Help me stop being a liar.
July 2, 2008 6:27 AM   Subscribe

I don't want to be a liar anymore but I don't know how to stop.

Unfortunately, I am really good at lying. I don't even think about it, it just comes out much more easily than truth-telling. I have told very elaborate lies but what really scares me are all the little lies I tell every day. I've been doing this since I was a very young child. I am good at acting and weaving fantasies.

I've never asked anyone but God for help with this. Because how can people trust you once you tell them something like this? I've discussed it with no one, not the closest friends I've ever had (I haven't had many friends though, and I've lied to all of the ones I have had). My family knows about it because I was always getting in trouble for it as a child but I still fool them a lot of the time. I'm in my late twenties now.

Most of my lies have to do with not disappointing others and simply not trusting them with the truth. I think other people's opinions mean a lot to me so I say whatever I have to say in order to look good in their eyes. On the other hand, I am very independent and spend a lot of time in solitude, at least partly because I do not feel like myself around others. I mean, duh, I lie to them so I'm not myself. I feel especially perverse because sometimes through my lies I get sympathy, but most of the time I just try to achieve invisibility. Like, I am able to shift their focus.

I really scared myself this past Monday. My family expected me to attend a function and I decided that I wasn't going to go. I'd begged off from too many other things by simply lying "I have a headache" so this time I went further, so no one could question me or give me that disappointed look. So I said I'd been vomiting blood and had them take me to the hospital. I ended up with tubes down my throat, anally probed and going through a lot of pain, but I still didn't feel how crazy it was. And that's why I'm scared. I'm just way too comfortable with all this.

I've been in and out of therapy for years and I have a therapist I think I can trust, although I can't remember if I've told her any lies. I'm going to be seeing her for my regular appointment in the next few days, and I just can't go on lying like this. I know it's not going to be an easy habit to break but I don't even know where to begin. I don't feel like a whole person and strangely enough I am really dedicated to integrity. Can anyone help me? No need to be gentle.

I have a gmail at (I've used it for an anonymous question before but I don't mind the connection).
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Write fiction.
posted by knowles at 6:33 AM on July 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

IANAP, and if any MeFites with more experience in that arena tell you that my advice hear will do more harm than good, please believe them.

Still, what I think you need to do is go to someone or some group of people, probably your family, who you trust, and who already knows about you doing this, and then confess to the big lies (like the vomiting blood and so on) and then confess to them that you honestly do want to stop, and then ask that they start to call bullshit on you a lot more. Sometimes it'll happen when you're telling the truth, but here's the thing - when you are lying to them, you have to own up to it.

You say you think you keep doing this because (a) you've gotten good enough at it to generally avoid detection, and (b) because you're afraid of disappointing people. I think if you can take away the first element and turn around the second one so that you realize that these people will be more disappointed by you not being trustworthy, then you might be able to break the habit, provided that you truly keep at it.

And, of course, talk to your therapist about it, as she should hopefully know you better than anyone out here does.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:43 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

There once was a woman who was intelligent and had a very good heart. She had a daughter whom she adored and loved very much. One night she came home from a very bad day at work, tired, full of emotional tension, and with a terrible headache. She wanted peace and quiet, but her daughter was singing and jumping happily. The daughter was unaware of how her mother was feeling; she was in her own world, in her own dream. She felt so wonderful, and she was jumping and singing louder and louder, expressing her joy and love. She was singling so loud that it made her mother's headache even worse, and at a certain moment, the mother lost control. Angrily she looked at her beautiful little girl and said, "Shut up! You have a terrible voice. Can you just shut up!"

The truth is that the mother's tolerance for any noise was nonexistent; it was not that the little girl's voice was horrible. But the daughter believed what her mother said, and in that moment she made an agreement with herself. After that she no longer sang, because she believed her voice was really bad and would bother anyone who heard it. She became shy at school, and if she was asked to sing, she refused. Even speaking to others became difficult for her. Everything changed in the little girl because of that unfortunate moment when her mother lashed out. She believed she must repress her emotions in order to be accepted and loved.

How many times do we do this type of thing throughout our lives? We give people these types of thoughtless, spontaneous opinions that they then carry with them for years. People who love us do the same to us, but don't know what they've done. Ultimately, it becomes important to forgive them, because they don't realize what has happened.

