How to Stop Lying

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The truth is that everyone lies from time to time. Small lies to spare someone’s feelings, omissions to avoid revealing too much, and yes, even blatant attempts to mislead are all examples of how lies can work their way into everyday communication.

But lies can have a serious impact. They can destroy relationships, undermine trust, and wreak havoc on your personal life.

The good news is that you can stop lying. It might not be easy, and it might take time, but the desire to stop lies can be enough to help you overcome the temptation to continue with this behavior.

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Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, featuring psychologist Paul Ekman aka "the human lie detector" shares why people lie and how to tell if someone is lying. Click below to listen now.

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Signs of a Lying Problem

So how can you tell when lying has started to erode the trust and communication in your relationships? How do you recognize that lies are starting to harm your daily life? Some signs that you might have a problem with lying:

  • You tell lies for no justifiable reason. 
  • You find ways to excuse your lies, such as thinking they are necessary to protect people from the truth.
  • You have begun to fabricate stories about people and events to hide the truth.
  • Other people have commented on your lies. 
  • People close to you no longer trust the things you say.
  • You feel like no one knows the “real you.”
  • Your lies have led to serious consequences such as losing relationships, work, or other opportunities.

How to Stop Lying

If you notice yourself lying more than you want to, then it is time to begin examining why this happens and how to stop lying for good. Here are some things to consider:

Stop Justifying Dishonesty

Lying isn’t an uncommon behavior, and everyone does lie from time to time. But it’s important to recognize that people are generally quite truthful in their everyday communication, according to much of the research on deception.

It’s difficult to gauge exactly how frequently people lie since estimating that number relies on people being, well, honest. Some of the best estimates suggest that people lie around once or twice per day. Research also suggests that there is a small proportion of people who lie far more than the average.

Deception studies have found that a small percentage of highly prolific liars actually tell the vast majority of lies.

In one sample, just 5% of the people told a whopping 50% of the reported lies. Studies also suggest that the mistruths told by these practiced liars also tend to have more significant consequences if discovered.

So if you are telling more lies than the average person each day, there’s a strong chance that this dishonesty might affect different areas of your life. Acknowledging the problematic behavior is often the first step toward making a lasting change.

Understand Why You Lie

If you are trying to be more honest in your everyday communication, it can be helpful to understand the types of lies you’re telling and why you’re telling them in the first place.

Deception researcher Bella DePaulo suggests that people tend to lie about five key topics:

  • Their opinions and feelings
  • Their actions, plans, and location
  • Their achievements, knowledge, and failings
  • Explanations for their behaviors
  • Facts and personal possessions

Sometimes these lies are deliberate attempts to manipulate others to achieve some personal benefit. In other cases, they might be a way to avoid hurting someone with the truth or hide something that you prefer to keep private.

In fact, researchers distinguish between two different types of lies. Prosocial lies are the small lies that people tell to protect feelings or avoid conflict. On the other hand, antisocial lies intentionally mislead or deceive others for personal gain.

One 2014 study found that while prosocial lies could help promote social harmony, antisocial lies lead to greater fragmentation of social networks.

Consider how lying is affecting your life. Be honest with yourself about how lying is affecting yourself and others.

If you are telling lies for personal gain or manipulating others, you will likely experience a decline in the quality of your close relationships. Sometimes when you better understand the harm that lying can do, you’ll be less likely to rely on it in the future.

Consider the Consequences

DePaulo has suggested that while we generally view lying as wrong, the most common types of lies people tell are those designed to protect their self-esteem, spare other people's feelings, or get other people to like them. These kinds of lies might not necessarily be harmless but tend to be more understandable than those intended to outright exploit or manipulate others.

Clearly, there are times when lying can serve a purpose. For example, you might hide your opinion about a book that your friend loves because you don’t want to lessen their enjoyment. Or you might not share that you attended a social event to which your friend was not invited. While the goal of these lies by omission is to spare someone’s feelings, that doesn’t mean that even the most well-intentioned lies won’t have consequences. 

There are certain situations where it is understandable to withhold the truth or even lie outright. In other cases, the question then becomes whether the other person actually benefits from being told a lie.

Honest feedback can help people do better in the future, and sharing the truth can help build stronger, more open bonds between individuals.

