Lying: The Epidemic of Our Age?

“Everybody lies.”  The lead character on the popular TV drama House complained of this every week. Gregory House was a gifted physician and a brilliant diagnostician. But he hated having to sift through his patients’ endless inadvertent misrepresentations, significant omissions, and deliberate distortions to get to the bottom of their illnesses. House is the quintessential cynic. But is he right? Does everybody lie? Is lying the new epidemic?

The Scope of the Problem

Lying seems not only more prevalent but also increasingly accepted these days. Some of us might not so readily accept all this lying. But most of us have certainly come to expect it. Researcher Charles F. Bond and his colleagues at Texas Christian University have studied this. Most Americans believe they have a better than average chance of getting away with lying. And that’s largely because of how common lying is. It’s also because we’ve become accustomed, and, therefore, desensitized to it.  We know almost anyone will lie to us in one way or another – even for seemingly inconsequential reasons.

The Social Impact of Lying

In Tangled Webs, Pulitzer Prize winner James B. Stewart speaks to the social impact of lying.  He discusses some of the biggest lies told and the high-profile figures who uttered them. These lies were the undoing of once well-respected leaders like “Scooter” Libby and Barry Bonds. He also examines the lies that brought down Martha Stewart and Bernie Madoff.  And he suggests a significant change has occurred in our culture. Not long ago, when otherwise decent people got caught doing wrong, they responded differently. They were more likely to “fess-up,” face the music, and correct course. Their conscience bothered them enough to do so. But these days even our cultural role models try to evade responsibility and lie about their missteps. And they lie about them even when those missteps are plain for all to see.

Deception and Manipulation

Few these days seem willing to honestly self-reckon. That’s because for all too many, it’s all about image and what researchers call “impression management.” Deception (i.e. lying) is always involved in impression managment (i.e. manipulation). And it’s at the root of most character disturbance. Disturbed characters habitually lie. One lie inevitably begets another when someone’s feverishly trying to cover their tracks. Such was the case with Watergate, which brought down the Nixon presidency. And lying (by crafty word parsing, disortion, and omission) almost ended the presidency of Bill Clinton.

The High Cost of Lying

Society has become much more fractured and adversarial.  Stewart suggests this is one reason loyalty seems to have become more important than honesty. “C.Y.A.” and “Don’t rat out your buddies!” are the unwritten and unspoken axioms from our corporate boardrooms to our police departments. But society has definitely lost something when a person can swear before God, a judge, and a jury to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth while full intending to conceal it.

What exactly have we lost? Some might say it’s our innocence or idealized image of justice. Others might say it’s any sense of shame. Still others might say it’s our moral compass. It could even be a clear sense of decency, dignity, and integrity. But whatever it is, it’s pretty much gone.  And it’s gone because so many among us are so stubbornly unwilling to reckon with the truth. It’s also because our society has become too desensitized to and expecting of such behavior. Too many aspects of our culture “enable” all this lying. And tragically, sometimes, our culture even rewards it.

Lying Destroys Relationships

Lying destroys relationships. It breaks the crucial bond of trust essential to a relationship’s survival. When someone lies – especially when they do so repeatedly – they inevitably inflict injury. They can do great damage to their marriage, working partnerships, or other intimate relationships. They do damage that’s often extremely hard, if not impossible to repair.

Toxic relationship survivors know all too well the damaging effect of lying. And when they finally catch their character disturbed partner doing wrong but then that partner acts convincingly innocent, they experience the “gaslighting” effect. That makes them feel both “crazy” and inexplicably guilty themselves. And when truth finally outs and they realize how egregiously they’ve been bamboozled, used, and abused, it can ignite an emotional firestorm. Victims of such manipulation often need years (and a lot of good emotional support) to get over the anger, hurt, and sense of betrayal. That’s the unfortunate result of being “conned” so greatly and for so long.

There are many ways to lie. And disturbed characters are so accomplished at it that they’ve raised lying to a near art form. In next week’s article I’ll be discussing the artful ways manipulators and other disturbed characters lie.  And in the weeks following, I’ll be discussing the seemingly senseless and unnecessary lying some folks do that many refer to as “pathological lying.”