Anonymous, if you want to transcend the level of existence that is hell in your life right now, if you want to be happier, you must be impeccable with your word. It is very powerful. Use your word in the correct way. Use truth to share your love. Begin with yourself. Tell yourself how wonderful you are, how great you are. Tell yourself how much you love yourself. Use your word to break all that is making you suffer. With truth you can escape your fears and live a different life.
posted by netbros at 7:03 AM on July 2, 2008 [9 favorites]

Lying keeps people from knowing the person you really are. Peoples' current perception of you is a construct you have woven, as you are most likely too afraid to show the "real" you for fear of rejection. If someone doesn't like you/accept you now, they are rejecting something you have created, not your actual self.

From your description, it also sounds like you're doing the classic "COME HERE" then "NO GO AWAY!" ploy, cyclig between cries for help and the need to isolate.

Whether you are playing the victim, trying to get people to leave you alone, or just plain making up stories for someone's amusement, you are hiding behind various masks. My guess is that you are scared to your core, lonely, and too egotistical to ask for help generally speaking. It sounds like you have some serious antisocial and narcissitic traits. You should try practicing honesty at all times. It's not that hard. Some things to live by which will keep you honest is "Always show up." If you agree to be somewhere, go there. If it sucks, it will help you set boundaries and decline similar invites in the future. Another is to refrain from telling stories. Granted, things almost always can be improved with embellishment, but you will get caught doing this (I'm sure your friends and family know of your reputation as a liar, whether you think they are aware of this or not), and people's trust of you will diminish. I've known several liars, and have suffered from this myself, and people are aware of your bullshit more than you think, it's just not serious enough for them to warrant the awkward conversation regarding this.

I'm sure your family took your hospitalization seriously, but it sounds like a cry for help to me. If you were "rewarded" for this behavior, it's not too far a fall to the "fake suicide" ploy the next time your life takes a dive and you want all attention focused on you.

This is serious, as it could affect all future relationships, with your spouse, your children, existing family, and employers. No one expects you to be honest 100% of the time, but consistently lying for no reason is indicative of an underlying pathology. Talk to your therapist. And above all, try practicing diligent honesty for a week.
posted by Debaser626 at 7:04 AM on July 2, 2008

Here is more background on The Four Agreements link posted above.
posted by netbros at 7:12 AM on July 2, 2008

As a teenager I went through a period of shoplifting. I stopped this very addictive activity with internal dialog, reminding myself, "I am not a thief."

It worked. I didn't want to be perceived as a thief, not even by myself. Perhaps you just need to decide you are not a liar, you are an honest person that people can trust. Remind yourself of this over and over until it becomes natural to think of yourself in that way.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:15 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

What are you afraid of people knowing about the real you? Why are you afraid?
posted by mpls2 at 7:27 AM on July 2, 2008

I take it your present therapist isn't working for you? Is it because you need a new one, or is it because you have this problem with therapists in general? I truly reccomend coming totally clean to your therapist - that's the only way they can help.

As for your lying... You sound like a text-book narcissist. You lie because other people's idea of you is the most important thing to you, but at the same time you know the lies are impossible to keep up long-term, so you never truly relate to anyone. Narcissism is very much twisted and fucked up, because you end up being the very thing you want to avoid - a really bad person, both to others as well as to yourself.

I'm not a therapist nor do I have training in the area. I did have a friend who was a lot like you. She was once one of my best friends, and now she's someone I am happy to have out of my life. However, when you say how can people trust you once you tell them something like this?, well, they can (and I would) because it takes a huge amount of honesty to come out with this particular brand of truth.
posted by neblina_matinal at 7:35 AM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I suggest you try group therapy.
posted by milarepa at 8:00 AM on July 2, 2008

You should have a listen to the first part of this episode of This American Life. It's a short story called Lieland by Etgar Keret.
posted by scblackman at 8:04 AM on July 2, 2008

When I stopped stealing sweets from shops as a child, I did it because someone I respected died. I convinced myself that being dead, she would know what I was doing - even if I wasn't caught - and would disapprove. I think I may also have actively promised her (after she died!) to stop. That was much easier than admitting to any living people what I was doing.

