While honesty is always best, I believe that sometimes it's ok to lie for self-preservation, privacy, or to draw boundaries.
Is It Ever Okay to Tell a Lie?
Honesty is always the best route. One way or another, the truth generally comes out or it comes back to haunt us. Why carry the load of guilt, secrecy, resentment, or feel as if you're "living a lie" and not being your authentic self if you have a choice to tell the truth from the start?
With that said, sometimes honesty isn't so easy. Perhaps we are dealing with someone whose opinions simply won't change. That is, we won't see eye-to-eye ever, or we know that the truth will hurt them. Maybe they think one way, and we think another. If they really knew the truth, it might damage a relationship or a blood relationship forever—I've been there.
Why Do People Lie?
While I push for honesty over all else, there are times when you may have to tell a lie—either for self-preservation or for the preservation of others. There has been times in my life where I have had to lie to protect my privacy or even for my own safety by not giving away personal information. I have friends, too, who have had to live "double lives" because people wouldn't understand or accept their way of being.
Maybe we didn't trust the person who was doing the asking, didn't feel comfortable in the setting, didn't know how they would take it, or all of the above.
— PsychologyToday.com, "Is It Ever Okay to Lie?"
10 Tips for How to Be a Good Liar (and Not Get Caught)
Whatever your reason for lying, make sure it's a good reason for doing so. Here are my proven tips for "how to be a good liar."
1. Accept Reality
Reality is, your father is homophobic and you're gay. Maybe your father is your only guardian, you're a teen, and there's no one else to "support you" (house you as a minor). Maybe (on the lighter side) someone gave you a gift and although you appreciate it, it's definitely not "you." Maybe, you found out that your neighbor's spouse might be having an affair, but you aren't close enough for it to be your business to say so. Accept the matter at hand. You need to come to terms with reality and accept what is.
2. Declare Your Truth
Declare your truth—what about the situation is conflicting for you? Your truth is, you simply like the same sex. Your truth is, your spouse is undocumented, and your dad is conservative. Your truth is that you're vegan and refuse to wear wool (but you were gifted it). Your truth is that your friend gained 5-10 pounds (and you can tell), but when they ask you, you don't think it's worth confirming because you know they have body image issues.
3. Confront and Process the Guilt
Once you've declared your truth, process the feelings of guilt. For some, telling a silly lie to be polite, like "Oh, the food is delicious" rocks their conscience with guilt. For others, lying about something a lot heavier will rock their conscience. Whatever it is that gets you on that guilt level, confront it.
Yes, you have to look it in the face. You can do this in the bathroom mirror, or laying in your bed alone. Acknowledge your feelings, "I'm a crappy person because I told my Dad I am going on a date with a girl named Joanna but it is really a hot guy named Joe." Great! Let yourself feel bad for it.
4. Confess It to the Chosen
Confess it to yourself and people you trust. For example, tell your best friend that you feel like crap because your dad thinks you're dating a girl named Joanna, but you are really seeing your classmate, Joe. Get it out in the open. You may receive some reaffirmation like, "Well, you can't help that he's not accepting of your lifestyle." Or, you may have told a friend that you aren't feeling well and need to skip out on a hangouts session, when in reality, you are hungover. Maybe your roommate well say, "Well, it's true you aren't feeling well—you're hungover!"
If there is no one to tell it to, confess it to yourself in the mirror: "My dad is a republican. I'll tell him I voted and not mention for who. When he asks for more info about my vote, I'll pretend the phone cut out." Yeah, so it sucks, but that little bit of truth won't kill him.
5. Believe It
Now you have to start believing and living the lie. That is, every time you go over to your spouse's parent's house, prepare yourself to delight over the super sweet canned, cherry pie. Get ready to take a bite and automatically say, "Oooh, I was waiting for this!" When you're asked how it is, respond: "Very good." Then have your husband finish the rest of it and claim you are full (don't forget to sneak cookies in the other room). Think about it: Are you doing more good or harm by making someone feel proud of their efforts (lying about how good the pie was)? Which brings me to my next point.
6. Think of the Positive
Lying isn't always bad. Let's go back to the example of your friend with body image issues. Maybe she formerly weighed 300 pounds and got down to 180. Maybe she looks GREAT, but the holidays came around and she's complaining about tight clothes. Indeed, she put on 10 pounds . . . but so did everyone. So when she asks you if you can tell she gained weight, just say "no." Guess what good you did? You saved her from potentially repeating bad habits (e.g. reverting back to eating disorder habits/coping).
