6 Reasons People Give 'Alternative Facts' (When They Don’t Need To)

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Pathological lying isn’t a clinical diagnosis, though it can sometimes be a symptom of other issues, such as a personality disorder or a manic episode.

But some people will get so accustomed to lying that they do so even when there is no clear purpose and when their lies are easily disproved.

 

 

These events leave everyone scratching their heads, and wondering what the point of the deception is?

Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of these people — so-called pathological or compulsive liars — and gained some insight into the ways they think.

Believe it or not, their lying can make sense, when you look at it through their eyes.

1. It does matter — to them. 

The number one reason people lie when it just doesn’t matter is because they actually do think it matters. While everyone around them thinks it’s an inconsequential issue, the liar believes it is critically important.

They may be putting undeserved emphasis or pressure on themselves or on the issue, but you won’t know unless you ask a question like, “It seems like this issue is really important to you — why?”

2. Telling the truth feels like giving up control.

Often, people tell lies because they are trying to control a situation and exert influence on getting the decisions and reactions they want. The truth can be “inconvenient” sometimes because it might not conform to our narrative.

3. They don’t want to disappoint you.

It may not feel like it to you, but often, people who tell lie after lie are really worried about losing the respect of those around them. They want you to like them, be impressed, and value them. They’re worried that the truth might lead you to reject them or shame them.

4. Lies snowball.

I remember a cartoon my kids watched years ago about how lies grow. We tell a little bitty lie, but then to cover that lie, we have to tell another one, then another, and another — each gets bigger and bigger. Until finally, we’re arguing about the color of the sky, because to admit anything creates the potential of the entire house of cards tumbling.

If they admit to any single lie, they feel like they’re admitting to being a liar, and then you’ll have reason to distrust them.

5. It’s not a lie — to them.

When we are under pressure, our thinking about the big picture can be challenged. It’s easy to get focused on survival mode thinking. Our memory of things is always actually quite unreliable. Multiple studies and research have demonstrated that our memories are influenced by many things, change over time, and are essentially reconstructed, each time we think about them.

Often, these repetitive liars are feeling so much pressure at the moment that their memory is simply unreliable. When they say something, it’s often because they really believe, at that moment, that it is the truth. Their memory has been overwhelmed by stress and current events, and all of their desire to find a way to make this situation work.

Sometimes, this can become so severe that the person almost seems to create a whole new alternate world (and even alternative facts) in their head, one that conforms to their moment by moment beliefs and needs.

6. They WANT it to be true.

Finally, the liar might want this to be true so badly that their desire and needs again overwhelm their desire to tell the truth.

“Be the change you want to see” ... Gandhi never actually said.

But sometimes, liars hope that they can make something come true, by saying it over and over and believing it as hard as they can. In today’s world of media, where there are “alternative facts,” it’s hard not to see this as somewhat justified.

People are, by and large, honest by default. Most people tell the truth, most of the time.

Our very capacity for language is built on an assumption of honesty, that we agree that the words we use mean the same thing consistently, and we don’t use words deceptively because this would render impossible language and the communication of ideas. Some people lie more than others, but even these frequent liars are actually being honest, most of the time. But it stands out dramatically when their deceptions are so blatant, easily disproved and seemingly unimportant.

As frustrating as it is when people tell whoppers, it can help us to understand the motivations behind them.

Asking the person “Why is this situation so important to you?” or “Why do you need me to see this the same way you do?” can be a valuable, non-threatening way to get at the foundations of stress and desperation that often underlie deceptions.

Don’t ask “Why are you lying?” as we need to remember that the person is often motivated to not be seen as a liar. This question paints them into a corner.

Of course, understanding a big fibber’s motivations is nice, and empathy in such situations is valuable. But, to function effectively in the real world, we need people to learn to be more honest.

Communicating empathy for a person’s desperation can be a valuable tool to give that person the permission they need to tell the truth. Reinforcing and recognizing when a person does tell the truth is a powerful way to get more truth-telling.

Support people to understand that the truth is not a scary thing and that the world won’t end when the truth comes out.

Helping them understand that they are strong enough to survive the truth and its consequences (even if that consequence is you choosing not to be around them anymore), is a way we help people to be brave enough to face the honest truth, even when it is a cold, hard reality.  

 

 

This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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