No idea if this would work for anyone else, but maybe worth a shot if you know any dead people.
posted by emilyw at 8:23 AM on July 2, 2008

If you really wish to stop lying, this will do it, and in short order, too:

WARNING WARNING WARNING -- Do NOT read the following unless you are really serious about wanting to change your way of life, unless you are really committed to the truth. This works. But reading about it, seeing how simple it is, and then not following through, will just cause you grief, because now you KNOW you don't need to live as a liar any longer, you'll KNOW that it's a choice that you're making.

Okay, you're sure you're ready? Here we go: When you find that you've lied to someone, go to them and tell them the truth. Apologize. Say "I just lied to you." (Optional: "I just lied to you again." This option really sucks.) "I'm sorry. I'm changing this pattern of behavior, I don't want to lie to you again, and I'm going to do my best not to."

This is humiliating. As in: Humiliating. Very painful, very embarrassing, very awkward. This humiliation will burn your new resolve into your soul, it will stiffen your spine. Once you know, in your guts, that lies equal humiliation and embarrassment, you'll cut it out.

Commit to this way of life, and continue to follow through, and you will become much more aware of yourself, you will hear the lie before it leaves your lips, you will remember how difficult it is to go and right the lies that you've righted thus far. And you will quit lying to people.

It's a fact.

This works.

It's very simple. Not easy, not one little bit. But simple enough for a child to grok.

It's so much nicer being honest, so much simpler, you'll walk lighter, the days will truly be brighter.

Welcome to peace.

I wish you luck. And that's no lie.

posted by dancestoblue at 8:38 AM on July 2, 2008 [13 favorites]

Unfortunately, I am really good at lying. I don't even think about it, it just comes out much more easily than truth-telling. I have told very elaborate lies but what really scares me are all the little lies I tell every day.

One thing to think about is that you're probably not as good at lying as you think. I have a co-worker who lies constantly. For the first few weeks I worked with her I never considered the possibility that she could be lying especially since the matters we worked together on were trivial. After a while I started to notice that she was unreliable and I began to double check whatever she said. After that I stopped believing anything she said. To be good at lying you have to do it infrequently, you have to keep the lie close to the truth, and you have to avoid elaboration. Otherwise you're probably not fooling anyone who is paying attention. Neither the liar nor the person being lied to is getting what they think they're getting out of the interaction. Good luck on fixing this.
posted by rdr at 8:50 AM on July 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

I have (had, really) a friend who does something similar to what you've claimed you do. She's a bright, successful and humorous girl, and most people enjoy her company for some measure of time before they discover her problem with telling the truth. But they always discover it. Not because she's bad at lying, not even because the lies she tells are about anything serious - she lies casually about things of little or no consequence. That's exactly the problem; her lies are so sporatic and inexplicable that people tend to start wondering if she's just flat-out nuts.

After some time people start to distance themselves from her, not because she's not pleasant to be around but because they're never sure if what she's saying is true. No one is generally hurt by these lies, just confused and kind of creeped out.

What I'm saying is that these lies you tell do quite a bit to seeing that you stay alone. Lies, even little white lies, have ways of outing themselves, and more often than not people won't even let you know they've found you out. You're probably not as good at this as you think, and you'll probably never get an accurate measure of that in any case.

Going to a therapist is a good start, and as with any emotional issue the problem isn't with other people but within you. If you're trying to make people happy or avoid hurting them or dissappointing them, I can tell you that lying to them is the wrong way to go about achieving those ends. You want to stop lying, and that is good, but you have to be able to see how what you're doing to prevent negative feelings is acctually causing them before you can fully internalize this.

By this time it's probably such a habit that a lie floats out of your mouth before you even have time to think. Knowing that can be to your advantage; take your time in responding to things and examine what you say before you allow it to leave your mouth. Don't say anything unless you can be sure it's not a lie. People may remark to you that you're taking your time to respond to things or being overly contemplative, and you can just agree with them - neither make up a lie or fully disclose what you're doing - just say that you are, in fact, taking your time.

Also, accept that you will fuck up from time to time. Habits don't break easy and everyone tells a lie now and again. Don't be too hard on yourself, but DO be sincere in your desire to quit. Until you truly want to, you won't.

