We all encounter liars at some point in our lives, but the real power is deciding in how we deal with them.
Photo by sebastiaan stam on Unsplash
by: E.B. Johnson
Dealing with liars is never easy, but it can be especially hard when we don?t understand the concept of lying as a whole. There are a number of reasons people lie, and they range anywhere from sociopathic tendencies to a need to spare the feelings of someone they love. The true power in dealing with lies comes when we learn how to recognize them for what they are and separate ourselves from the behavior in a way that protects our physical and mental wellbeing.
If you?ve found yourself entangled in a situation that?s saturated with lies, focus first on getting to the bottom of those lies with both acceptance and open and honest understanding. Lies are toxic, and they go a long way to hurt even when they are set with the best of intentions. Like shadows, untruths add up, and when they do they can seriously shake our perception of self and reality. Don?t let the lies throw your life and your joy off kilter. Adopt the simple techniques you need to defend yourself from lies big and small alike.
What does a liar look like?
Lying, at its most basic level, is an act of misleading or untruth that?s made with a conscious intention to deceive. More than that, though, it seriously undermines our happiness and relationships, and makes it hard to center around our integrity and the things that actually matter in this life. While not all lies are created equal, not all liars look the same, often making it hard to cement our understanding of true lies in any meaningful way.
Though we generally tend to think of lies in a pretty straightforward kind of way, the entire idea of lying is a bit more complex and nuanced than just saying something untrue. Lies can also come in the form of half-truths or omissions, both of which accomplish the goal of misleading, and they can also come from people that we love as well as people with malicious intentions.
Liars can range from young adults right up to our elders, and they also include our coworkers and people that we love and adore. Lies aren?t just restricted to bad people with bad ideas; we all lie at some point in our lives and we all do it for different reasons. If we truly want to learn how to identify the liars in our lives, we have to become more familiar with lies and how they work against our happiness. The only way to do this is by cultivating understanding piece-by-piece every day.
How people lie to us.
Not all lies are created equal, and not all lies come with the same complexity or intention. To some, lies are a means of control and manipulation ? while to to others they are simply a means of protecting someone they care about. Though not all lies are malicious, they can all add up to some major unhappiness when not addressed over time.
Compulsive lies can be complex, but they?re hardly ever subtle. This type of lie traditionally stacks up, creating grand stories that just don?t quite out. Compulsive liars exhibit all the classic lying behaviors along with their grandiose stories of their own glory, including an avoidance of eye contact, breaking out into a sweat, or tripping over their words and points.
Pathological liars can be both dangerous and hard to detect. When someone has a pathological addiction to telling it false, it?s easy to create lies that make them appear to be a hero or a sympathy wielding victim. Their lies (though they cause pain and hardship no matter the relationship with the person) seem to have no clear benefit and they more-often-than-not start to believe in the lies that they tell.
Though there are surely a few pure-and-honest bunnies out there, the rest of us tell lies from time-to-time. Many fall into the category of the infrequent liar; someone who lies only when they feel as though it?s extremely necessary or warranted. More often than not, these types of liars also admit to their lie before their found out, begging for forgiveness and suffering from the guilt of their transgression ? no matter how small.
Careless lying is dangerous, and it can be especially toxic when it comes to our closest and most intimate relationships. When someone lies carelessly, they do it all the time and without thinking of or caring about how it affects anyone around them. Though they?re usually aware of their dishonesty, they really and truly don?t care about, and are traditionally looking out only for themselves and their own personal comfort and wellbeing.
Though we often consider white lies to be outside the realm of ?lying? it?s still a commitment to mistruth, and that?s where they can become harmful. Though many of us tell white lies to benefit someone whose feelings we value, these lies can stack up and they become especially toxic when they?re combined with tidbits of truth (making them especially hard to make sense of). While we may not think the lie is damaging, at deeper glance it often is.
Like the careless lie, sociopathic lies are devoid of empathy ? as are the people who use them. Whether they impact people positively or negatively, the sociopathic liar doesn?t care. The only thing that matters to them is gaining power and manipulating the people around them. Though they are often super charming, sociopathic liars are also usually quite narcissistic and will continue to use lies to get what they want no matter what.
Signs that someone might be lying.
There are a number of signs that someone might be lying to you and they range from non-verbal cues to full-blown sentence fragments or an inability to recall details. Discovering the lies someone is telling is often a passive process, but there are active steps we can take as well to get to the root of their deceits.
A sense of vagueness
Being mysterious is one thing, but being vague is another one entirely. When someone is lying, they are usually vague on details ? refusing to commit to dates, names or other identifying events that might give away their ruse. If someone isn?t telling the truth, they?ll often refuse to offer up any substantial details, and will change the subject anything the conversation steers toward their half-truths and outright lies.
Some liars are smooth, but others are a bit less aware. Many, when caught in a lie, will find themselves tripping over details like dates, names, etc. and find themselves rambling on in sentence fragments that don?t quite add up (like their lies). Vocal uncertainty is one of the biggest signals you can look for when you suspect someone is lying to you, and stutters and sentence fragments go right along with that.
