Sea of lies
October 21, 2008 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Please help me become a better person. Tales of shame, guilt and lies follow.

I have issues. I feel down almost all of the time, and guilt and shame are a big part of my thoughts on a daily basis. I've recently gotten to the point where I'm seeking help, and I've been diagnosed with dysthymic disorder and social phobia so far, and I think there's a fair chance that avoidant personality disorder will be added to that. I'm still in some sort of intake/testing phase and I've been told it'll probably be a month or two before I get a therapist.

I want to change, I really do, because my life right now sucks. One big problem is that I've lied. I've lied to family, and those few I could call friends. I've lied about how things are going with me (I've said I feel fine, I don't), how things are going with my degree (I've said they're going okay, they're not), about my social life (I say I have friends, I basically know no one in the city I live in besides my flatmates), about past relationships (I've said I've had a girlfriend, I've never had one). I've both told outright lies, and lied by omission. I've lied because I'm so ashamed of who I am and what my life is like. I want to stop lying, but all those lies are already out there, and I can't undo them, and they won't go away without a full confession. I'm scared beyond belief at the thought of confessing, and I'm not sure it's the right thing to do (or how to go about it). But then on the other hand I feel I can't keep lying. I don't know what to do. I want to tell the truth, but I'm afraid everyone will look down upon me for lying to them (and it would be well within their right to do so).

It's mainly the lies I don't know what to do about. But if you've got any general advice on how to deal with depression, social anxiety and feelings of guilt and shame, please tell.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've lied because I'm so ashamed of who I am and what my life is like.

Through therapy and whatever else you are doing to treat yourself, get yourself to the point where you aren't ashamed of who you are and what your life is like. Wait until you have a newer and healthier perspective to revisit what to do about your lies. We have all lied to appear as better shinier versions of ourself, but until you have a clearer view on things, you won't be able to determine what of these lies are truly lies you should feel guilty about and those you need to atone for, and those that aren't. In the future, when you are ready, you can address these issues with those people that you feel you need to, but you need to have a solid foundation to go into those kinds of discussions. Don't walk into things feeling shaky about them if you can help it, because you are going to need to be confident in yourself for others to be confident in you.
posted by greta simone at 7:06 AM on October 21, 2008

(hugs you) Those aren't the kinds of lies people would look down on you for. The kinds of things you're telling them are understandable, "I don't want them to worry about me" lies, and I really strongly doubt that you'd make them mad if they found out. At most, they may feel hurt for you, and maybe sorry that you felt like you couldn't trust them, but that's very, very different from them looking down on you -- they wouldn't think less of YOU, more like they would wonder, "wow, s/he must really be hurting if s/he didn't think I'd want to know about this."

We all tend to give the little white lie of "oh, I'm okay" to the people we don't entirely trust when they ask how we are. What you've done is in NO way something that people would look down on you for.

Honestly, the kinds of lies your family would be angry about are things like if you say you're going to house-sit for your parents for a week, but instead you leased it out to some indie filmmakers and they shot a porno in there, or if you said that you had a job as a doctor but instead were a drug dealer. You're not even in this same league.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:10 AM on October 21, 2008 [6 favorites]

Saying "I'm fine" when you are really not is not a lie in the same way that scamming your grandmother out of her pension is. And frankly, if your family is anything like my family, they probably weren't all that fooled by what you said. In my case, they could tell that I wasn't doing well, but couldn't really find a way to help me that I would or could accept. When I finally began to talk more openly about what was going on in my life and in my head, my family members just felt relieved that I was at last doing something to improve my mental health and my life.

The voice that is telling you that everyone will look down on you when you tell them what is really going on, and that everyone would be right to do so - that is not objective reality, that is your depression talking. Your family wants to see you do well - they are not seeking opportunities to look down upon you or to shame you. Speaking honestly about your issues takes a lot of strength and bravery, and I think that your family will recognize that and be grateful and proud that you are taking steps to change your life.
posted by that possible maker of pork sausages at 7:19 AM on October 21, 2008

If someone in my life revealed to me that they had told the kinds of lies you mention above, my first feelings would be of concern and caring for someone who's been having a rough time and didn't feel able to talk about it. I most definitely would not be angry or anything like that - I would feel sad and would want to help.

From your brief description it sounds like you might be doing an intake for cognitive behavioural therapy? I had this, and it helped me so much. I used to feel guilt and shame over the most stupid things that had happened twenty years ago. Now I feel just fine almost 100% of the time.

While you're waiting, I thoroughly recommend this book. Together with the CBT (and drug therapy, which helps many people but by no means all), I learned a whole new way of thinking, and my inner life today bears almost no resemblance to what it was a few years ago. I wish the same for you!
posted by different at 7:23 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

What scabrous said. This is not exactly what you're describing, but it does address social anxiety issues.

Also, just a note, these are not the most terrible lies that have been told in the history of the planet. I'm not saying it's good to lie, but I am saying that if these are the only types of lies you told, I highly doubt that your family and roommates will be offended. It sounds like you're mostly lying about your emotional state, which is still lying, but I think it goes along with depression. You're saying life is good for you when it's really not, which I don't consider a bad lie. A bad lie, IMO, would be saying that you didn't have an affair with someone's girlfriend when you actually did. This does not fit with what you've told us, at all. Apologize for the lies, but don't make a Really Big Deal about them, because they're not. And I think a sincere apology with a statement that "this will not happen again" and maybe an explanation are all that's really necessary. (I.e., I was dishonest with you regarding X. I hope that you can understand that I've been going through some tough times, but I'm working on it now.) I'm guessing odds are high that your family and roommates will understand and express hope that your life will get better for you. Please take their interest and care for you at face value, and please, please let go of the guilt. It really is not worth it.

