THE BLOG
01/26/2009 02:39 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

America's Biggest Liars: What Can We Learn From Them About Ourselves?

There is a long list of people who lie and unfortunately it's growing these days, whether it's another author whose "memoir" never happened or a chat-room flame who isn't who he claims to be. We've grown wearily accustomed to lies from the heads of our most established institutions--financial, political, or otherwise--but all these liars can still serve to teach us something besides to watch out for our wallets or to swallow big fat ones like weapons of mass destruction and zero-down mortgages.

My personal favorite is Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, whose impeachment trial by the Illinois Senate centers on allegations that he tried to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat. Here's a guy who actually believes the lies he tells the press. "I'm not going to resign," he told the Associated Press. "I've done absolutely nothing wrong."

Instead of showing up for his own impeachment hearing, or at least going quietly away, Blagojevich regularly gives interviews and compares himself to movie heroes and cowboys who were lynched for crimes they didn't commit. On the "Today" show, he compared himself to Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Gandhi--great leaders who had been wrongfully jailed! Back in his office to tape the Today interview (for the first time since charges were filed against him), he was uncomfortable, saying, "it felt like the government had violated him." He sure has that backwards!

Bernie Madoff is equally audacious. Some forensic psychologists have compared the financial con artist to a serial killer like Ted Bundy. His persona was inviting and trustworthy, originally making those whose bank accounts he "murdered" feel safe and secure, and showing absolutely no sense of remorse when his high-rolling betrayal was exposed. Like the Illinois governor, Madoff believes he is above the law. It's a trait shared by psychopaths who believe they will never get caught. As former FBI agent Mr. McCrary said in the New York Times, "Madoff is ... playing financial god, ruining these people and taking their money."

Then there's Casey Anthony, the mother of murdered 3-year-old Caylee Anthony. Casey has been lying since day one, just not as artfully as either of the men just described. She's not nearly as practiced (although her friends have called her an "habitual liar"); her body language gives her away. Take the footage of her in jail. Her parents were sitting across from her, speaking to her on the phone through the glass wall. They asked where the child was and Casey answered, very unconvincingly, and avoiding her parents' eyes, that the child would soon be found. Since the body of her little girl was found just a few blocks from her house, Casey will have to go to Plan B.

So what can we learn from those who are telling whoppers in public? We can look into the mirror these liars offer us - the opportunity to look at the lies we tell, especially the really damaging ones, the ones we tell ourselves. Like when we kid ourselves about how much we eat or drink, or how many pills we're taking. Or how much we're hurting from our last divorce. Or when we insist we had a happy childhood while inside we still bear the scars of abuse. Or that our interest in the guy or gal we work with "isn't sexual, we're just good friends." When we lie to ourselves, we create a split between one part of ourselves and another. The split starts small, but the gulf widens the more we tell ourselves that the stuff we're denying "isn't us." The part of ourselves that we're not willing to own can develop a life of its own and cause a lot of damage downstream to our health and happiness. The Madoffs, Blagojeviches and Anthonys are extreme examples of that split gone wild.

We split off or deny parts of ourselves out of fear - fear of not being loved, of not being accepted. We begin when we're very little - not wanting to admit to ourselves when we're feeling unlovable. When we're little, we're scared to own our own emotions, and we continue that practice into adulthood, often not even aware that we're lying to ourselves. Even the biggest liars, like the ones I've given as examples here, are lying to themselves about why they did whatever they finally got caught doing. So what do we need to do? We need find and acknowledge those scary emotions we've buried--and learn to live our truth. We'll be much healthier and happier when we do so.