As humans, we have a lot of distraction techniques that we lean into when we get found out or find ourselves backed into a corner. Among these techniques is grooming, a slight-of-hand technique that is meant to make the victim look the other way or become distracted in the midst of a lie-confrontation. These behaviors can include touching fingers to their lips, or running their fingers through their hair. Not only do they calm the liar, these behaviors can also break the train of though of the victim as well.
Question repeat game
One of the most telling signs that someone is lying to you is the use of repeat questioning. When someone get?s caught leaving something out, or telling something untrue, they will often repeat any questions they are confronted with, attempting ? usually futilely ? to deflect the accusations that are being made and the truth that they are being encountered with.
How to deal with liars.
If you?ve found yourself embroiled in a toxic tango with someone who just can?t tell the truth, there are a number of steps you can take both to deal with them and protect your mental and emotional wellbeing. From creating space, to learning how to stop the personalization process, dealing with liars is never easy but it is possible with some basic techniques.
1. Separate yourself from their behavior
One of the biggest problems we face when encountering a liar is usually that of personalization. When someone lies to us, it can be a highly personal affair that affects the way we see our relationship with that person, or even the way we see ourselves. That?s why it?s key ? when dealing with someone who is a known or proven liar ? to separate yourself from who they are and their behavior.
Learn how to take a step back and realize that the other person?s lies have nothing to do with you. We are (each and every one of us) responsible only for ourselves. Though the actions of others might feel as though they are tied into who we are or what we did, they are entirely at the ownership of the other person; a person who made a conscious decision to mislead, misdirect or otherwise hurt someone they claimed they cared for.
Realize that not everything in this world has to do with you. Stop taking on the pain and the hurt and the negativity of other people by chaining yourself to their toxic and self-defeating behaviors. Release the ties and let the person be who they are, as they are, and as they want to be. Whenever you find yourself confronted with someone who can?t tell the truth simply tell yourself: This has nothing to do with me. It is a reflection of that person and that person alone.
2. Check and confirm your facts
Our intuition plays a big part when it comes to deciphering the half-truths of a liar, but it?s also critical that we check and confirm all the facts before making any brash or emotional moves. Lies ? no matter how they come ? are rarely simple. If you really want to get to the truth, you have to peel back the layers. Check your data, and check it again. Confrontation can only come with confirmation, or you do all parties a disservice with your reaction (whatever that may be).
Whatever story you?ve been told, no matter how big or small it may be, work hard to check and confirm your facts before lashing out or reacting in some big and statement-making way. Don?t rely on the stories of others, and don?t rely strictly on what your gut is telling you. When it comes to lies, think of it like a crime show. You need hard evidence, facts, dates and receipts if you?re considering taking the confrontation to the next level.
Get to your truths and don?t fall for the delusions or the emotional pressures to stop in the chase or accept things as they are. Take your time collecting the information, and organize it in a way that allows you to make any future possible confrontations both concrete and undeniable. If you have any hope of getting to the root of truth with a liar, you need to have a stable base to stand on. Create that foundation by getting the evidence you need first.
3. Protect yourself
It?s critical ? when dealing with liars ? that we learn how to protect oursevlse from their more malicious machinations. While not all liars are dangerous or harmful in nature, some are, and it?s important that we have the coping mechanisms we need before we?re sucking into their traps. If you think you might have a pathological or sociopathic liar in your life, learn how to protect yourself so that you can manage the turbulent waters around them effectively.
First and foremost, if you?re considering confrontation: get witnesses. Some liars are more dangerous than others, and there?s always safety in numbers and solid evidence. Enlist the help of people you trust, or people who were there when the moment-in-question went down. The more people that see things from your point of view, the better, as charismatic liars can often be gifted at charming the wool over people?s eyes.
If you feel as though you have to confront a liar, and you feel as though that confrontation might be tense, interact with a safe amount of distance; using text and email if possible. Keep yourself physically and mentally safe by ensuring any contact is conducted in a space or a time you can shut on and off like a tap when things get too intense. Consider the full scope of your safety, and the full scope of any longterm consequences that might result from a confrontation.
4. Ask for the story in reverse
As is clear, there are a number of ways in which you could detect the potential lies of someone you?re speaking to. While most are relatively passive (ie: watching a potential liar?s body language) there are also some active ways you can get to the bottom on someone?s truths ? or untruths. One of the best ways to do that is to ask the liar to tell their story in reverse, something that can be done both creatively and before any major confrontation unfolds.
Lies are cognitively demanding, making them hard to remember and even harder to repeat as time goes on. For this reason, asking someone to tell their story in reverse can be a great way to discover whether or not someone is telling the truth. When we?re asked to recount things backward, it increases the cognitive load, and when that happens both our verbal and non-verbal lying cues become more obvious.
It?s a bit like being asked to recite the alphabet backwards at a D.U.I. stop. When the liar ? who is traditionally hyper focused on controlling both their own reactions as well as the reactions of the person they are attempting to manipulate ? is asked to recount their tale backward, they can lose track; revealing cracks in their story that make lies apparent. A number of studies have shown that this technique is extremely efficient when it comes to getting the truth out of someone. And it?s one that can be done slowly and in stages too.