Some Important Updates:

Look for a special Independence Day edition of Character Matters this Sunday evening at 7 PM EDT. You can join the discussion for this live program by calling (718) 717-8296. And you can treat yourself to a rendition of my patriotic Anthem for the Millennium by visiting the America, My Home! page.

Next week I’ll be doing professional training in western New York state. Check the “Workshops and Seminars” page here on the blog or the speakers information page on the Cross Country Education website for details.

For more information on today’s topic, check out my books Character Disturbance, In Sheep’s Clothing, The Judas Syndrome, and How Did We End Up Here?.  You might also want to peruse the articles:  The Art of the Lie and Lying – Another Look at this Character Defect .

And for an in-depth discussion of this “fourth commandment” and all of the “10 Commandments” of sound character development, look for my new book with Dr. Kathy Armistead The Ten Commandments of Character: How to Lead a Significant Life at the end of summer.

20 thoughts on “Lying: The Epidemic of Our Age?

  1. Dr. Simon,
    I have first hand experience on how vitally important the truth the whole truth is in any relationship. My partner lied and violated me and others for over 20 years in a very cunningly deceptive well hidden way. He has a predatory perverted and sadistic nature that he hid very well under a a cunningly played humble “nice guy” persona. Because he gas lighted me for so many years in these subtle and cruel ways my sense of reality had become seriously distorted and damaged by the time I was able to make any sense out of what was really going on. This was a subtly progressive abusive situation that was well hidden under lies and blame shifting and by using my own healthy human conscious and kind nature against me. I was not the only person he fooled and deceives and to this day no one other than his daughters and myself and a therapist have any idea of what a cold cruel sick conscious lacking person he really is. It is actually chilling to know some one can pretend to be so humble and kind while they violate and deceive everyone they know. For this reason the truth the whole truth and noting but the truth became very important for me personally so that I could make sense of what had happened and of what was really going on and make choices based on this factual reality. In reality if the truth was known at any point in the 25 year relationship the appropriate action and response would be a very simple and obvious choices to make. I would of never participated with his abuse of me if I had any idea of who he really was what he was doing and what he was more than capable of. This man refused to tell the truth to me to his therapist and to anyone. I found much of the truth that I was able to find on my own in the course of trying to save my sanity and to find a way to make sense of what was really going on in my marriage.. When I finally figured out about ten percent of what was going on I ask him to leave. The process of gaining the truth was a harmful experience filled with a lot of manipulation and lying from him. Early on when I would seek out help he actually set up a situation intentionally so that he could use a therapist against me by having them cause me to further question my own sense of reality. This was such a consciously manipulative cruel and evil thing for him to do and he did it with full awareness and zero conscious or remorse. In the end as I started the process of saving myself and I sought out better Therapy still these therapist suggesting that anything other than the absolute full FACTUAL truth was somehow okay caused a lot of problems. Allowing any lies and not standing up for accountability actually caused more harm than not going to therapy at all. There seems to be this idea that especially men should not have to tell the whole truth and or that women may be too fragile or emotional to take or handle the truth. And irrelevant therapy topics like considerations like whether a man is attracted to a women he is consciously and knowingly using, deceiving and abusing. Like his attraction or non attraction has any relevance to the larger picture of whats really going on. All I ever wanted was the truth The truth made everything quite simple and obvious. I think any reasonably sound healthy person can take the truth and can make sense of the factual truth and use this truth to help them get a handle on the factual reality of a given situation. I would also argue that unless a person is absolutely honest then any attempt at therapy is nothing more than indulging in a losing game based on continued deception and lies. It seems that radical honest and truthfulness by revealing the factual reality of ones behavior with zero blame shifting or rationalizing is of profound importance. This man is still in therapy now spending money to lie to his therapist and to support group members I have had to have very few interactions with him however any interaction I have had has been so predictable. Thousands of dollars on his lie based therapy has done nothing to change his character in anyway other than to enhance his arrogance and delight he gets from seeming to get away with continuing to deceive others under the guise that he has told some of the truth. I would argue that partners deserve the factual truth with no games playing or blame shifting allowed the truth up front on the table. If I had any idea of the truths my husband was fully aware of and cunningly hiding I would have never chosen to have a relationship of any kind with him and would of avoided him like a plague like any sane person would have. He knew this was true when he met me. No sane person would choose to be with someone with his character. I also think the majority of people that do these types of character disturbed things are not likely to ever change in any significant way. It seems true that most continue on with their decetptive manipulative violating self serving ways whether the therapist is aware of it or not. The likelihood that a person won’t or can not change seems pretty high in many cases and partners also deserve to have this information factually shared with them and not be given any false hope. After the experience of having therapist fall for and participate with my partners manipulative deceit an deception and then after I am able to call him out somewhat to have other therapist that is slack about honesty in even the slightest ways was very harmful. Most character disturbed persons need to be held accountable for what they have done in a profoundly un-flexable way. Partners of these disturbed people deserve nothing but the factual truth and most of us can handle the factual truth that includes zero forms of blame shifting or other forms of manipulation game playing just fine.. The truth is way better then lies and hope based on even small amounts of deception and lies this is nothing but more cruelty and deceit. The truth, the whole truth, and NOTHING but the truth is a profoundly wise statement and I now more clearly understand its inclusion in the judicial honor system vow. The truth is what is required for any true healing and or change to occur on any side of the abusive manipulative relationship agenda. The Truth Matters. I had to fight very hard for the scraps of truth I was able to gain and these scraps are what set me feel and helped me stand on my own two feet and get my head wrapped around what was true and my own reality again. He understands the importance of the truth and understood this way before I had any idea of what was going on. This is why the truth was and is so threatening to him. His continued refusal to be honest is very telling and revealing. His continued lying is also an 100% assurance that he remains a very small pathetic cowardly disturbed human being with little capacity for anything authentic and or real in his lie of a life. The Truth matters and any withholding of the truth is nothing more than continued lying. Deceit is how people gain control and power over unsuspecting others. The truth matters and the Whole truth Matters and nothing but the truth matters.