7. Decide on the Duration
Maybe there is a certain amount of time that is suitable for the lie. Maybe you are pregnant and didn't want to spoil the news until you were sure that the pregnancy is viable—so you lied about why you weren't drinking for 3 months so that it could be a surprise. Maybe you wanted to go skydiving but you knew it would worry your dad sick, so you told him after the fact. Maybe your boyfriend never has to know that you had never kissed someone before, or maybe you're ready to tell the ruth after the "risk window" has passed.
Take the example of an affair—maybe your neighbor finally realized their husband was going behind their back and they are finally ready to talk about it. You may be ready to finally say, "You know, I remember Scott bringing someone over when you were traveling once. I was very confused by it but didn't want to say anything without knowing the details."
8. Decide If They Should Know
Maybe everything comes to a head, and it's time that the other person knows the truth. For example, maybe you and your significant other want to move in together. Maybe you just turned 18 and you are no longer a minor and the fear of being kicked out of your house by your parent (for being pregnant) is a little less scary since you can find work and be independent.
Think of a time in the future when maybe, just maybe, you will be ready to tell the person you lied to the truth. The truth usually feels better. Remember that time and make an agreement with yourself.
9. Forgive Yourself
This is huge. You have to be able to forgive yourself for what you did. We are human. We aren't perfect. Sometimes there are reasons for our actions, and we simply don't need to give an explanation. Some lies help save people from hurt, and some lies hurt others. It's up to us to use our judgement to do what is right given the situation.
10. How to Deliver the Lie
In order to deliver a lie without doubt, you have to feel your truth to your core. For example, this means you really need to be mindful of body language and breathing. You need to get inside your body and mind, calm your senses and vitals (e.g., keep breathing, keep a low HR, speak normally, make eye contact), and deliver whatever it is you need to say with ease. As you say it, use your years' worth of empathy and sympathy to connect on a human level and deliver it.
How to Tell the Perfect Lie
How to Tell a Lie and Make It Believable
Here are some tips for delivering a lie with finesse:
- Let the lie come up organically. Don't text it, email it, or mention it out of the blue. Let the conversation naturally flow to a suitable time.
- Listen first. Take some time to process the question or digest the query so that you can tactfully deliver your response.
- Take a deep breath before speaking—calm your body and pay attention to your posture.
- Mind your body language. Closed arms, fiddling with your necklace or rubbing your neck (a vulnerable area), crossing your legs, or glancing away, licking your lips, and acting nervous indicates guilt.
- Sit back and relax, keep your hips open, your palms upwards, your face friendly, and make eye contact. Connect.
- Think about self-preservation or the preservation of others. Maybe you are saving someone from the pain of a hard truth.
- Speak with kindness and empathy—this may sound contradictory, but be human. Believe in what you need to say or do. Smother the guilt or pain in your heart, and only breath "kindness" and "love" as you say what you need to say.
- Forgive yourself in private. Be sure to give yourself some time to be okay with what you had to do.
- Come up with a plan. Maybe you will reveal the secret next week (e.g., you know your kid didn't make the team), maybe you will reveal it in 3 months (I'm pregnant), or maybe you won't reveal it ever (I'm HIV positive but my mom doesn't need to know—she's 97 and dying).
- Live a life where you try not to harm others. Just because you did something once in your life that you aren't proud of, like telling a lie, doesn't mean that you cannot be forgiven or that you aren't "perfect." There's no such thing as perfect. People change and work on themselves to improve—and some never do. Make the right choice moving forward.
Know That It Is Going to Be Okay
Generally, the truth comes out one way or another. Maybe then you will find that it is necessary to speak your truth. But sometimes, we tell a lie to save ourselves or others. Sometimes, that lie is totally warranted. What would "truth" be if not for the "lie"? We need both for the other to exist.
So long as your lie isn't seriously harming someone, you are likely ok. Remember to not be so hard on yourself, and use these tools sparingly as there are always unforeseen consequences when a lie is told. I've learned in my life that sometimes lies are warranted, especially if it's about self-preservation or the preservation of others. Just be sure to really think it through.
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- Learning to Forgive Yourself
Jean Lawrence is a medical journalist based in Chandler, AZ.
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© 2019 Layne Holmes