What's Behind the Lies

Hi! How are you?"
"I'm fine. How about you?"
"I'm doing alright."

Nothing new here; it's a common, every-day greeting exchange. It's good manners. But, let's see what happens when I inject some thoughts behind the words:

"Hi," oh, that's a grump if I ever saw one. "How are you?" but don't answer because I don't really want to know the sob story. Just keep walking by.

"I'm fine," but not really. I'm tired, my feet hurt, I hate this freaking gigantic, packed store and I know you really don't want to know. "How about you?" like I want to know how you are any more than you want to know how I am. You just want me to get away from you as quick as I can, and that's fine by me.

"I'm doing alright," and much better than you by the looks of it! Good. That grump's gone. Here's another one already. "Hi! How are you?" ...

White Lies

A Wal-mart door greeter is a thankless job, no doubt about it. If there was ever a job for a door mat, that's it. If my injected thoughts are what happens behind the words of a door greeter, then I don't really think it's intentional, do you? I think it's just self defense!

These are the kind of little lies that happen in the context of the situation, and are, for the most part unintentional. The truth in the situation of a door greeter would be difficult, so the truth is avoided by deception. Let's explore another situation:

It's Friday, and out of the blue, a call comes in from a good friend who had moved away last year. This friend is in town and wants to go out and hit all the old haunts. You already have plans with another friend who really doesn't like the visiting friend and you know the sparks will fly if you mention anything about it. So, you call with a quick "Sorry, can't do tonight because my boss has me staying late. We'll get together next weekend."

That white lie will hold - unless you're caught out instead of at work. And, through deception, an argument with hurt feelings that telling the truth would have caused is avoided. Now, if that visiting friend wasn't someone you wanted to see, your plans wouldn't have been canceled and no lie told.

When Expectations Lead to Lies

Men tend to lie to make themselves look better, and women are more likely to lie to make the other person feel better. Extroverts lie more than introverts too, according to researchers. And, we tend to hold people to different standards. For example, we expect "less honesty from politicians than from scientists."

In general, we all have a basic need to be understood, to have someone know us and understand us, and to accept us for who we are. The more we get to know someone, the more important truth becomes. And, it's more difficult because so much of the relationship depends on trust and closeness. For instance, it's much easier to tell a car salesman, a complete stranger, how much you would love that red sports car when you are alone than if you had a spouse or family member with you.

Most people lie when they are afraid of the consequences of telling the truth. If telling the truth most often leads to anger and judgment, then lying may become a part of the relationship. If a husband pulled that red sports car into the driveway when his wife thought he'd be buying a mini van, what would happen? It's difficult to handle and deal with another's anger and judgment and punishment, and the husband might resort to all sorts of fabrications if he felt that that's what he would get by telling the truth. If his wife wasn't controlling and instead intended to understand and learn about her husband, the lies wouldn't be necessary.

When Lying Becomes Pathological

In psychology, when a particular behavior is habitual, maladaptive or beyond control, it is pathological in that it is thought of more as a disease or something that needs or can be treated. Because of how disruptive and damaging lying can be, when it becomes more than the occasional white lie, more than a few red flags can fly.

There are many reasons behind pathological lying. It could be a form of control, rewarded by the rush from manipulating others with lies. It could be that they learned during an abusive childhood to cover up because they are afraid of severe punishment. It could be immaturity in that they are afraid of the world in general. It could be a lack of self-esteem and will make up stories to look better to others. Or, they may want sympathy or attention that they are not getting. And the list can go on and on.

Though lying can be a symptom of an anxiety disorder like Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder, it is one of the common and major symptoms of such complex disorders as antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders.
"Personality disorders are typically some of the most challenging mental disorders to treat, since they are, by definition, an integral part of what defines an individual and their self-perceptions. Treatment most often focuses on increasing coping skills and interpersonal relationship skills through psychotherapy." (MentalHelpNet)
Antisocial Personality Disorder has a marked level of deceitfulness. A person with APD will repeatedly lie, without consideration or remorse. This person could use an alias or many of them, and they will con for personal gain or pleasure. A person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder will act with an inflated, exaggerated grandiosity that serves to hide a very insecure person. This person is afraid that others will find out that he or she has weaknesses and faults just like everyone else.


Whether a lie is spawned by fear, intimidation or an extreme disregard for others, what it covers is a lack of personal responsibility. The energy it takes to fabricate stories is enormous, and diverted from introspection and personal growth. In personality disorders, lying is learned during childhood and persists through adulthood with all lies growing more complex and extensive as time goes on. It is a way of being, and the only way a person with a personality disorder knows how to exist.

Take it Home

It seems that every time I research and summarize human behavior, I am less likely to be upset by those behaviors that have gotten under my skin. I'm really thankful it no longer takes reading 30 books and writing a thesis paper to tolerate some people!

I've worked hard at becoming and being an honest person, and some would even say it was at the expense of sensitivity or diplomacy. I've done my best at honesty, but I would be lying if I said I have never lied. You may ask if I'm hungry, but, even if I'm famished and you plan on putting a plate of liver in front of me, I will tell you that I am not hungry. That's much easier to say than to tell you that I hate liver, no matter how much effort you put into making it. I'm grateful for the offer, but, um, no thanks.

