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Lie: Bill Clinton publicly lies, under oath, about his sexual
relations with Monica Lewinsky.
The Lie: The White House Administration, under President George
W. Bush, claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,
and used that lie to create the basis for invading Iraq.
The Lie: Enron and Worldcom lie to the public and shareholders
about their finances and accounting.
That’s just on a society level. On a personal level, lies destroy trust, relationships, and friendships. So why do people lie? And how does a chronic lie differ from a non-chronic lie? How do you identify a pathological liar? What can be done about this? How big, exactly, is the problem?
According to a study in a 1996 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, titled “Lying in Everyday Life,” it was found that college students lie on average of two times a day while the general public usually lies once a day.
Lying is the most common reported problem by foster parents, according to Northwest Media, which puts out a DVD on lying for foster parents. “But these children come from a world where lying is common and, for many, becomes a means of survival,” they state. Lying is such a major problem that you can find dozens of books on the subject at a local bookstore. These are books with titles like:
Basically, a chronic lie is a lie that is built upon a lie. Many times a person will make a lie “bigger and bigger” by building upon a lie (even when caught). This is a chronic lie. A chronic liar (or pathological liar) is a person who can’t stop lying. They usually tell more lies than truths.
There is much debate as to whether pathological (or chronic) lying is a disease (mental illness), learned behavior, addiction, impulse behavior, symptom of something deeper or a mix of several factors.
Lying is common, and in its many aspects forms a normal part of
social interchange,” writes Don Grubin, MD, in an article
titled “Commentary: Getting at the Truth about Pathological
Lying” that was published in the 2005 Journal of the American
Academy of Psychiatry. “…Clearly, to be a pathological
liar, an individual must lie on more than a few occasions, but
how frequent does the behavior have to be? Is the scale of the
lie really important, or does this just make the pathological
liar easier to spot? And why is it relevant that the lies seem
From a psychiatric point of view, lying is simply a type of behavior,
albeit a complex one, that demands an appreciation of the abstract
concept of truth. What makes a behavior psychiatrically abnormal
is not its degree or its purpose, but the extent to which the
individual has power over it. The fact that a behavior may cause
more harm than good and that there does not seem to be a rational
reason for it may be indicators of psychiatric morbidity, but
neither is necessary or sufficient to establish a disorder. What
indicators suggest, however, is an apparent lack of control.
For pathological lying to exist, therefore, the individual must
despite himself, just as someone with an anxiety disorder cannot
help feeling anxious.”
“Understanding the relationship between fear and lying is one of the best ways to deal with children if they start lying. Children lie because they are afraid to tell the truth or face the truth. Children who lie have usually had experiences where they subsequently learned that telling the truth is more uncomfortable than lying. Most of the time children first learn to lie by watching their friends, family or strangers lie.”
In essence, children need to be praised for telling the truth. The punishment of lying needs to be greater than the punishment for being honest. Kids are like dogs; they love praise. Provide positive feedback and support when a child tells the truth; even if that truth gets them into trouble. Be sure to separate the punishment from the praise. You don’t want a child associating both as one!
It’s very important that you try to curb lying in your child as soon as possible. If your child’s lying tendencies become chronic then punishment may be ineffective and counseling may be the only “solution”.
Now that may sound good to you, but how (besides praising a child) can you get them to stop lying? When you train a dog, you work with them on a particular “trick” over and over and over until that trick becomes a routine. Likewise, you must work on the concept of honesty with a child over and over until being honest becomes routine for that child.
For example, why not role-play with a child? Children love to act and role-play, so create a series of role-playing “edugames” that teaches a child the importance of telling the truth. Give them a situation and have them practice telling the truth. “You just broke mommy’s prize vase and you know she’ll be upset. You could blame the dog, but you know that being honest is what is right. So how would you tell her?” Then have the child act it out.
When lying becomes a routine, a person becomes a pathological liar. Lying is so instilled in that person that they can mumble off a lie without a second thought. When confronted with one lie they, without a moment’s hesitation, lie more to “cover up” the original lie (making it a chronic lie). Many times, a pathological liar may believe his or her own lies! When a person reaches the level of pathological liar, usually only counseling can “cure” them. There’s no magic herb for lying – only counseling to determine the issue and address the solution.
Unfortunately, there is not enough research into chronic lying to fully understand it (what causes it, at least, as we all know the effects). Perhaps the January 3, 2003 issue of Psychiatric News sums it up best when author Ken Hausman stated, “Pathological lying has rarely appeared on the psychiatric radar screen in recent years, remaining a poorly understood concept with serious ramifications.”
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