Even when you tell an altruistic lie to spare someone else's feelings, it is important to remember that you are making assumptions about what you think the other person wants to hear. Is that person looking for positive affirmation about a choice they have already made, or do they really want to hear your honest assessment?

Put Your Relationships First

Lying can have several negative effects, including lasting damage to your relationships. Even if you feel like the occasional fib can’t hurt, there are many compelling reasons to curb the lying habit. 

When people feel that they cannot rely on you to be truthful, it impairs your trust with friends, family, romantic partners, and others in your life. And once people feel they can't trust you, it can be difficult to regain that trust.

Remember That Lies Create Stress

Telling a lie might solve a problem quickly, but maintaining a lie can be stressful and lead to long-lasting problems. Even small lies can snowball and grow bigger than you intended. It is easy to forget how much it costs to maintain the habit when the results are temporarily positive.

Some experts even suggest that telling lies can take a serious toll on your health and well-being. In preliminary research conducted by Notre Dame researchers, people who decreased their lying experienced subsequent improvements in their health.

While more research is needed to understand the connection, decreased stress is one factor that might play a role in explaining these benefits.

Practice Being Authentic

Sometimes people lie because they think revealing their true feelings about something will lead to rejection. The problem is that by hiding what you really think or feel, you’re not giving people the opportunity to know the “real you.”

What happens is that you then feel the need to maintain a facade to maintain those relationships. By being honest, you’ll be able to be who you truly are without feeling the need to hide.

Because self-disclosure is an important part of close relationships, not being truthful also makes it harder to form meaningful connections with other people.

You can only be truly honest when you are completely vulnerable with your feelings and experiences. When you lie about the past or present, it makes it hard to be open with others.

Consider How Others Feel

People often describe themselves as good at spotting a lie; research suggests that people are actually surprisingly poor at detecting deception. In one study, participants were only able to detect lies accurately 54% of the time—only slightly better than what they might catch by simply guessing.

But this doesn’t mean that they won't discover your lie or that your deception won’t hurt them. If and when people find that they have been deceived, they may feel hurt, manipulated, exploited, and betrayed.

Find Alternatives to Lying

One important way to stop lying can be to identify the situations where you might be tempted to lie and think of alternatives ways to cope. So what are some substitutes that you can use in place of lying?

  • Start small. Think of one situation where you are the most likely to tell a lie, then focus on changing that one behavior. For example, if you are most likely to lie when your partner asks for your opinion on something, consider what you can do to be more honest in that situation.
  • Be kind and tactful. Consider how you can phrase your feelings or opinions in a way that won’t make the other person feel bad. Honest feedback doesn’t have to be brutal or hurtful. Instead, you might try sharing gentle but honest opinions about what you truly feel in a way that maintains prosocial relationships.
  • Write it down. If sharing the truth out loud is too difficult, consider writing it down and sharing it in a letter, email, or text message.
  • Don't share everything. You can tell the truth without sharing everything. For example, if people are curious about some aspect of your life that you don't want to share, be honest about your feelings. Say something like, "I'm not comfortable sharing that." This allows you to be honest about your feelings without resorting to a lie.
  • Change the subject. If you truly don’t want to share something or are trying to keep something private, consider shifting the topic of the conversation to something else rather than telling a lie.

Changing a habit takes time, so it can be helpful to plan how you’re going to start overcoming this behavior. Map out some of the steps you will follow to start being more truthful from now on.

Talk to a Professional

If you are struggling to stop lying or if the behavior feels impulsive or out of control, consider talking to a mental health professional. You should also consider talking to a therapist if lying has started to negatively impact your life, such as affecting your relationships, work, academics, or other aspects of your daily life.

A therapist can help you understand if your behavior might be related to a mental health condition, explore the underlying reasons behind your dishonesty, and help you find new ways to cope that don't involve lying. In cases where lying has affected your close relationships, you might consider couples counseling, family therapy, or group therapy to find ways to mend those connections.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that change isn’t easy. Be aware that it isn’t that easy to stop the behavior, and it is possible to repeat the pattern.

Try not to be too hard on yourself if you make mistakes. When you do slip up, work on rectifying the lie first by being honest and then move forward with the intent to do better in the future. Remind yourself of the benefits of honesty, including better relationships and a greater sense of authenticity.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.