Posted by: counselorcarmella | April 22, 2012

Some Thoughts About Lying and Trust

Issues  around lying, trust,  and honesty come up in my office a lot. These are often the reasons couples come for marriage counseling and why  parents bring their teenagers to see me. Rebuilding trust   takes time; its a lot easier to have it and keep it than  it  is to lose it and have to gain it back.  Some clients come in  because they’ve realized they  won’t allow themselves to trust anyone due to past hurts and want to try and overcome this  problem. Others trust too easily and  make excuses for  people who take advantage of them, lie to them, and exploit their trust.  
These problems don’t surprise me. Lying is as old as the Garden of Eden.  The serpent lied to Eve. Eve lied to Adam.  Adam  hid and lied to God.  We’ve been struggling with it ever since. Stories about   high ranking professionals and politicians getting caught in lies come up in the media all the time.  Crimes are solved when  it is discovered that someone wasn’t where they said they were at the time of the crime. They used their cell phone and their location was tracked down to the nearest cell phone tower. People lie about their identities, their whereabouts, their finances, their  love affairs, their education, their criminal records, and the list goes on and on.
One reason I don’t do a lot of alcohol and drug counseling is because  addicts lie so much. I tell clients from the beginning of my work with them that the more honest they are with me about what’s going on in their life, the more I can help them.  I don’t expect them to trust me immediately, but if they don’t tell me about important current behaviors or past traumas, my ability to help may be limitted.  When  a client knows they should tell me something and makes the choice not to for strictly selfish reasons, they’re very likely wasting my time and theirs. If someone  comes in for marriage counseling while having an affair on the side that they haven’t disclosed at least to me, I’m missing a big piece of the problem.   If someone is not telling the truth about  the extent of their alcohol problem or how often they’re cutting themselves, I’m not going to  know how serious the issue is.  With some things I know to be  suspicious about what I’m told, but with other situations, I  just have to trust that my clients are telling me the truth out of a sincere  wish for  help.  If I find out they haven’t been,  it can be a little more difficult for me to want to  help them.  Sometimes, it can be a lot more difficult. 
Processing their choice to lie can be  an important part of therapy, of course, but there’s only so much lying I’m prepared to deal with  as anyone’s counselor. If they admit they’ve lied to me at some point, I’m willing to talk that through and  to continue to try and help if it seems like they’re ready to be honest.  Usually,  clients are more likely to be honest if counseling was their idea, if they  believe they can trust me, and if they  truly feel as though I’m going to help them rather than judge them.  Occasionally, clients have to test me on this at least once before they  feel able to risk telling the truth.
There are times when lying may be necessary, such as when a woman is trying to get out of a violent relationship. I believe people do what they have  to do when it comes down to survival and safety.  Many people lied about protecting Jews from the Nazis, for example. Most of the time, though, honesty really is best. Most of us aren’t particularly good at it, but we all lie at least sometimes.  Most of us don’t tell “big lies.”  We tell lies because its “just easier” for some reason.  “I wasn’t home when you called” sounds nicer than “I was here but I didn’t want to talk to you at the time.” There are people are way too good at being able to look  straight into someone else’s eyes and tell them  something that is  not true.  They are charming and persuasive and can convince almost anyone of almost anything but most of us aren’t that way. Most people feel too guilty when they lie about something major or  hide something they know they need to  be honest about.  They confess because they feel so awful.  That’s a good thing.  It shows  that  a person has conscience. Owning up to a lie means admitting it,  not making excuses, and  acknowledging that lying was wrong.  It also means understanding that  there may be consequences for lying and that trust may have been compromised.  They know  the fall out would  probably be worse if they  didn’t admit the truth and that   they did the right thing by deciding to be honest.  Hopefully, the other party will at least respect them for making the choice to be truthful.
Other people have certain “tells” so that  those who know them well know when they are lying.  They fidget or stutter or flush.  They can’t  maintain eye contact.  Some people don’t think through their lies and say something that can easily be proved or disproved.  Most children go through  a phase where they do this.  They lie about doing their homework or brushing their teeth, for example.   Most people are basically honest and have a sense of conscience about lying. Most of the time,  occasional lying can be talked through and  trust restored.  Even bigger lies can be forgiven and  trust can be reestablished over time if  both parties do what they need to do.  
I’ve probably learned more about liars from the people they’ve lied to than from the liars themselves because many of them are still lying or trying to minimize their situations. There are all kinds of ways to lie and all kinds of liars. Most people  lie but most people don’t lie most of the time.  For others, though, lying has become a habit. Lying can become so automatic that people do it even when there is no reason to.  They lie about  things like what they had for lunch or whether they went to  Wal-Mart or Target.  They  stick to their story even when  its obvious that  they’ve been busted.  They’re not even sure why they’re lying or why they can’t just admit it when they get caught.  Lying and dishonesty have become a way of life.  They continue doing it even when this pattern causes them  personal and professional problems and get defensive when they’re caught.  They’ll swear they’re finally telling the truth and still be lying and get caught again.