PS - No one, not one person on Earth, is the same alone as they are around other people. You're not different or weird in this, and anxiety about it is nothing strange either.
posted by Pecinpah at 9:34 AM on July 2, 2008

You need to mark dancestoblue's answer as a best up above, because it is almost exactly how I was able to move past pathological lying as a teenager.

He missed one critical pre-step that I had to take, however. I had to do what you're doing now - admitting that I was a liar - to myself, every time I lied.

I would tell a lie, and while I was telling it, I knew that I was lying, I knew I was getting away with it, and I had the subconscious guilt about it starting to build up (which is what eventually leads you to your next lie, if you don't stop it somehow).

So what I started to do, in my head, was to tell myself: "That was a lie. You just lied."

The next step was finding the gumption to carry out the above-prescribed formula.

1. Admit to self.
2. Admit to others.
3. Start lying less and less.

It was that simple. I think what's helped me in the decade or so since is reflecting back upon the experiences in my past, the things that happened to me and the experiences I had that led me to become a pathological liar in the first place. Realizing these things and dealing with them as an adult I think is a key function in preventing a relapse at some point.

And as mentioned, don't beat yourself up when you do screw up, it will happen. Just repeat the formula.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:49 AM on July 2, 2008

Next time you begin to answer a question with a lie, stop and think to yourself, "Why am I telling this lie? Do I feel the truth is not simple enough? Do I think the person would be disappointed in me? Is the lie more exciting than the truth?" Think about that for a sec and then think, "I promised myself I wouldn't lie anymore. I don't have to lie right now, even if the above are true."

Make an effort to catch yourself before you tell lies - it's automatic, and it might help to try and think about the pros and cons of a lie in a given situation.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:04 AM on July 2, 2008

I found the other question that was asked with the same e-mail in case anyone thinks it might help answer this question. I'm only posting it because anonymous didn't mind the connection.

How do I matter more to others?

I wish I could offer specific advice, but this is out of the realm of my experience that I'd be as likely to harm as to help.
posted by Green With You at 11:30 AM on July 2, 2008

Authenticity is freedom. People are just as afraid of disappointing you and looking good for you as you are for them. Get present to the cost of lying. You don't get to be you, you have a lot of stress, you have fake relationships with people, and you have to keep all this stuff straight in your head. Plus you feel like a shitty person.

You're not a shitty person; you're just a human being who is making choices that don't work for your life. You get something out of lying: you get to avoid confrontation. But the costs are far, far higher than the benefits.
posted by desjardins at 12:40 PM on July 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Little unintentional lies can occur very naturally sometimes. Often people do it without even realizing. I know I do it more often than I'd like, and I'm sure it happens to everybody.

But when you start lying, do you catch yourself doing it? Surely there must be a moment when you become aware that you are lying. If you are really serious about solving this problem, you have to use that moment to clean up after the lie. RIGHT THEN. Right when you have the awareness that you are telling a lie, back up and say "Wait, actually..." and then tell the truth. And don't think that doing so will irritate or confuse other people. Is it not true that realizing when you are wrong and fixing it is a sign of success?
posted by Laugh_track at 12:47 PM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have to add to the doubt that you're necessarily fooling all of the people all (or most) of the time. People who lie compulsively tend to think they're "great liars" because they are inventive and tell lies easily (with conviction, without getting nervous) but it's implausibility and inconsistency that exposes them. People not calling you out means little: I couldn't count how many blatant lies I've ignored simply because what's the point? You just mentally peg the person as a liar and act accordingly.

I think you are lying to yourself as well. Asking to get taken to the hospital because you are vomiting blood goes way, way beyond a reasonable alternative to overusing a headache excuse, and it directly contradicts your suggestion that you mainly lie to avoid being the center of attention. You deliberately set out a path that created a huge drama centered on you.

