A few years ago, a college friend of mine told me that she had decided to leave the hustle and bustle of the corporate world and pursue her dream of being a personal trainer at a local gym. She had always been interested in fitness, so the idea that she may want to change her career path didn’t seem far-fetched. I was happy that she took this bold life step.
But when I talked to her on the phone, something in her voice sounded off—like she wasn’t entirely excited about her decision. My gut told me she was lying about some aspect of her new occupation.
During one of our many phone chats, I began to probe a little deeper about the reasons she left her previous job and started this new endeavor. Initially, she tried her best to assure me that this was what she wanted, however, by the end of our conversation, she confided in me that the abrupt job change had not been her choice.
Unexpectedly, she had been laid off when her company underwent a period of restructuring. Suddenly, she found herself jobless and scared of what the future held. While many of her friends appeared to be thriving in their respective careers, she was wondering how she would pay her mortgage or other bills.
“Lies hide the truth. Without truth, there is no real connection. Without connection, humans feel empty and alone.” —Funda Yilmaz
“Lies hide the truth. Without truth, there is no real connection. Without connection, humans feel empty and alone.”
During that vulnerable period in her life, she felt too embarrassed and insecure to be truthful with those closest to her, and she fabricated the story about why she took the job as a personal trainer. Naturally, I felt compassion for my friend, and I kept my lips sealed. It was important for her to open up to others when she felt comfortable—which she did a few months later.
My friend’s circumstance is just one example of the type of lie a person may tell in their everyday lives. In reality, lying is much more common than you’d expect. A study done at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst discovered that around 60 percent of people lied at least once during the timespan of a 10 minute conversation, and some people told an average of two to three lies. That’s a whole heck of a lot of lying going around!
Why is lying such a common part of our daily lives?
Funda Yilmaz, licensed personal counselor and psychotherapist, has seen the full spectrum of lying—from a small fib to more severe cases. She’s spent the last decade working with perpetrators and survivors of intimate partner violence. Plus she’s the author and illustrator of a children’s self-help book that helps teach kids concepts like honesty and assertiveness in age-appropriate language.
Yilmaz says, “People mostly lie because they feel that’s the only way to achieve acceptance and safety in themselves or from others.” She also notes that people often tell lies to avoid oppression, conflict, or confronting an uncomfortable or scary situation.
“We’re afraid of accepting emotional distress,” she says. “But usually, emotional distress is communication from our body telling us that things aren’t healthy or [are] even dangerous for our wellbeing. So, we try to ‘fake it,’ and [we] tell ourselves that as long as we’re functioning in our social and work roles, we have nothing to worry about.”
But lying can take its toll on our relationships. Before we know it, we may be caught in a web of lies and feel disconnected from others. “Lies hide the truth. Without truth, there is no real connection. Without connection, humans feel empty and alone,” says Yilmaz.
So, while “a little white lie” here and there may not significantly impact your relationships, telling them often may place a wedge between you and the people you care about.
What are things people constantly lie about every day?
Evy Poumpouras is a former secret service special agent to four U.S. presidents and an on-air national TV correspondent. Poumpouras says, “Everyone lies for different reasons, such as to avoid embarrassment, avoid going to jail, or maintain a certain social or professional status.” Since we know most of us are saying a few falsehoods on a fairly regular basis, what types of things are we lying about the most?
1. “I’m okay. Everything is okay.”
When someone asks you how you are doing, is “I’m okay. Everything is okay.” your most likely answer? An Australian study found that this lie was the number one untruth people told others. Why is that?
The purpose of this lie is usually for self-protection. Maybe you’re not comfortable with the person asking you the question. Or maybe you feel like that moment isn’t the time or the place to have a serious discussion about what’s going on in your life. Hopefully, you can set aside some time to be open with those closest to you if you’re not “okay.” Otherwise, your lie may drive you further away from people. As Yilmaz says, “Make sure the lie is worth the possibility of disconnection from the person being lied to.”
2. “I’m (insert number of your choice) years old.”
For both women and men, lying about your age seems to be a pretty common occurrence—one that is especially prevalent these days in the dating realm. Anna M., 30, has been in the online dating scene for several years. She’s been noticing more people blatantly lying about their ages on their profile. “Recently, I matched with a man whose profile said he was 42. After I read his bio closely, I noticed the very last line said, ‘I’m really 52.’”
Why are people lying about their age? Yilmaz says low self-esteem might compel a person to lie. Other reasons a person may fudge the truth a bit about their age is to project a particular image of themselves or gain the approval of others. Whatever the rationale, skirting around the truth is a very difficult way to live, and it’s bound to catch up with you.
3. “I had a lot of responsibilities at my previous job.”
According to a CareerBuilder survey, embellishing job responsibilities is the number one lie people tell on their resumes. Even though there’s immense pressure to stand out from the crowd,Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder Rosemary Haefner stated: “Even the slightest embellishment can come back to haunt you and ruin your credibility.”
If you’re feeling insecure about your real job experiences, Haefner says, creating fictitious career descriptions isn’t the way to impress a potential employer. Instead, she says, “Use your cover letter strategically to tell your story, focusing on your strengths and accomplishments and explaining any areas of concern if needed.”
4. “It wasn’t that expensive.”
In the previously mentioned Australian study, this lie landed in the top 10 for both men and women. Why do so many people choose to be dishonest about the price of an item? Most likely, it’s to avoid judgment and scrutiny over their spending habits.
Many people want to control the perceptions others have of them, and they may not want their friends and family to dub them as “extravagant” or “lavish,” so they play down the amount of money they spend to dodge criticism.
But a newer study sheds a slightly different light on why people may also tell the occasional tale. Some people may lie due to the compassion they feel for others. This type of lie is called a “prosocial lie,” or a lie intended to benefit others. In the case of lying about an item’s price tag, a person may tell a prosocial lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings about what they can and can’t afford.
5. “We should talk soon.”
Translation: “The chances of us talking in the near future are pretty slim.” We’ve all probably said some version of this when we’ve bumped into someone we hadn’t seen for a while (either online or in-person) to avoid the awkward tension. However, we rarely follow through with that phone call. Sure, we’d like to stay in contact with people, but the truth is that we drift apart or get too busy to keep up with everyone. So isn’t stretching the truth a little justified now and then?
Yilmaz answers, “Life is unpredictable, and I don’t like to place solid rules on anything. You never know what kind of situation will come up to justify a white lie. But I remind everyone who tells a white lie that trust is a precious gift that can be easily lost.” In other words, if you’re looking to build trust in existing relationships or create new ones, lying is never your best bet.
Laying Down Lies
Do “little white lies” really hurt anyone? While it may be relatively benign on the surface, repeatedly being dishonest can eventually foster an environment where others begin to distrust you. To facilitate human connections, you need to create an atmosphere where open and honest communication is at the center of your relationships.
Yilmaz says honesty is the key to connection and mutual respect. If you’re willing to be vulnerable with people and embrace truthful living, you might discover that people like and accept you the way you are—as your most unguarded, authentic self.