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The Truth About Lying

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Clinical depression is a serious medical condition that affects millions of Americans every year, but what about all us other people out there who are just plain unhappy sometimes? What can we do to feel better? I have the perfect prescription. It's called "stop lying."

Lying may be the reason that you feel so bad. Yes, I said it. I'll go even further and say that almost everyone lies every day, often all day long; it's as natural as breathing or eating for most people. It's an epidemic. Most of us don't even realize we are lying half the time. We stay quiet, manipulate situations, tell people what they want to hear, don't express our truth -- no wonder we all feel so bad!

Just to be clear, I'm grouping a bunch of different human phenomena under the general heading "lying": exaggerating, withholding information, white lies, justified lies (e.g., "No, Honey, you don't look fat in that"), fooling ourselves. All have some form of stretching, hiding, ignoring or avoiding the truth.

From coaching thousands of people over the last 20 years, I have found a definite correlation when what we say does not jive with our true sentiments: it causes a cognitive dissonance that wreaks havoc on our emotional well-being. Lying is essentially stifling our true selves and real personalities, which makes us humans feel terrible and causes us some serious mental anguish. Lying, in any form, is honoring fear.

Why aren't we tackling the effects of lying on a person's emotional well-being? Where is the lying section in the bookstore? Did they forget about it? At my coaching company, the Handel Group, we don't believe lying is this dark, heavy, taboo subject. We get our clients to become aware that they lie and gain a sense of humor about it. Come on, when was the last time you lied to someone and said you loved their haircut? Or made up why you were late with a project? Or why you haven't emailed someone back yet? Yesterday? Today? An hour ago? Don't worry. You're not alone. We're all doing it.

Here are several different ways that we lie:

1. Being nice: Most of us want to be perceived as a good person, so instead of telling the truth to people we tell nice white lies to make them feel good, or rather, not feel bad. For example, you have lunch with an old friend you haven't seen in months. When you see each other, you tell her she looks fantastic. But you're really thinking to yourself 'uh oh...she's put on at least 15 pounds.' You justify the lie with the excuse that I don't want to hurt her feelings. The problem is that the whole conversation is fake. If you really are good friends, wouldn't you want to know what's going on in her life that could be causing her to put on weight? Is she OK? Did something happen? Find out what's going on. Be real.

2. Not speaking up: Many of us are afraid to express our true thoughts and feelings because we are worried about how people will react, so we don't speak up at all, or we say the "safe" 50 percent of what we really wanted to say, leaving out the important parts, the parts that could get us into "trouble." Say you have a new boyfriend that you adore. He brings you to a Thai restaurant, but you hate Thai food. You don't tell him. Then later, you become intimate with him, but the sex isn't that great. You pretend everything is fine, afraid to say something that might hurt him. By staying quiet, you're eating food you hate and having lousy sex. You're not in a relationship with this person; the fake you is in the relationship. Your boyfriend has no idea what is going on. You are unhappy because the fake you and the real you are two different people. And the real you is frustrated and has no voice. Of course you feel bad!

3. Covering your ass: These lies are about trying to cover something up so that we don't get into trouble. They usually start with, "I'm sorry...," plus an excuse. In my 20s I was great at these lies. I would be running late for a meeting and plot in my head the reason that I was late: "I'm sorry I was late, but traffic was horrible," or "The babysitter was sick," or, "Did you know there was construction on I-95?" Bullshit. I was late because I left 20 minutes later than I should have. Often these lies are completely false, or they just have a dose of fabrication in them to throw people off the truth. These lies become second nature. All of a sudden you don't even realize you're doing them.

4. Hiding the truth: When you intentionally withhold information from someone, I'm calling that lying, even if you think there's a good reason not to tell the person. For example, let's say you have a friend whom you just don't like that much anymore. Most people would just not say anything and let the friendship die away. Imagine if you could say, "I'm really not liking you lately." Now this conversation might end with the same outcome: the end of the friendship, but at least you would have expressed yourself, and your ex-friend would have to deal with the consequences of his actions. It ends clean. But the more likely scenario is that you would have a great conversation, clean things up with each other and end up feeling closer that ever. Hiding the truth keeps you from being totally connected to people and takes away from the quality of your relationships.

5. Big secrets: Many of us have big lies in our lives that are slowly killing us, but we're too afraid to confess them. So instead of telling the truth, we live with the lie, convincing ourselves that it doesn't matter. Let's say you cheated on your partner. It was just a drunken make-out session in another state. You come back from your business trip and life goes on, right? You go to dinner, watch "The Good Wife" together. You think that if no one knows about what happened, then nothing has changed. Wrong. Everything has changed. You can't honestly have the same close, connected relationship with your partner after that. And do you really think it's not affecting how you feel about yourself? It is. You can pretend, but you can't truly be free and happy in your life when you're hiding a big secret. Sorry.

6. Spewing bad theories: Throughout our lives, we have created negative theories (lies) that we believe about ourselves that we state like they are facts. For example, "I can't stay on a diet," "I'm horrible at dating," "I'm not smart enough to get an MBA," or, "I'm too old." We act like these lies are the truth and we have no power over them. They are not true! They are just excuses not to diet or find true love or go to graduate school. The lies we tell ourselves about ourselves are the ones that kill us the most. They keep us stuck, believing our bullshit, and they stop us from changing and growing.

I have found that once people start becoming comfortable with catching lies and telling the truth, to themselves and others, there is a burden that is released, and they live their lives with much more energy, joy and self-expression. It creates a total brain shift that makes people truly happier.

Those that know me well can vouch for the fact that I take this one to heart. I say what I mean, and I say it all. It can get me into trouble sometimes, as feelings will get hurt, but I always find that it is much better to risk hurting feelings than to keep silent. That is the only way to make a big difference on the planet and to have deep relationships.

Now that I've mapped out a few different ways that people lie on a daily basis, look at your own life. See how often you lie. Make a list. Really, take a day and write them all down, or at least keep a tally. Listen to what you say to people and what you say to yourself. You'll be amazed by how many lies come out of your mouth every day.

I wish I could give you a total fix in this one blog post, but it takes a lot of persistent hard work to really make a dent in this thing. Becoming aware of all the areas in which you lie is a great start. The next step? Tell people you lied! That's where the fun starts...