You know, I enjoyed being a Wal-mart door greeter. Instead of the "Hi, how are you" line, I would try to meet everyone's eye and guess what they came for before they said a word. I spooked more than a few people guessing correctly, and if I was wrong, it was the beginning of an honest conversation where I could truly be of help. A little effort goes a long way.


  1. A great post. I am a person who don't like people lying to me as I do not like to lie to others also. In so speaking, it also doesn't mean that I never lied before. Much as I don't like it, a few white lies might be necessary at times, but doesn't mean it is 'right' to tell white lies. However, telling white lies would make me feel 'guilty' after that as it goes against my value of honesty. I remember a quotation, that I like very much and follow closely, that goes something like this, "If we tell the truth always, then we would not need to cover up later."

  2. Hi BK!

    No doubt in my mind that there is absolutely no reason to not be as honest as humanely possible at all times. I'd rather say nothing at all than tell a fib.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. It sounds like an old adage or cliche; but I really have met some people who would rather tell you a lie than the truth--even when the truth would serve them better at the time. It was rather strange at best and quite disturbing in the worst cases.

  4. When doing my research, Fish, I remember reading that constant lying like what you describe is often a major part of the personality disorders. Then, you always have to weigh whether they are aware of their lies or not.

    I agree with you - lies are never easy to take. Not only do I feel the broken trust, but I also feel betrayed. It is strange.

  5. Weighty stuff, Theresa!

    You would have had a field day with me back when I was a lawyer.

    I've learned over the years that it's best to just tell the truth up front and take the hell that follows right then. Getting caught in a lie is painful, indeed.

    I've gotten yelled at plenty at my wife for being absolutely truthful, but it makes for an honest relationship.

    The Natural State Hawg

  6. Well, Hawg... It's much easier to take the hell you get when telling the truth than it is the hellfire you get when caught in a lie! Listening skills help a lot too. So does diplomacy.

    Or are you the one that came home with that red sports car?

  7. I have meet some real ( they thought they were anyway) professional liars. The kind of people that would climb a tree to tell you a lie when they could stand on the ground with the truth. The kind of people that if they told me grass was green and sky was blue Id have to go outside to check.
    One gal was the worst Id ever met. Theresa and I met her online through a horse group. She lived in the same town I did. She was quite intelligent which made her constant lies especailly creepy. The kind of person that looks you square in the eye and goes into the most elaborate long winded lies and tells them as if she herself believed every word. Let me explain a little bit of it.
    This gal started off telling us all she was a lawyer ( no offense natl state hawg), and also a grad prix level eventer ( horse jumping) that was an olympic hopeful. She as time went by told us she had ran the largest semi-trucking company in the entire US (all by herself of coarse) Had been a stripper in Las Vegas (sorry didnt have looks for that) a playboy bunny ( that either) and quickly added to that story "European Edition" after Id guess realising that could have been checked easy enough. Hum...lets see she also had nearly died of stage FOUR cancer, not once but TWICE, Dated John Michael Montgomery ( country singer) and went on dates with him in his lear jet but had to break up because he drank too much. Did I mention that she was only about 30 yrs old and had two healthy children one 7 and the other a baby at the time. ( wonder when she had time for all this? especially the dying from cancer twice)
    The weird thing is the whole time I knew this gal I told her on a regular basis how much I hated liars. She would just agree. lol!
    For awhile I was downright angry about it, as it ALWAYS pisses me off to be blantantly lied to with outrageous stories as I feel that, that is a REAL insult to MY intelligence that the person would really think that Im that stupid and gullible. Sorry...I was single for five years and my bullshit detector is in pretty good order. Then...I got to feeling sorry for this person. I wondered who had beaten this persons self worth down to the point that the only way they could feel good about themselves was to be constantly telling some outrageous lie. Then I wondered if that was it at all or maybe some form of mental illness? Long story short I moved away and no longer had to deal with this person for which I am eternally grateful, but I still wonder what causes some people to be pathological liars. I'll probably never know.
    p.s. The Lawyer story changed to a Law Student story, and finally I found out her knowledge of the law was from being a telephone receptionist in a law office.

  8. Here is the textbook description of the personality disorder I believe this woman has:

    Narcissistic Personality Disorder Symptoms

    A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

    1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
    2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
    3. believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
    4. requires excessive admiration
    5. has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
    6. is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
    7. lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
    8. is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
    9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

    Those with narcissistic personality disorder project an inflated sense of self because underneath that image of grandiosity is really an insecure person with very low self-esteem. The grandiose image is a way to protect themselves from others at all costs.


  9. Heh.

    How come we're never as honest about sex? In France they talk about sex in public so honestly it's intimidating.

    I give the elderly a pass when they say hello to me. How could you not when you see someone loaded with pins like that?

    I'm antisocial with a conscience. Go figure.

  10. as someone who has just been dealt a nice round of cards with some people who fit this bill, I was happy to see that there in fact are reasons for people to act the way they do. I was beginning to think some folks just liked to harm others for fun.

    Thank you for all the wonderful posts here.

  11. Lisa, there are some people who deceive just for fun. Antisocial personality disorder is one of them. It is far more prevalent than you realize because most of us think of serial killers out there. But, the disorder is on a continuum in its severity. Like, I knew one antisocial personality that was quite the bastard, but since he was afraid of going to prison, he kept himself in check.

    Understanding the mechanics of lying and deceit won't change the fact that it is unacceptable behavior, but it gives us a running start on how to curb it, especially in ourselves.