Dishonesty can be toxic for a relationship for several reasons. It's also one of the most common issues that couples struggle with, young and old. The motivations for lying vary from person to person and can depend on the context. However, certain patterns can be identified. Learning how to spot dishonesty in your life and how to deal with it is invaluable.
In this article, we'll discuss what it means to be a liar, where the behavior originates, how some of the clearer types manifest, and what you can do to protect yourself. As with all personal relations issues, applying this knowledge takes practice and experience, but learning these skills can save a lot of trouble.
What Is Lying Anyway?
Surprisingly, defining what it means to lie and how bad it is is not clear-cut. This is because, among other things, it involves questions of intent and expectation. Clearly, when someone deliberately gives a false or misleading answer to a question, this is lying and a problem. Whether the person was motivated out of fear, desire for control, or something else, they intentionally gave you bad information.
But what about when someone doesn't share completely? You may expect full transparency from your partner or good friend, but what about a coworker? There are also instances where people exaggerate or downplay certain facts when sharing information. This may be done to hide things or because the person speaking genuinely doesn't think it's important.
The important takeaway here is that it means to lie and how "bad" it is not clearly defined anywhere. The intention to mislead may be clear, but there are grey areas. Each of us has to figure out how painful it is to experience dishonesty and how patient we can be dealing with someone who creates so much uncertainty. If you do not like how someone is or is not sharing with you, you will have to grapple with this internally, and you will likely need to confront the person lying to you.
Why Do People Lie?
Motivations vary by individual and context, but some common threads are almost always present to one degree or another. Many people lie out of fear or discomfort. They find it easier to lie and avoid awkward or difficult moments or even face the consequences of their actions. Some people lie because they enjoy the sense of control it gives them, maybe even relish manipulating others. Sometimes people lie purely out of habit. They've gotten so used to covering up mistakes and avoiding difficult situations with dishonesty; they don't know how not to.
Which of these is present and how to address them depends on the lying you are facing. However, it is important to remember, defining a type of lying is not a perfect definition. People who lie out of habit may have started lying out of fear, and people who lie to avoid discomfort may find solace in controlling where the conversation goes.
Overall, the definitions below should be used as helpful guidelines for how to spot dishonesty.
Kinds of Liars
Many articles on the internet attempt to break down how many kinds of liars there are. Most types are defined by when people lie and why. However, there are three types (pathological, sociopathic, and psychotic) that can be spotted more clearly.
This is the everyday liar that many of us become throughout our lives. When you say you ate one donut when you ate two or exaggerated a project's success, this is usually done impulsively. In general, these lies are motivated by feeling better about ourselves, being seen as better by our peers, and avoiding admitting things we aren't proud of.
Most of the time, these kinds of liars are harmless. If left unchecked, however, this type of dishonesty can become problematic and harder to stop. As with all dishonesty, the more of it there is, the harder it is to know what is happening, and thus the harder it is to handle it.
Compulsive and Careless Liars
Once you start lying to cover up some facts or alter the intensity of relevant information, it can become tempting to continue that behavior as it benefits you. Worse, because of the human tendency to not notice gradual change, the adjustment from impulsive lies occasionally to compulsive lying more of the time can be hard to see until it's too late.
For the people who fall in this category, this behavior can manifest as saying whatever they need to keep the conversation going or maintain their self-esteem. This type of lying often has inconsistencies because the dishonest person is not careful; they're just lying out of habit.
Pathological lying is compulsive lying to the extreme. When you know someone is a pathological liar, it's safe to assume that just about everything out of their mouth is questionable. Knowing that you are dealing with someone in this category when you don't know the person well can be hard. Without ways to check their statements, you can't be sure what's going on.
As you get to know the person better, however, it becomes gradually clear that you are not dealing with the person you thought you were. Because lying is central to their behavior, asking them to change their ways may be next to impossible.
With sociopathic liars, you start getting into some potentially scary dishonesty. While sociopaths are not completely amoral, they have a level of detachment that makes dishonesty more likely and harder to change. The people that perpetuate this lying tend to lie towards specific objectives, and the relationship they use to get there is simply a means to an end.
