Most people have lied, some more than others. Children lie to their parents when they are afraid of punishment. Students lie to their teacher hoping for mercy about their forgotten homework. Teens lie to their peers to be popular. A young man lies to a beautiful woman because he is trying to impress her. A wife lies to her husband because she kissed another man. A young executive lies to her boss because she wants a promotion. And on it goes.
Most lies seem harmless, most lies are for self-preservation, and most are not meant to hurt anyone. Some lies are told to be kind, to build someone’s confidence and make them feel good about themselves. Sometimes the person telling a lie doesn’t realize that it’s an untruth because his perception of an event is different than someone else’s. Unfortunately some of these lies do hurt no matter how unintentional. Some lies, once uttered, become constant because the person who lied is afraid of being discovered. And sometimes a lie is told so often that the person forgets that it is a lie. Many times people are not even aware of how often they lie because it has just become a way of life.
Pathological liars become so entangled with their lie that it becomes compulsive. The lie might not even be believable; I once knew a man who bragged about his service during the Viet Nam war and a battle he fought in — he was twelve years old at the time of the battle, but he told it so often that he began to believe it. Why would someone lie about something so impossible? Perhaps he felt he disappointed his military father and even after his father died he needed to live up to expectations? Even when circumstances exposed the lie he was living time and time again, it only took a few days before he was telling someone else his grandiose story. It was never a lie to intentionally hurt someone (although it did offend some true vets), it was because he needed to feel better about himself.
Malicious lies can be literal weapons. We see politicians lie about their opponents. There are lies to further oneself by claiming credit for someone else’s achievement. A women might tell her friend that the man they are both interested in has said he doesn’t like the friend in order to clear her own way. There is also purposeful concealment like when an ad exec purposely withholds the information that a presentation was moved up to cut down on the competition. And then there are mean-natured rumors designed to ruin someone’s reputation, lots of times these are done out of jealousy and low-self-esteem.
Most people who lie have a “tell” — a smile that doesn’t reach their eyes, talking while looking away from you, nervous movements... If you know the person well enough you begin to recognize the signs. Dealing with a liar also varies with how close a relationship you have or want to have with the person. When it’s a minor relatively harmless lie it’s best not to react and not embellish by asking for more information or retelling the story. If it is a more serious lie you can confront, but not attack, the lie. Remember that most lies stem from fear or insecurity so try not to demean the person even if you feel the need to let them know you know they are lying. Again your relationship should serve as a guide as to how you react.
When it comes to the malicious lie you need to be much more careful. No one has the right to cause you harm, not coworkers, not strangers and certainly not family. These lies need to be confronted preferably with proof and if necessary with witnesses. If the lies cause you loss of employment or residence, see a lawyer to find out what you can do legally to protect yourself. Needless to say the person who looks to do you harm is someone to be avoided if at all possible. And if the individual is a family member that you don’t want to lose, suggest counseling (be willing to attend group counseling if requested).