Can Compulsive Liars Change?

Compulsive Liars and how to deal with them

The most important aspect to master when dealing with a liar is your emotional reactions. You can’t always change the behavior of a liar, but you can change how you feel and react to them. Once you learn to change your emotions about a situation you begin to see a lot more options.

If you are honest with the situation you will realize that your happiness is more important than their behavior anyways. The motivator for wanting someone to stop lying is so that you don’t end up unhappy.

Change begins with Awareness

The first step in dealing with liars or emotional issues is awareness. With awareness you can deal with a liar without being upset. We’ll start by understanding how someone becomes a liar to begin with.

Our social conditioning has trained us to be liars to some degree. In some ways it is required of us. When you are aware of how people are socialized your expectations change. As your expectations change the judgments in your mind dissolve along with your emotional reactions to them.

This doesn’t mean you learn to condone lying or agree with it. You just no longer have emotional reactions about it. When you are aware that someone lied to you because they were trained by other people and circumstances you won’t take it personally. You then have an opportunity to deal with the situation in a way that isn’t driven out of emotional reactions.

Reasons we become liars:

  1. We learned to lie in order to be polite and respectful: Just for starters we learned to lie in order to be polite. When we were kids, and we visited relatives or friends we ate whatever they served for dinner even if we didn’t like it. If we really hated it we might have slid it under the table to the dog so it looked like we ate it. When the host asked, “How was the meal?” we did the polite thing and told them how much we enjoyed it.
  2. We lie so we don’t get punished or hurt: When I was in grade school I was visiting my friends house after school. One of the cool things we did was climb onto the garage roof and jump off into grass. My friend’s mom came home later in the afternoon and asked us what we had been doing all afternoon. We didn’t mention the jumping off the roof part. We lied to our parents so we didn’t get punished.
  3. We lied in order to build trust and loyalty: If kids are playing and they break something they try to hide it. If they are playing with something that they shouldn’t play with they don’t confess the truth. Children don’t want to be punished so they lie or withhold the truth.

As a kid if we broke something like a vase while playing we made pact with our friends or sibling not to tell. When the parent asked what happened to the vase we answered, “I don’t know.” We lied to our parents in order to maintain the trust and loyalty of our friends. Of course parents don’t give up that easily. Usually kids will succumb to the pressure of their parent’s questions and tell the truth eventually. This turns the promise of loyalty and secrecy with our friend into a lie.

Without awareness we trapped our self in a conflict of agreements. You either kept the promise of secrecy to your friends by lying to your parents. Or, you told the truth to your parents and your loyalty with your friend became a lie. We end up with either our parents or our friends not trusting us.

Examples of lying techniques from compulsive liars:

  • Lie to people with Power

Learning to lie to parents when we are kids leads to lying to other authority figures later in life. When the higher ups in the company propose a new direction or program do you tell them what you really think? Or is it easier to be quiet and not create the conflict with people who have power over your paycheck. Even when they ask for your input it makes a lot of sense to not rock the boat. It is easy to couch your words and only hint at your concerns. Depending on the power and emotional reactions of the person perhaps you keep your mouth shut altogether.

Maybe you have a relationship with your boss where you can speak freely and that can be great. But do you speak with that same freedom to the vice presidents and owners above your boss. Most people don’t. If people give their “honest opinion” their behavior is often considered inappropriate or political suicide.

Not many company cultures can handle an honest assessment of the negative side of an issue without an emotional reaction. With people who don’t take 100% responsibility for their emotions their upset will be your fault in some way. The paradigm of power over our livelihood combined with the instability of emotional reactions suggests that we lie by omission.

In all fairness it is also a rare person who can give an honest assessment of the down side that affects them without it partly motivated by their emotional reaction.

  • A compulsive liar doesn’t want to hurt people’s feelings.

In personal relationships we lie so we don’t hurt the feelings of the people we care about. Suppose a couple is sitting at a restaurant and an attractive woman walks by. What does a man say when his partner asks, “Do you think she’s pretty?” Can the man say, “She is gorgeous?”

He can be honest if he is with a very secure woman. He can also be honest if she has pretended to be a very secure woman. (lied about her security) He can also be honest if he doesn’t care about sleeping on the couch for a while.