5. Call them out
Sometimes, there?s nothing you can do for a liar but to call them out. Lies are a bit like darkness, and even the small ones are a shadow that can follow us around for weeks and years to come. The best way to get rid of some lies is to expose them to the light of truth, but that ? in and of itself ? is a process which must be carried out with understanding and nuance.
Start small, and avoid any anger, hostility or accusations right off the bat. Instead, emply a technique known as Socratic irony, which basically sums up to ?giving them enough rope to hang themselves?. Ask the lying party small, pointed questions (while claiming no knowledge yourself) and allow them to fall into the traps they will inevitably set for themselves. Lead the liar to the gallows, but don?t hang him. You?re not the judge and the jury ? you?re just a spectator looking for truth.
It?s important to note here that confrontation is not the appropriate response for all situations. Some of the liars in our lives are not only toxic, but dangerous too, and confronting them with their lies can become a dangerous situation for all involved. If the liar in your life is someone you suspect would take things past the point of no return (without taking on any of the truth themselves), then avoid confrontation and create more-and-more natural space between yourself and the liar instead; cutting them off over time.
5. Hold on to your integrity
One of the biggest dangers, when it comes to liars, is their ability to bring our energy down to their level. Liars don?t play fair and, many of them (pathological liars, careless liars and sociopathic liars especially), don?t care to. Not only will they avoid the truth, they?ll strive to bring you down too, so that you lose sight of not only yourself but the things that once mattered to you.
When confronted with someone who lies to you on a regular basis, hold fast to your integrity and refuse to sink down to their level. Focus on your values, and give yourself enough space to reconnect with who you are and what you want before making any decisions. Find your values, and reclaim any value triggers that might help you get centered back around your authentic self.
Our integrity is more important than any superficial relationship, and it?s more important than the opportunity to please someone or be their friend. Lies are both toxic and damaging, and they undermine our sense of reality and joy in ways that are hard to circumvent. Refuse to let the other person drag you down into their world of shadow and half-truths. When dealing with a liar, lean into your integrity
6. Always reflect
It?s important ? at multiple stages in the process of dealing with liars ? to take time and space to process and reflect on ourselves and where?re at. Lies take both a mental and emotional toll, and dealing with long-term liars can be even more disheartening. If you?ve found yourself on the other side of a bad dust up with someone who lies, make sure you take a step back and reflect on what went wrong, what went right and what you can do better the next time.
Mindfulness practices are a great way to get back in touch with who you are and what you want, and they?re a great way to recenter yourself. These practices can take the form of deep breathing practices, or just a few minutes journalling each day. What you do isn?t really important. What is important is that it allows you to detach from the situation, calm yourself and get back in touch with who you are and what you want from life and your relationships.
Reflect regularly, and make important notes of how the lies made you feel and how they made you react. Look for triggers and patterns that might replay, time after time, leading to the same negative results or otherwise undesirable responses you find in similar situations. Developing these techniques over time are a great way to cultivate understanding of self, as well as better coping techniques that allow you to navigate the chaos of a liar caught in the web. It takes time, however, and it takes a little dedication every day.
7. Accept who they are
People are who they are. Though we are always capable of change, that only occurs when we, ourselves, are motivated to make that happen. Someone will not stop lying just because you want them to, or just because you expect them to. Liars are often just liars, and keeping them in your life takes accepting that and learning to live with it as it is.
If you want to keep a liar in your life, you have to embrace the chaos and turmoil they may bring with them. You have to accept them as they are in the hopes they will be inspired to become something better. You cannot tell them to change. You cannot for them to change. You cannot persuade them to change. Whether they are your lover, your partner or just a friend: if you want a liar in your life, you have to accept them for the liar that they are.
This is not to say that you have to put up with any of their toxic behaviors, or that you have to settle for less than you deserve. If the liar is someone that you can?t shake from your life, change their place in it; and change the boundaries too that determine how you interact with them on a daily basis. We?re not put on this earth to fix others or cater to their whims. We?re here to grow in our own right, and we?re here to discover what makes us happy, content and secure. Do that by creating boundaries if you can?t shake the liar in your life.
Putting it all together?
Lies are seriously damaging, but they can also be complex too, undermining our happiness in a number of ways. Whether the lies we are told are pathological or just occasional, they have a way of stacking up in a manner that distorts our perception of both reality and right and wrong. Dealing with the liars in our lives is important, but it?s also nuanced. If we want to effectively deal with, confront or otherwise remove a toxic liar from our environment ? we first need to understand who they are and why they lie.
Separate yourself from the behavior of the liar and understand that your karma is not theirs, and you are not responsible for who they are or what direction they steer their lives in. We can only be responsible for ourselves. Protect yourself against dangerous liars, and check all your facts before confronting them with their untruths. Make a plan of action that leaves you safe, secure and mentally and emotionally prepared for whatever fallout might come from such a confrontation. Liars ? just like anyone else ? have a right to be whoever they want to be. Hold on to your own integrity whenever you find yourself up against a liar, but remember that you have to accept the other person how they are if you want to continue to hold space for them in your life. Reflect and remember. Practice and accept. We are the only ones who can determine how we react when lies come into play.