This is one of the handouts I use with groups when we talk about honesty.
- Figure out why you lie and who you lie to. We’ve all lied at one time or another, to different people, to ourselves, and for different reasons. But coming up with a systematic plan for becoming more honest will be difficult unless you try to define those reasons and those people for yourself.
- Lies to make ourselves look better might include exaggerations, embellishments, and flat-out tall-tales we tell to others, and ourselves, to make ourselves feel better about our inadequacies. When you’re unhappy about something, it’s much easier to fill it in with lies than tell the truth.
- We lie to peers we think are better than us, because we want them to respect us as we respect them. Unfortunately, being dishonest is disrespectful in the long run. Give people more credit for their ability to empathize and understand you on a deeper level.
- Lies that avoid embarrassment might include lies told to cover up bad behaviors, transgressions, or any activity we’re not proud of. If your mom found a pack of cigarettes in your jacket, you might lie and say that they’re your friend’s to avoid punishment.
- We lie to authoritative figures to avoid embarrassment and punishment, including ourselves. When we’ve done something we feel guilty about, lies are told to eliminate the guilt, avoid the punishments, and get back to the objectionable behavior we’re forced to lie about. It’s a vicious cycle.
- Anticipate behaviors that will make you feel guilty. To break the chain of embarrassment and lying, it’s important to learn to anticipate things that you’ll likely feel guilty about in the future, and avoid those behaviors. When you lie, you’re covering up some uncomfortable truth that’s more easily couched in a lie. You can either get comfortable with the truth, or abandon the behavior that makes you embarrassed.
- If you smoke cigarettes, you won’t have to lie if everyone knows it’s true. Own up to it. If a behavior is un-own-upable, it’s probably best to avoid it. It would be humiliating for your wife to find out that you had an inappropriate relationship with a coworker, but you won’t have to lie if you don’t do it.
- Avoid situations in which you’ll have to lie for others. Be wary when someone tells you something in confidence that you know that you should share with someone else (e.g., knowledge of a crime, a lie, or a harmful act against another). Hearing such information puts you in a difficult position, especially when the truth eventually emerges and reveals to the affected person that you knew all along.
- If someone begins a sentence with “Don’t tell so-and-so about this, okay?” be prepared to offer your own disclaimer: “If it’s something that I’d want to know about were I them, then please don’t tell me. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s secrets but my own.”