Men lie to women at times so that they don’t hurt the feelings of the people they care about. Men might also lie because they don’t want to be punished by the people that love them. Women lie to men for the same reasons.

You might dismiss all these examples as being “white lies.” These are small lies told to be tactful or polite. But the motivations for lying don’t change when the stakes get bigger. If a person cheated on their spouse would they hide it from them in order not to hurt their feelings? If your friend was cheating on their boyfriend would you tell the boyfriend? Would you tell him if he asked?

The motivation for lying increases in direct proportion to the emotional reaction and potential emotional pain.

  • We lie when we are in Emotional Denial

When something hurts our feelings we cover it up and say it is no big deal. When we are upset or sad we say we are fine. When our heart is broken we can get mad at our ex, yet we will say we don’t care about them anymore. It’s a lie.

If we didn’t care it wouldn’t matter so much emotionally. If we really didn’t care we wouldn’t be so hurt and angry. The truth is it hurts so much that we tell our selves we don’t’ care to avoid and deny the emotional pain. We lie about the emotions we feel to pretend they are not there. We lie to our self in an effort to feel better because we don’t know a different way to let go of the pain. We attempt to lie our way to happiness.

The best way to deal with people who are compulsive liars

The first and most important thing is to manage your expectations. When you have awareness of how people were socially conditioned you have an opportunity for compassion. With awareness your understanding expands and your judgments dissolve. Be honest and aware enough to recognize the socialization patterns that people face growing up. Also be aware of the consequences that telling the truth might incur.

When you realize the extent of social conditioning you gain a greater understanding for why people compensate with lies the way they do. The emotional reactions you had behind the judgments aren’t there any more.

In relationships you are responsible for your half of the emotions

Taking care of your half means noticing where you are lying. If you are upset with someone for lying it is because you believe they should be telling the truth. Your expectation is that they should drop all their years of social conditioning overnight.

You believe they should adopt a new behavior and become a person you expect them to be. You believe they should be the image you hold in your mind about them. They are not the image in your mind that you want them to be. When you want another person to live according to your expectations you are lying to your self about who they really are.

Use Awareness to Deal with your Lies

Being aware of the image in your mind of another person and your beliefs about who they should be will give you an opportunity to change your beliefs. Being aware of the deeply embedded social conditioning that programs a person to lie will help you drop your misplaced expectations of another. Dropping your false image of them and managing your expectations will go a long ways to dissolving your emotional reactions to someone else’s socially conditioned behavior.

If you are having emotional reactions about someone who is lying then you will need to deal with your half. Your half includes the lies in your mind about who they should be.

Why People Are Compulsive Liars

People lie because they have been conditioned through emotional reactions. Emotional reactions aren’t intellectually logical. They are more powerful than that. That’s why people lie in spite of it being the logical or intelligent thing to do. People will stop lying as they learn not to fear their own emotions or emotional reactions from others. Learning not to fear your emotions is a beginning step to being honest that leads to Self Mastery.

If a person isn’t skillful and effective at dealing with their emotions it is unwise to expect them to change the behavior of lying.

I’m not condoning, justifying, or defending lying. I’m attempting to expand the conversation. If you are going to deal with liars or your own lying you will need to deal with the emotional reactions that drive the behavior. Whether the pattern was learned from the past, or you are afraid of consequences of being punished today it is about the emotions. When people learn how to master their emotions they won’t fear honesty and the Truth.

Boundaries with Compulsive Liars

When you have dissolved your emotional reactions to someone that is lying then it becomes a simple process of boundaries. But that doesn’t mean that you need to wait until you have dealt with your emotions before you put up boundaries. Putting up boundaries is a good way to protect your self from your emotional reactions until you clean them up.

Use of boundaries also means you might want to put a boundary on what you believe. Stop believing what they tell you.  Living by the assumption that a liar will tell you the truth is just another way of lying to your self.

For exercises in how to deal with your mind, including emotional reactions, expectations, and changing beliefs download the free practices in the Self Mastery Course. I also suggest you listen to the free audio podcasts on Awareness and Consciousness.