By Nando Pelusi Ph.D., published on November 13, 2008 - last reviewed on November 20, 2015
I lie when I can't say no or when a person will be mad or when I
I lie when I can't say no or when a person will be mad or when Ithink he will be mad. I realize lying can be hurtful, especially in a relationship, but how do I stop?
Let's listen to a dialogue you and I might have, were you to enter my office:
"Why can't you say no?"
"Because someone might be mad at me."
"And you don't want that, but why can't you tolerate someone being mad at you?"
"I'd get really upset."
"But don't people get more upset when you lie to them?"
"Yes, but I'm off the hook for the moment."
"So you're staving off a confrontation—for the moment. But you live a life of anxiety, guilt, and more lying—until the next bout of lying."
"Why not try something really radical to get off of this roller coaster. Politely say: No. Say this to see if anything drastic really occurs."
"Why can't you?"
"It's too painful."
People lie for different reasons. Sometimes they do it to connive, manipulate, or take advantage. Other times the so-called white lies are meant to spare another's feelings. Lying is not a good thing, in general. Politicians use the art of puffery as part of their game. However, in your scenario, lying is done in the service of a self-defeating goal: To avoid confrontation.
Your lying comes from chronically recoiling from confrontation, no matter how minor. You might be imagining a frightful battle, or really hurt feelings, if you just tell the truth. Instead, lying creates the proverbial tangled web that clutters your life with half-remembered excuses.
When your fear of disappointing others reaches the critical point of self-abnegation and lying, it's time to re-think and readjust. It's nice to make others feel good, but not at the expense of one's integrity, because it sets up a message to yourself that your feelings count less than the person to whom you are lying. That's not good for either of you.
First, why not examine whether the other person will really be mad if you tell the truth. Let someone know tactfully why you are refusing an offer, for example.
Second, examine why you cannot deal with that person's disappointment? Perhaps, your good intentions have gone awry, and you take a good premise, not to disappoint, to extremes.
Third, ask yourself if you want to live a life uncluttered with lies and slinking.
The other extreme is just as bad, to be compulsively honest. We're not talking about radical honesty—that's social buffoonery. We don't have to tell Grandma we hate her fruitcake because it makes us gag. We can admire it from afar as an object of wonder.
Still, we all have a right of refusal, and right to compliment when we honestly feel it.