"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?" ...
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.