Its almost instinctive to want to lie sometimes and most of us  do, even if its about small things.   When you’re tempted to lie, ask yourself what you’re hoping to accomplish by lying.  What’s your motive? Think about how you feel when you know someone has lied to you in some way. Think about what will happen if it is discovered that you lied.  Every time you lie, it will be easier to  lie again.  Is that the kind of person you want to be?  Don’t try to justify lying by telling yourself that everyone does it.  You’re responsible for you and able to choose whether or not to be truthful.  
If you’ve messed up, admit it and don’t get defensive. Be willing to answer questions and to  allow the other person to be a little more skeptical and a little more nosey for  a while.  Let them know you understand why they doubt you and  be an open book. 
If you have a habit of lying,  do some  thinking about why you do that.  If you’re living a life you’re ashamed of,  figure out  how to make your  choices more in line with a life you can be proud of and open about.  Ask for help learning to be more truthful.  Ask permission from  people you’re close to to admit  when you told a lie (even a small one) and  to be able to  come back to them  with the truth.  Do some soul searching about what it really means to be an honest person.  Don’t try to justify or excuse  it when you know you should correct  an assumption  you’ve allowed someone to make or  when you’ve tried to spin something in a way that isn’t exactly accurate.  Whether a lie is said or implied, most of us know when we’re not being truthful. 
If you’ve been lied to in big and hurtful ways, don’t keep expecting that person  to magically start being truthful.  If they’re truly sorry, they’ll do what’s necessary to prove to you that they’re committed to being honest.  Ask  questions.   Check behind them.  Let them know when you’re suspicious and why.  Ask them to help you believe them by  providing evidence that they’re telling the truth.  After a while, it will be  easier to begin trusting them again little by little.  If they  get defensive and insist that you should appreciate that they came clean and  forgive them and  let things just get back to normal, realize they’re not honoring your  need for trust to be rebuilt.
If they say they’re sorry but keep lying, realize that they really can’t be trusted.  Expect that  they’re lying and be surprised when you actually discover they’ve told the truth for a change.  That most likely will be the exception rather than the rule, but most people don’t lie every second of every day.  Keep your guard up with that person and create some distance so they can’t hurt you as much.  Think hard about loaning them money, telling them a secret, or taking their word that they’ll do what they say they’ll do.  If they try and guilt trip you,  remind them that you have reasons not to trust them and  stand your ground.
People who have been lied to in a major way by someone significant in their lives have a difficult time trusting.  They may not trust that person again for a long time, if ever, but they may  have trouble trusting other people in their lives, as well.  They  feel as though everyone they know is capable of lying to them and that they need to constantly be on the lookout for  that to happen.  They become suspicious and paranoid and  don’t allow people close to them.  They accuse innocent people of things they haven’t done and  assume  the worst in any situation. They don’t want to experience that sense of betrayal and being taken advantage of again.  They’re afraid of the hurt and  of being “screwed over.”  They may gradually let these walls down over time with people who prove themselves trustworthy, but some just can’t take the risk again. They  don’t know how to  trust their own judgment about when someone else is being honest  or how to know when  someone else should be considered trustworthy.  They’re scared, distant from others, and   struggling with wanting  closer relationships  but not wanting to be taken advantage of again. 
If this has happened to you, realize that not everyone is out to take advantage of you that way.  Most people are basically honest and  aren’t all about hiding, blaming, or  misleading you.  Take the time you need to get to know people but give them the benefit of the doubt unless there’s a good reason not  to.  Let them know why its hard for you to trust and  ask for their patience.  If you’re tempted to accuse someone of lying but you don’t have proof, get curious and ask questions before you attack their character.  Sometimes, people really do forget to call or  had something out of the ordinary happen that changed their plans or schedule. Its okay to be scared.  Relationships are risky, but you deserve closeness and the security of trusting connections with people who care about you.     


  1. […] Some Thoughts About Lying and Trust ( Rate this: Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintStumbleUponLike this:Like2 bloggers like this post. Posted in Relationships, Therapeutic, Trust | Tagged anxiety, change, cheating, choice, feelings, grounding, habit, happiness, health, healthy-living, hurt, marriage, meditation, mindfulness, relationships, relaxation, suffering, trust […]

  2. […] Some Thoughts About Lying and Trust ( […]

  3. Im lieing a lot to my parents and my girlfriend of three years and I’m losing her cause of my lieing not trusting and being selfish and I need some help to get out of this act that I’m in

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