You don't know whether you have lied to your therapist (assume the answer is probably if it comes up), but the more important question is whether you are being honest with him or her. You need to get into the history and full extent of this pattern of behavior and make addressing it a if not the central focus of your therapy. I honestly think confessions to friends and family etc. come later because you are a whole lot more likely to negotiate that kind of painful course (some of which will certainly be necessary, just to test your resolve up front) most effectively. Coming clean can also in some cases do more harm than good, so it's a good thing to talk through specific cases. Since you say you care a lot about what people think I'd guess you snow your therapist some to seem less screwed up than you obviously are (you are seriously, seriously screwed up). I think this behavior sounds genuinely pathological, you need ongoing professional support as your first line of addressing it.
posted by nanojath at 2:49 PM on July 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yeah, if the lies you tell lead you to being anally probed, you're not a good liar. Which is to say, people believe you, but the lies you tell don't get you where you want to be ... or at least, where you say and feel you want to be.

Lying, like anything else, is a habit. You can stop a habit by:
  1. First noticing that you did it after the fact
  2. Then noticing that you're in the process of doing it, and stop
  3. Finally, realizing you are about to do it and avoid doing it altogether.
In your case, if you lie to someone, as you soon as you realize that's what you've done, go to them and tell them that you lied. Apologize, and tell them what the truth was. I'd actually start this out with strangers and little things first, then move on to big things. So if a cashier asks you, for example, why you're buying so much chocolate and you lie and say "I'm getting them as a present for my friends blah blah blah", on your way to the car say, "You know what? I just lied to the cashier." Go back to the store, go up to the cashier and say, "You know what? I'm sorry. I lied. I bought the chocolate for myself. I lied because I didn't want to admit that I was going to be eating a lot of chocolate." All of these steps: admitting that you lied, apologizing for it, and explaining your mindset when you lied, might be useful to train your mind to stop thinking about lying as a solution. Then you can move on to people you know better. You're on the phone with your folks, and they invite you somewhere you don't want to go. "I'm sorry", you say, "I'm not feeling well, I..." then stop yourself. "You know what? I'm sorry, I'm lying to you right now. The truth is I feel fine. I was lying right now because I didn't want to admit that I don't feel like taking part in this activity with you, but the truth is right now I don't feel in the mood to be with other people. Again, admission, apology, mindset. Then, you're in a conversation with a close friend. They ask you a question and you're about to lie to them. Here, you haven't lied to them, so you don't have to admit or apologize. But, you do have to tell yourself, "I was about to lie because I didn't want to expose myself to ridicule (or whatever)." This continues to train you to see areas where you have a tendency to lie.

I used to interrupt all the time, and I still do it a lot, but I went through the process of noticing afterwards, then noticing during and stopping, then noticing I was about to and avoiding it altogether.

Of course, in my case, meds helped a lot.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:52 PM on July 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I used to have the same issue because of abusive parents. I was basically trained to constantly people-please OR ELSE. I worked on it a lot during my college years.

I didn't "come clean" to everyone I'd ever lied to ever. The important lies had to be corrected, of course, but I let everything else go.

Meanwhile, I worked towards being more truthful. I started slow, by simply not answering questions. If anyone asked me a question that made me feel like lying, or I was in a situation where I felt that I had to lie, I would just clam up and stop communicating entirely.

Old Me: Oh, I'm sick I couldn't go
New-ish Me: I can't come, sorry. BYE! *turns off phone*

Old Me: I plan to go to business school in 2 years, after I save money and really get my charity going
New-ish Me: I am not talking about my plans for the future.

At some point, I started slowly telling the truth, but it took a lot of time for me to learn to trust others enough to be honest.

So, if you can't lie and you can't tell the truth, try saying nothing.
posted by sondrialiac at 11:10 PM on July 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yeah, if the lies you tell lead you to being anally probed, you're not a good liar. Which is to say, people believe you, but the lies you tell don't get you where you want to be ... or at least, where you say and feel you want to be.

I think this point is key and I am commenting to highlight this. It's really striking, that with all the lying and manipulating the outcome is so messed up. It's almost like a movie, an ironic comedy. That's a big clue right there.
posted by Danila at 11:48 PM on July 3, 2008

update from the OP:

I was wondering if you could update a question I asked about lying. I have started a blog to collect resources, experience and help for other people who suffer from compulsive lying. I hope it could help other people who have the same problem. Could you add a comment to this effect?

Here is the blog:
posted by jessamyn at 7:50 PM on July 4, 2008

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