with someone who lies habitually, you can start to feel like a crazy person. Most of us can feel in our guts when something is off, so when our intuition says one thing, and the person we love says another, it can really throw us into a tailspin.
I don’t think there’s any need to demonize people who are lying, for whatever reason. A person who’s lying can’t face reality as it is, or they’re struggling to face themselves, or they’re living in pain or fear or deep confusion or shame or guilt, or they have a big, gaping hole they’re trying to fill. That doesn’t make lying okay, I’m just saying it’s painful to live life in a way that makes you feel you can’t speak about what’s true for you. Keeping secrets is exhausting, and without trust, there’s no foundation for a relationship, there’s no safe space, there’s no room to be vulnerable. You’d have to be reckless or grappling with very low self-esteem to make yourself vulnerable to someone with a track record of lying to your face. I’m not talking about a one-time thing. Sometimes people do things that are completely out of character in a desperate moment, and then they don’t know how to undo them. I’m talking about a pattern.
If you’re in a romantic relationship with someone who won’t or can’t be honest with you, you’re going to have to gather the strength to get out, because that’s a painful way to live, and you’ll end up feeling alienated and depressed. How can you feel good about yourself when you know in your heart you’re with a person who doesn’t have the respect to tell you the truth? (Assuming they can discern what the truth is. If they can’t, there’s no hope for intimacy, anyway.) There are some people we can love, who simply cannot be in our lives. If you’re dealing with a family member, a colleague, or an ex who has to remain in your life because you share children, it’s harder.
In those cases, I think boundaries are your best option. You cannot control other people, you can’t manage the other person’s side of the street, you can only work on keeping your own side clean. Try to limit contact to those things which must be discussed. If it’s someone who has power over you (like your boss, for example), it’s time to start a job-search. If it’s a family member, create parameters that protect you to the best of your ability. Communicate how you’re feeling and how things have to be in order for you to feel comfortable with a relationship, and then stick to it. Don’t be surprised if you’re lied to; part of the pain of betrayal is that we don’t see it coming, so we end up questioning our own judgment. If you know someone struggles with honesty, but it’s someone you still want or must have in your life, remember the Coco Chanel quote, “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” People are who they are. That doesn’t mean you should close the door on hope; transformation is always possible unless you’re dealing with someone who really doesn’t have a firm grip on reality. Just don’t allow yourself to get lulled into thinking there’s change unless there’s been serious effort and a long record of consistency. If you’re dealing with an ex, that’s probably the hardest, if children are involved. In that case, you have to make sure your children’s safety is not an issue; try to keep all interactions centered around the kids.
Short of that, distance yourself from people who have a history of deceiving you, because that isn’t loving. It might not be intentional in some cases, but it still feels terrible. It’s funny, but so many people chase happiness like it’s this thing out ahead of them that they’ll get to when all the pieces fit together in this particular way; I used to do that myself, it’s what we’re taught culturally. It just happens to be a lie. Somewhere along the way I began to understand that the more I opened to the truth, and by that I mean, what was true for me, the truth of a particular situation, what was true for the people in my life, the less I had to grip, the more I could relax and breathe and accept and move forward with ease. That’s happiness — being at peace with yourself and with those in your life, discerning what is real from what is not real, knowing yourself, and seeing other people clearly. I realized happiness, in large part, is the result of facing reality as it is. There’s so much liberation in that, of being at peace with the truth, even when it breaks your heart. Understanding that everything is in a constant state of flux, and how things are now, is not how they will always be. Don’t betray yourself, and don’t allow other people to deceive you. That’ll crush the light right out of you.
Sending you love,