One way to spot a sociopathic liar is by watching their behavior when the dishonesty is called out. There is usually some sense of guilt associated with the behavior of common, compulsive, and even pathological liars. They know, on some level, that what they are doing is wrong and do not like confronting the damage that led them there or the consequences of their actions.
Sociopaths, on the other hand, have no such limitations. When they are caught out as dishonest, they are capable of shrugging and simply moving on to the next "victim."
This final category is the most extreme, rare, and dangerous. Sometimes associated with pathological lying, the difference lies in the emotions associated and the overall application. This is what makes it harder to spot. If someone is lying all the time, is it habitual, do they genuinely not feel anything or both?
Like sociopaths, psychopaths view other people as a means to an end, they have no attachment to anything called the truth, and they are not concerned about moving on when caught. Beyond that, psychopaths can be identified by more extreme personality issues such as a high degree of selfishness, an inability to plan for the future, and even violent responses when they encounter difficulties.
Psychopathy, in general, is a challenging personality type to encounter and respond to. If you believe you are dealing with genuinely psychopathic people, it is highly recommended you reach out to a professional.
How to Deal With Different Liars
Coping with dishonesty in your life comes down to setting healthy borders, communicating assertively where possible, and learning to identify what patterns you are experiencing.
General Tactics for All Situations
The first thing to do is focus on approaching the issue with a level head. When we find we've been lied to, it is natural to become upset, even angry, and lash out at the person responsible. However, as justified as the fury may be, it is almost always counter-productive towards what your end goal should be, which is either working with the person to stop them from lying to you.
Another important idea is to remember that while definitions of what counts as problematic lying may vary, you can simultaneously be sympathetic to others' motivations while being honest about what you can tolerate. Someone may be lying because it's how they were raised, and they may want to address it. If it's too painful for you to experience, you can appreciate their desire to change while also being clear that you can't bear it in your life.
Finally, when dealing with dishonest people, it's important to have a support network. Standing up to a friend's efforts to keep you in the dark is exhausting. Having someone in your corner will make this much easier.
These can be the easiest ones to deal with, depending on where they crop up. As stated, calling out every co-worker who leaves out details about their weekend is probably more than you want to take on. However, being clear with a friend or partner when you spot inconsistencies or falsehoods can be important to hedging against future issues.
The general tactic here is complete transparency. Do not be afraid to immediately call out what you are seeing and ask that it stop. Repeat this as often as necessary. Most of the time, these people will eventually get the message and start being more considerate.
Compulsive, Careless, And Pathological Liars
As with impulsive liars, calling out the behavior immediately when you spot it and asking it to stop are good general tactics. Since compulsive or pathological dishonesty is more often spotted after getting to know someone, it may occasionally be appropriate to confirm what type of dishonesty you are experiencing.
People who are compulsive in their lying often require escalation and behavior changes. Simply calling them out a few times will not be enough to alter deep-seated behaviors. Taking a strong stance may be necessary, even to the point of telling them that you are automatically taking everything they say with a grain of salt. It may also become necessary to spend less time around this person.
Sociopaths and Psychopaths
These are the hardest ones to spot, but when you know it's what you are dealing with, the response becomes clearer. Discerning sociopaths and psychopaths from compulsive liars is a matter of parsing degrees of dishonesty and assessing how they feel about it. If you call someone out on their lies and their response is little or no guilt, followed by them immediately talking to you less, you may be dealing with one of these types.
If that happens, count yourself lucky. You have just identified someone who views you and their relationship with you as a tool. Please do not attempt to engage this person in changing their behavior without professional help, and in all likelihood, it is best to move on.
Knowledge Is Power; Practice Makes Perfect
Learning how to spot dishonesty in your life is very hard. Even people who depend on spotting falsehoods for a living must practice these skills and work with others to respond. The impact of dishonesty to any degree in personal relations can be devastating. That's why knowing what patterns to look out for and general responses can save you a great deal of pain.
As with any deeply nuanced issue, the support of a professional can be invaluable. A counselor can help you find the right boundaries that meet your background, find the right words that work in your situation, and give you the backup you need to protect yourself. ReGain helps people find those resources and skills every day.
It is possible to deal with different kinds of liars. Knowing when and how is something we should all learn.