Best wishes.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 7:25 AM on October 21, 2008

One of the corollary difficulties with depression is that it makes you the (usually unwilling) center of your universe; it is a disease of perspective in many ways. These lies (and I agree, some of them are stretches to call them lies) are a lot bigger to you than they are to people around you. Everybody puts on a brave face now and then, and under certain circumstances it's not anyone else's business if you're not doing well, or if you're having trouble with school or your social life. Down the line, you'll be able to look back at these things as what you did to cope. You aren't obligated to open up to everyone you cross paths with.

It will be difficult to internalize right now, but try to at least understand intellectually that the guilt and shame are part of the disease. Your brain is doing it. (And see this fascinating thread about a similar phenomenon - apparently almost everyone gets a little jolt of it now and then.) Your therapy should include some strategies for dealing with it, because dwelling on it does you no good.

You're not a bad person; you're going through a tough time. And you can't change the past no matter how hard you try or how much you re-process it, so just focus on looking forward right now. It does get better.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:43 AM on October 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

None of the lies you've described are likely to come back to haunt you. If they come up, you don't need to be entirely honest...a "well, I stretched the truth a bit" will cover you. People expect a certain degree of social lying, as others have said. Plus, people are essentially self-centered and it takes a lot to turn them against you. They're much too focused on trying to make YOU like THEM.

In my experience, part of being depressed or anxious (or whatever disorder that underlying depression/anxiety manifests itself as) is a tendency to ignore good things and focus on bad things. Hell, what else _IS_ depression if not your brain, for whatever reason, looking for evidence that everything sucks. Unless you're neglecting to mention some horrific lies, it sounds like you're in a state where you're focusing very intensely on a few small bad/embarrassing things.

Shame and guilt are important emotions, but sometimes whatever triggers those emotions gets a little confused. This sounds like one of those cases. Seriously, you're not a bad person.
posted by paanta at 7:52 AM on October 21, 2008

Also realize that a lot more people than you think -- including some whom you know -- are feeling or have felt exactly as you are, and are "lying"/did "lie" to *you* about how *they* feel/felt. You're not alone, my brother. Good luck.
posted by shallowcenter at 8:28 AM on October 21, 2008

First, what everyone else said--those aren't terrible lies and no one is going to think less of you for them. They might feel a little left out, that you didn't turn to them, but most of us are prone to the occasional burst of bullshit about how swell things are going.

I just wanted to add -- you're not required to share 'the truth' in some big dramatic way with anyone. Really--you don't have to come clean. You're not required to share things when you're feeling emotionally vulnerable or not ready to share with someone or when you frankly don't feel like talking about something.

That's a different thing than keeping stuff a secret because out of shame. It's okay if you want to keep some things private.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 8:49 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Having a support network is essential to recovering from depression and anxiety. The way you build a support network is through honesty.

I lived for 33 years believing that my father would be disappointed in me if he knew my issues with anxiety and depression. I had an emergency hospitalization this year (for a physical issue) and I came clean with him. It felt SO GOOD to be honest and he wasn't disappointed in the least. In fact, he said he had suspected that all wasn't well with me. Your family probably already knows something and wonders why you keep your distance.
posted by desjardins at 9:22 AM on October 21, 2008

scabrous said: Fess up, say you're getting help and allow your friends and family to support you.

that possible maker of pork sausages
said: Your family wants to see you do well - they are not seeking opportunities to look down upon you or to shame you.

mitzyjalapeno said: I'm guessing odds are high that your family and roommates will understand and express hope that your life will get better for you.

All of this may well be the case for anonymous, but it's not a given. I can assure you that some people's families (or at least individual family members) do not offer that kind of support, and in fact family dynamics are often at the root of the kind of shame-guilt-low-self-esteem issues anonymous is talking about. Sometimes not sharing one's own deep-dark-secrets with blood-family is the healthiest approach.

Whether you end up unburdening yourself with your family, anonymous, I strongly suggest that you at least get started on your therapies first and work on yourself for a while without consideration of how your issues affect others in your life. You need to put your own needs and your own suffering first. You deserve 100% of your attention. As you get stronger you may find that your desire to "come clean" diminishes. Or not. But give yourself time, and make the efforts you are undertaking be about helping you get healthy. The rest will follow.
posted by headnsouth at 9:29 AM on October 21, 2008

Listen, I know how hard it is, especially when at first you start telling people the truth: "things are really tough right now for me". They look at you sideways or make a face because they didn't ask really wanting to know, it was part of the social contract. Or you tell your family and you get lectures, you hear how they told you it wasn't going to work, or see, you should have known better.

You're on the way to getting help. Good for you. Whoever you work with can help you through the dilemmas above, and I bet that after a while they won't seem so insurmountable. Hang in there.
posted by micawber at 10:01 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

To remember: people are less upset by things than by someone lying about things. As a general rule. BUT: all the things you say you lied about are, in a sense, understandable lies. Things people want to cover up because they're worried or ashamed. I don't think anyone would call you out on lying about things like this.

You're also doing all the things you need to do to get better, and stay happy. That's a big, big step and a lot to face up to. Even if you feel ashamed or anxious, that's really something to be proud of.
posted by mippy at 1:31 PM on October 21, 2008

Understand that you are far from alone. You are one of a multitude of us. We've been dishonest about who we are, hidden our true feelings, lied about things we've done and exagerated accomplishments. Continue to seek therapy and don't feel dismayed if you have to meet with several therapists before you find one who can truly help you. Your desire to change is key. Confessing, telling the truth and striving to make amends are standard parts of 12 step programs like AA and NA. It can be a very difficult struggle but the reward is inner tranquility.
posted by X4ster at 11:05 PM on October 21, 2008

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