The Importance of Telling the Truth in Recovery

The Importance of Truth-Telling in Recovery

May 23rd, 2015 12 Steps, Helpful Articles

“Liar, liar, pants on fire.” Most of us heard this taunt as children, but it sometimes haunts certain adults as well. Even grownups lie to each other — and themselves — regularly. But while there are countless reasons and ways people might lie, deception takes a toll on personal relationships, as well as potentially preventing people from addressing addiction and mental health concerns.

But social interactions would be chaotic if everyone told the truth without filters. Tact and diplomacy, not to mention privacy, aren’t the same as lying. Yes, there’s a difference between secrecy and restraint, but there’s also a great deal of truth in the recovery adage “We are as sick as our secrets.”

Why We Lie

There are myriad reasons someone might lie. A person might want to be perceived as smarter, more popular, or better informed. He or she might want to fit in or control another person, or to boost his or her own sense of self. Someone might want to avoid consequences or hide addictive or other harmful behaviors.

There might also be an element of psychological deviance that drives certain individuals to be deceptive. Some people might feel a thrill at getting away with a lie, and some people are pathological liars. There’s no consensus among psychiatrics on a definition for pathological lying, but common elements to most definitions include “a long history (maybe lifelong) of frequent and repeated lying for which no apparent psychological motive or external benefit can be discerned,” according to Psychiatric Times.

Just as there are various motives for lying, there are various forms lies take. Examples of common lies include those intended to avoid consequences — such as denying cheating, illegal activity, or substance abuse — and lies that deflect blame and manipulate others — such as an insincere “I love you,” making another person believe he or she is worthless or unlovable, convincing someone that he or she caused abusive or addictive behavior in another, or giving the impression that God will punish those who don’t follow him a certain way. And then, of course, some people lie to themselves about the seriousness of harmful behaviors to justify continuing to engage in them.

David Sack, MD, addresses these and other reasons addicts lie, as well as steps loved ones can take to successfully address them. This could mean facing the lies directly, encouraging truth telling, and reminding the person that continuing to lie will make it that much more challenging to be honest.

The Consequences of Lying

Robert Feldman, PhD, who wrote the book The Liar in Your Life: The Way to Truthful Relationships, said he was astonished to learn that two people getting acquainted with each other lie an average of three times over the course of 10 minutes.

Consider how you’d want a conversation with someone you’ve just met to unfold. Because people prefer to make a positive impression, they understandably exaggerate at times or hide certain aspects of themselves. How do you want to be perceived? Can you show others the “true you” — and will you?

Misrepresentation at the beginning of a relationship must be maintained with additional lies, creating a situation that can spiral out of control.

What If It Were All on Camera?

“Video camera truth” is a helpful tool one therapist developed while working with a young man whose lies often got him in trouble with his parents and at school. The clinician asked the patient to explain the purpose of a video camera. Once they established that it records events impartially, the patient could to admit that a camera would’ve objectively observed him carrying out the actions he’d been accused of.

The therapist then asked the patient to explain why he’d lied. Naturally, his response was, “I didn’t want to get into trouble.” They worked together to determine some of the reasons the patient engaged in the unacceptable behavior in the first place. These included impatience, the desire for immediate gratification, and impulsivity, factors that drive the behavior of many people dealing with addiction.

The next step was to brainstorm ways of getting needs met in ways that rebuilt trust in his relationships. Even today, he’s learning that honesty’s the best policy.

Being in integrity in your relationship with yourself and others requires the willingness to look yourself in the eye each day and know you’ve lived honestly.

By Edie Weinstein, LSW

Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1

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