    1. Martha,

      Your story is my story. The only difference I dated him for four years and was married to him for 45 years. The truth is profound and I was manipulated and lied to continually during that time. My part was loving him and giving totally to our marriage and family. Some say to believe the best about people, give the benefit of the doubt and set an example, but now I know about the disordered and these old adages do not work with them. I truly did not know about mental illnesses and had to learn the hard way.

      I am trying to keep “my life” together. It has been a 9.5 year struggle. I feel like the worst hoax ever was played on me. We have three daughters and 5 grandchildren and they are what keep me going. I have tried to hold the family together and go on, but I have the feeling that most of my life has been consumed by this. The family understands there are issues, but not to the depth that I understand it. They simply still want to believe that their dad loves them. As time goes on though, it becomes more and more apparent that he doesn’t. They only see him about twice a year and he doesn’t live far from them.

      At 72 years old, I would love to have a companion, but it scares me to think that it might happen again.

      1. Dr. Simon,
        An excellent article, Lies beget lies, just one small one grows to proportions that become unwieldy and uncontrollable, to the point one either takes responsibility for the lie or the lie becomes the new truth.

        Seeing that it is the fourth of July, and so many celebrating, if you ask many people if they can tell you the history behind this day they really are clueless. Our Country was founded on Christian values which seems to have been lost. Something that we need to return to. We have lost our moral compass and it truly is a country of deceit and lies. A remant are fed up with the bald faced lies that are forced on them and feel helpless. We need to return to the truth and nothing but the truth.

        Also, there is such disillusionment in society about the the overreaching power of government and so many feel their voices are wasted on the political process. The disillusionment comes from the promises made by politicians and once they have attained office become like the all the other politicians. The consensus is they are nothing but liars and only have their own self serving interests at heart and those who have the most money to buy their vote. Politicians that would sell their own mother for a nickle.

        People know the federal government is broken and incapable of fixing itself. Washington D.C. has bankrupted us. seized state power, and stolen our liberty. Even good politicians are handcuffed by the burdens of bureaucracy.

        Article V of the U.S. Constitution say that states can call a Convention of States during which delegates propose amendments to the Constitution to halt the federal government’s abuse of power.

        Alexander Hamilton: “[I]t must be utterly repugnant to this Constitution to subvert the state government or oppress the people.”

        What has happened is that so many of our politicians are not educated to what the Constitution even says and or the amendments to the Constitution. Our goal along with 40 other states are organizing to educate our representative on every level to the language of and to uphold the Constitution.

        The whole issue of this country is about faith, God, family, country and honesty, it is exactly what you have written about for 20 years. It’s all about individual Character and Character Matters.

