According to research, the average American lies 11 times a week.
This surprising finding inspired other researchers to establish a connection between lying and health. They found one.
Officially, medical research suggests that telling “fewer” lies increases your physical health. If you suffer from the “guilties” from all those little white lies (or big, ugly ones), this research should get your attention, but it may not convince you to turn over a new leaf.
Here’s why: There is something more powerful and motivating than physical health that compels you to lie. Read on to explore what makes it nearly impossible for millions to come out with the plain truth.
Why People Lie
Researchers claim social lying is all about looking good to yourself and others – managing appearances.
“It’s tied in with self-esteem,” says University of Massachusetts psychologist Robert Feldman. “We find that as soon as people feel that their self-esteem is threatened, they immediately begin to lie at higher levels.”
If the above statement is true, a lot of people live with chronic, threatened self-esteem. A study, published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology, found that 60 percent of people lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation, saying an average of 2.92 inaccurate things.
“People almost lie reflexively,” Feldman says.
Types of Lying
Lies to manage appearances create a false reality that the liar thinks is easier to stomach than the plain truth. Of course, living in an ongoing false reality causes a huge emotional problem – anxiety. At some level, you know you are living in a house of cards. Any slight breeze makes you fear it will all come tumbling down.
Social lying manifests in several ways:
• Exaggerating accomplishments
• Downplaying failures
• Giving fake compliments/Schmoozing
• Agreeing outwardly when you don’t agree inwardly
• Saying yes when you’d rather say no
• Spreading rumors
• Telling someone it will be ok when it will not be ok
• Hiding your activities – sneaking
• Going along with the crowd
As a general rule, men tend to lie to make themselves look good. Women lie to make others feel better. Either way, the more you do it, the more distorted your reality becomes.
Why We Do It
Imagine you are a medieval knight about to engage in battle. The enemy is mounted and heavily fortified, bearing down on your heavily fortified troops from across the battlefield.
And there you are riding bear back in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. No coat of mail. No armor. No helmet. No boots or shield. You have no defenses or weapons of any kind. Charge!
To many people, lying is the psychological armoring they need to survive in a scary, social world. The enemy is social disapproval.
The issue begins in childhood, before we are capable of understanding what is going on. We end up acting like compulsive liars before we know our street address.
Here is the bare bones version of how it happens:
Children instinctively understand that they are 100% dependent upon parents or caregivers for survival. Being criticized, condemned or ostracized – disapproved of – by parents is extremely threatening to them, therefore intolerable. Children cannot withstand chronic disapproval, period.
Most parents, however, approve of their children only conditionally. When the child does not perform a task correctly, the parent emotionally disapproves.
When the child struggles to poop in the toilet, tie shoes correctly, pick up toys, sit still, eat vegetables, get good grades, obey or serve others and so on, parents typically show their emotional disapproval.
Why can’t you just do what I ask?
What’s your problem?
How many friggin’ times do I need to tell you?
What are you, stupid?
Whose kid are you, anyway? My child would never do that!
You remind me of your father and it bugs the hell outta me!
And so on.
The child is physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually unable to bear such disapproval and rejection. So, she begins to compulsively make herself appear better than she is, or appease the parent, or cover her tracks. A compulsive liar is born.
Distorting the truth to get approval or avoid the pain of disapproval, is the battle armor that helps children survive the onslaught of rejection that reigns down from the likes of typical parents. Most adults never consciously question the perceptions they formed in childhood, although doing so is the key to healing.
The Benefits of Truth Telling
Ironically, self-esteem is a primary benefit of consistent truth telling. When you tell the truth consistently, self-respect increases dramatically. Deirdre Lee Fitzgerald, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic affirms that lying leads to depression, anxiety, shattered self-esteem and damaged relationships.
Lying, the only thing we could think of to do as children, wreaks havoc in our adult lives.
“Research has also linked telling lies to an increased risk of cancer, obesity, anxiety, depression, addiction, gambling, poor work satisfaction, and poor relationships,” says Dr. Fitzgerald.
The primary way lying affects health and longevity is through increased stress. Lying takes a physical and emotional toll. Because one lie leads to another, you can be forced into a nerve-wracking cycle of lies that becomes harder and harder to keep track of (the false reality). Long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems and can decrease longevity.
An interesting added benefit of consistently telling the truth is the simple personal power and moral authority that comes from avoiding the vicious cycle. In a world of anxious, compulsive fibbers, the few who live congruently are many times more at ease within themselves and it shows.