Little white lies–and even bigger ones–seem to become a way of life. I think telling little white lies is more common than you might think. We use them for a variety of reasons, including self preservation.
I’d like to meet one person who has never told a white lie. Or the person who has never intentionally said something that wasn’t true. I don’t think this person exists. Growing up, we were all taught that lying is bad, even sinful, but we did it anyway. Why we lie and when this behavior began will vary, but I believe it’s something most everyone has done.
I was about three years old when I learned to lie. The lady across the street had a beautiful flower garden. One day, I crossed the street and picked a bouquet for my mother who was less than pleased with my actions.
Not only had I crossed the street without permission, but I picked Mrs. Watson’s flowers. Forget the fact that I shouldn’t have been outside alone or that my mother never told me not to pick flowers. My mother was mad at me and I was a naughty girl.
What did I learn?
I doubt the lesson was immediate, but I soon understood that my mother’s wrath and disappointment were something to be avoided. Life lessons that could have been teachable moments became situations to be avoided. As a result, the lies began.
At first they were small, child-sized lies: No, I didn’t break the glass, spill the milk, lose my book. Later, they escalated: Yes, I finished my homework, am going to the mall (not my boyfriend’s house), staying at Judy’s (whose parents are out of town). These lies were small and didn’t really hurt anyone.
Essentially, these small fabrications were a way to avoid anything that might trigger my mother’s negative feelings about me or my behavior. Like all children, I just wanted to be loved and to learn to do what was “right.” For me, lying was a form of self-preservation and a way to avoid conflict.
A little research
According to https://www.statisticbrain.com/lying-statistics/, 80% of women admit to occasionally telling harmless half-truths. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I think the other 20% are lying about not lying. Face it–small, seemingly inconsequential lies keep life flowing. You tell a friend you’re on your way when you’re still blow-drying your hair. When your spouse asks if you’ve paid the bills, you say yes even though you haven’t gotten around to it yet. To prevent worrying your aging parents, you don’t tell them you have breast cancer.
The truth: from time to time we all lie. The big question: where do we draw the line? I’m not here to make a moral judgment about this issue, only bring it to your attention.
Although I lie primarily to avoid conflict, it’s my belief that many of us lie to protect ourselves from emotional reactions in general. I’m not just talking about anger and disappointment. Too much interest or concern can also be a trigger to avoid telling the truth.
What do you think? Let’s get the conversation started.
Jan Fishler, MA, is currently co-authoring a new book, Don’t Stop Now, Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life (DontStopNow.us). She is also the author of Searching for Jane, Finding Myself (An Adoption Memoir), and has written several articles about alternative health and PTSD. You can learn more about Jan at www.JanFishler.net.