        God Bless the United States of American and may she return to the beacon of hope she was in days past.

        1. “God Bless the United States of American and may she return to the beacon of hope she was in days past.”
          Amen to that!

  2. And lying by crafty word parsing, disortion, and omission.
    This was my the mother

    When I read In Sheep’s Clothing, Dr Simon said that we have a Gut Feeling But We do not act on it. I used to call her lying by omissions Throwing stones. She would throw a stone at me and hit me hard for no reason. I would throw this metaphorical stone back and hit her BUT ! she would deny any order,sequence and relevanance to her own action attiude or behaviour. She would only talk, disscuss my action and never her own. She would if pushed become verbally abusive and sometimes violent.

    1. Martha Neaves and Joey
      Martha, Thank you for sharing your story, It is very hard and so utterly confusing when we live with someone that is so wiley in telling the truth, always distorting the truth in such way it causes one to lose their own perception of the truth. I had this done to me and I never knew what the truth was. This is a terrible thing to do to a child.

      Joey , yes, when the stone hit you especially a lie and you questioned it you were hit with more stones. They denied hitting you but accused you of what they had done. Its an insidious and infectious behaviour. I am glad that you were able to see the truth of it all and free yourself from her clutches. It is sad when you realize the ones that should nurture and love you really want to consume and destroy you.

      I am so glad you are where you are at, the peace not to hear their voices and it is quiet. Perhaps much poorer monetarily, but rich in spirit, you are freed and I am free to be me bound no more by their lies and deceit, the chains are broken. I know there is so much pain and turmoil inside to deal with, but you have it right, you have truth and as painful as it may be it will give you strength and resolve and truth always prevails, it never fails. ((((Hugs)))))

      Perhaps Joey you could find a poem for us in the near future, they are always ring true.

      1. Just for you !

        Life’s Scars
        By Ella Wheeler Wilcox

        They say the world is round, and yet
        I often think it square,
        So many little hurts we get
        From corners here and there.
        But one great truth in life I’ve found,
        While journeying to the West-
        The only folks who really wound
        Are those we love the best.

        The man you thoroughly despise
        Can rouse your wrath, ’tis true;
        Annoyance in your heart will rise
        At things mere strangers do;
        But those are only passing ills;
        This rule all lives will prove;
        The rankling wound which aches and thrills
        Is dealt by hands we love.

        The choicest garb, the sweetest grace,
        Are oft to strangers shown;
        The careless mien, the frowning face,
        Are given to our own.
        We flatter those we scarcely know,
        We please the fleeting guest,
        And deal full many a thoughtless blow
        To those who love us best.

        Love does not grow on every tree,
        Nor true hearts yearly bloom.
        Alas for those who only see
        This cut across a tomb!
        But, soon or late, the fact grows plain
        To all through sorrow’s test:
        The only folks who give us pain
        Are those we love the best.

        Now That’s The Truth


        1. Joey,
          Thank you that was very nice of you!
          Its a tough road to shed all those voices of the past but you have broken the stronghold and that is so difficult. Stay strong always and know you are not alone.

        2. Joey,
          It is very sad to say too, ” and those we love the best” are also the ones who instill in us “we must never tell, this is a family matter and not to air our family laundry.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard this. Deceit and lies are always cloaked with the abuse. Now days, it seems more of a norm of acceptance and when you complain or stand up to the emotional abuse you are the portrayed as the guilty party.

        1. This is excellent video! Thanks for posting it joey.
          Same message, but video format makes it more effective.

  3. Human Family

    By Maya Angelou

    I note the obvious differences
    in the human family.
    Some of us are serious,
    some thrive on comedy.

    Some declare their lives are lived
    as true profundity,
    and others claim they really live
    the real reality.

    The variety of our skin tones
    can confuse, bemuse, delight,
    brown and pink and beige and purple,
    tan and blue and white.

    I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
    and stopped in every land,
    I’ve seen the wonders of the world
    not yet one common man.

    I know ten thousand women
    called Jane and Mary Jane,
    but I’ve not seen any two
    who really were the same.

    Mirror twins are different
    although their features jibe,
    and lovers think quite different thoughts
    while lying side by side.

