Truth or Consequences, Part II

21 Sep

Thinking about truth telling leads to thinking about lying and its consequences. Lying behaviors range all the way from distorting or exaggerating the truth to fabricating a story which in no way resembles how an “objective observer” would describe the scene. Lying can range from an “innocent” white lie to a rumor to a statement that changes the face of what thousands of people believe (witness the political arena!).
Most importantly, lying destroys the fabric of relationships. After the discovery of a lie, the relationship between two persons is already shaky. Instead of a sense of comfort and ease of interchange, there is that nagging doubt and perplexity in the mind of the listener. This attitude, which profoundly affects the relationship, will last until the perpetrator of the lie regains and earns the trust of the other person through truth telling and keeping his/her promises. No one can name a time at which any such relationship can be put right.
Let me give you some examples of lying which affect both marital and family life. First, consider the child who is lazy and says to his parents, “Yeah, I did my homework.” The parents may believe the child UNTIL the teacher calls or emails, informing them that the student has been lax in doig his homework. The parents then feel it necessary to check all homework assignments over weeks or months until they are convinced that they can trust him PROVISIONALLY.
Consider the case of a spouse who begins innocently enough having lunch with a coworker. These lunches may then lengthen into long afternoon breaks with more tete-a-tete conversations. The spouse comes home in his or her own world with perhaps a note in his pocket or a text message on her phone. Gradually the unsuspecting mate begins to wonder if something is happening between her partner and another individual. She might ask, “So how did things go today? I noticed that you had that dreamy look again, and when I did the wash I noticed a note from Nancy in your pocket. Have you guys been meeting often for lunch?” Response: “No, a whole group of us go out every Friday, and Nancy was just checking in to see if the group lunch was on.” This response looks OK on paper, but a spouse is sure to pick up some unusual vibes and be especially careful to check later statements and behaviors for veracity. There is now (spoken or unspoken) a barrier between these partners that could widen unless the real issues in this marriage are brought out into the open and discussed.
Once I had a patient (let’s call her Edy)who was rather needy of her family’s love. Her family consisted of one son, his wife, and their four children. Apparently her daughter-in-law (let’s call her Sandy) was insecure about Edy’s relatinship with the children. The children were always so excited to see grandma, who had lots of fun projects to do with them and who they felt loved and accepted them as they were. Sandy managed with time and perseverance to turn Edy’s son against her. She told lies, such as “Your mother is looking to buy property near us, and we’ll never have any peace because she’ll interfere with everything,” or “Your mother thinks she can run our lives,” or to Edy, “I’m the one who really does everything around here.” Once at Eastertime Sandy even told Edy that she had spent $250 on Easter candy. Edy wondered whether she should contribute to the Easter candy fund!
Lies like these can culminate in the “looking good” family — a family who appears on the outside to be almost picture-perfect. Neighbors, colleagues and friends think they know these upstanding people, but the fact is that no one really knows them. Their thoughts and actions are predicated on APPEARING like good, normal citizens.
Often people who lie come from a very insecure background, where as children they felt of little worth. It may have been because an older sibling was a “hero” in the family, or because they did not like their own appearance. Perhaps they were too tall or too short, or they didn’t like their own face or some other part of their body. These individuals make up for feelings of insecurity by planning everything in great detail so they can get what they want. They learn to manipulate not only circumstances but people through twisting of the truth or through planning moves as if they were playing chess. By that I mean that such individuals, predisposed to being narcissistic in order to protect themselves, use every scrap of information and every interaction in relationships to their own advantage.
The consequences of lying to oneself or presenting a false image to the world are far-reaching, particularly to the children of such parents. These children will likely not develop a secure sense of themselves. They will be caught in the smoke screen and mirror images of distorted truth. No matter how many material advantages such a family offers its children, lying prevents them from “getting real” with the children — a lifelong loss.
The renowned psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, author of “The Road Less Traveled,” also wrote a seminal work on this topic, entitled “People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil.”

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