    We love and lose in China,
    we weep on England’s moors,
    and laugh and moan in Guinea,
    and thrive on Spanish shores.

    We seek success in Finland,
    are born and die in Maine.
    In minor ways we differ,
    in major we’re the same.

    I note the obvious differences
    between each sort and type,
    but we are more alike, my friends,
    than we are unalike.

    We are more alike, my friends,
    than we are unalike.

    We are more alike, my friends,
    than we are unalike.

  4. Why so much lying? There is no fear of God. All who love and practice lying go to hell (Revelation 22:15).

  5. How to deal with a liar, in a deposition and in court: Divorce proceedings are finally moving along and soon the CDN (The Jerk) will be deposed. We already know his answers will be half truths, full out lies, answering questions with a question, evasion, all tactics that can be possibly used will be used. If the SB does answer a question truthfully, it will not be believed because he is a liar. So most answers will be construed as possible lies.
    The Jerk has so much to hide. It will be interesting when he’s presented with documents in black and white and have to answer to them.
    I am readying myself of an onslaught of motions and excuses and delays because it is time for the SB to ANSWER.
    Staying strong here . . . . . .

    1. Lucy,
      Good for you, you have come a long way. The truth will set you free and you have held your head up and took the high road. Not an easy road by any means. You have given up all you had, your beautiful home, your furnishings and everything you have worked for all these years.

      Your now living with the bare necessities but at same you took back your life and you became free, to be your authentic self. I admire your guts and courage to go forward and do the right thing.

      In all this you have remained true to your morale compass, you have told the truth and nothing but the truth and it will set you free. In the end it is all just stuff, we can’t take it with us, but what will remain is your character.

      The STBX will hang himself with all the lies and deceit he has perpetrated and he will be seen naked for who he really is. In a divorce there are no winners. What you will receive is the comfort of knowing that you are honest and never stooped to his level of lying.

      Know this, you may walk out of that courtroom with nothing, an unfair ruling and justice may not prevail. In all likelihood the STBX will run up so many attorneys fees your assets will be worthless. But what you have is a gift, and that you can’t put a price on, nor can anyone take it from you. Your a honest and decent human being that has love in her heart for her fellow man.

      When all this is done and over with, you will succeed and I believe you will be blessed for your goodness and honesty. You will go far, your integrity will carry and others will know the truth of all that transpired. You will be free to do as you please and the gifts you truly have can be used to help others, especially all the knowledge you have acquired from Dr. Simon’s blog.

      I am praying for and you and I believe in the end, the truth will be your saving grace in all this and he will be exposed for the deceitful, evil, liar that he is. Stand proud in the truth and never let it go Lucy. You are awesome and I and I admire your guts, your character and most of your courage..

      Know this, we are all in your corner cheering you on and will give you all the support and comfort you may need. You take kindred spirit.


  6. BTOV and All,

    BTOV you suggested that I look into a Hostess position in an upscale restaurant. Well, a friend of mine told me of a position that her friend that is a manager at the place was looking for and she gave him my name. Long story short….I got the job! Of course, 15 years in the business as my first career helped but I believe he made his decision based on my background and how my parents and my sister (as a baby) came to this country through Ellis Island. He was looking to see if I was one of the pampered women that just want to stand around and look pretty. Nope. When I told him my story he immediately got very silent and very serious. I know, right then I was going to offer me the job.

    This first gen immigrant did quite well in this country. No hand outs for me. I rock! I work harder and faster just because I had no safety net.

    So thank you for your prayers. I am grateful.

    Also, no worried on sneaking in my extra pets to the new apartment. The apartment where I now reside negotiated no pet rent in the new lease so I am staying here. The truth will out as they say! Now I do not like having to pay $50 bucks for water sewer and trash that I did not have to do before but my animals are my biggest priority so no pet rent sealed the deal.

    And they knew it too. They knew I was going to leave and since this place is turning into a ghost town they are beginning to find ways to keep people from leaving. Pet rent is the deal maker for me.

    So all is good and I am so very grateful that I don’t have to hide my pets. Oh, and the restaurant is only 2.9 miles from where I live now so this is a no brainer for me. Mon-Friday 10am to 5pm. What’s not to like. I am taking over for a young lady that is having a baby. Will she come back…most likely not. Its not like this is a big corporate America job.

    Theresa Maria

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