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Understanding Lying: Take a Poll!

Updated on January 21, 2016

Why Do People Really Lie?

Lying is something that is built into human nature. It's part of our emotional structure.

When we tell the truth, we fight against our natural tendencies and answer to our higher moral ideals.

It can be tempting to lie, but for peace of mind and happiness, telling the truth is always preferable, even if you feel everyone else lies except for you.

In order to fight against the tendency to lie, it's helpful to learn the main reasons why people lie. You will be able to understand the reasons why you lie as well as why other people lie, even when they don't seem to have a motivation or reason to lie.

Lying Is Learned in Childhood

Kids learn to lie from the influences in their environment. Most often, either a child will learn to lie to have his needs met or lie to avoid consequences.

Lying to Escape Consequences

Small children and school-aged children will most likely not lie, unless they learn from their environment that they will be punished. If anger, violence, verbal abuse, or other unpleasant consequences are a regular part of the way the parents discipline their children, the higher children's motivations are to avoid the unpleasant consequence.

For example, if a child spills something and knows his parent is going to get mad at him, yell at him, and punish him, the parent might be teaching him that lying is the easier option to telling the truth.

When the children grow, they will learn that lying can help them escape undesirable consequences. When they are rewarded (in other words, they get to avoid the consequences), they learn that lying is a good thing to do to stay out of trouble.

Lying to Fulfill Needs

The other common reason why kids might lie is to have their needs met. This pertains to emotional, mental, and physical needs.

For example, a child might be feeling tired and not know how to express it, so he might make up an excuse why he can't do the dishes, especially if the parents are not being sensitive to his physical needs and force him to work anyway.

Some kids might make up outrageous stories in order to get the emotional attention he needs. Kids sometimes feel lonely and learn that they are not able to gain the attention of their parents or caregivers without creating some sort of drama to get their attention.

Parents Can Encourage Lying

If parents don't know how to be productively honest with their kids all the time, the kids might pick up on those little white lies and think it's okay to do what what their parents do.

When parents lie, they often do it to keep their kids calm at the moment. This might seem to work momentarily, but parents who lie to their kids could be causing long-term damage to their relationship with their children. Lying erodes trust, which is a building block for healthy relationships. Plus, kids notice the lying after a while and imitate what theirs parents do.

Lying begins in childhood.

Lying Is Part of Human Nature

Not only is lying learned from one's environment, but also lying is a defense mechanism built into our emotional processes to help prevent a mental breakdown.

Often, lying begins in childhood to protect children from a truth that is too awful for them to process. Their psyches might hide painful memories from them. Also, they might make up things that are not there.

People do this instinctively to keep themselves floating above water. Confronting a truth that is too painful can cause a complete breakdown.

For example, a child who was extremely abused might convince himself that his parent's actions are out of love. If a child does believe this, he might blame their bad behaviors on himself.

The other part of human nature that makes lying tempting is that people are not always up to dealing with everything in life head on at that moment. It depends on how over stressed, tired, or sick we feel.

Again, this is a survival mechanism. If people don't have to exert precious energy and resources, they will do this to ensure they have the ability to survive another day. For example, wives or husbands might tell their spouse what they feel their spouse needs to hear in order to avoid another day of fighting.

Knowing why people lie can help prevent lying from seeping into your relationships.

Lying for a Gain

Another common reason people lie is for gain. Greed is often connected to this form of lying and is what people find most offensive.

Even if you don't know what the reason is, people lie not only for all the reasons above, but also because there is some gain in it for them.

Lying Is Complex

When people lie or not lie, it might seem deceivingly simple - just don't do it.

However, all of these reasons why people lie are often used together to rationalize the lying.

When people rationalizes lying, they are making it acceptable to be dishonest.

Here are some common rationalizations:

  • "No one is going to look out for me, so I have to look out for myself and do whatever I have to to make sure I get what I need."
  • "Everyone else lies, so I am no different."
  • "It's better to lie, because my wife seems happier when I do than when I tell her the truth."
  • "It's okay I tell my kids I'll take them to Advantureland. It's easier than having them beg me for weeks or tell them no. I can't afford to bring them, but I'd rather see them happy. Maybe I'll be lucky and they'll forget it and move onto something else."

As you can see, you will most likely find the reasons explained in this article knitted into these rationalizations.

For instance, the person who believes the first rationalization in the first example might have started lying to have her needs met, but then realized that lying helped her gain what she wanted, so she decided to lie for her own gain. In the third example, the husband might feel it is easier to lie to his spouse because he is already taxed being in a job that puts a lot of pressure on him, and his kids are having trouble in school. The last thing he needs is to get into another fight with his wife, so he tells her what she wants to hear so he can live to fight another day, even though this behavior is perpetuating their problems and causing long-term consequences. Besides, his father used to do this too to keep his mother happy, so what's the big deal?

People can have many motivations and reasons why they do the things they do. Because people are complex, the reasons why they do things is complex.

However, you can take charge of how you communicate with people. Understanding the reasons why people lie can help you communicate honestly with your loved ones and build a great relationship with them.


  • Lying describes a behavior that is usually learned in childhood as kids learn to have their needs met in their surroundings, or to avoid painful consequences.
  • Lying is also part of the human tendency to protect ourselves.
  • Lying is often part of greed and is used as a tool for gain, even at the expense of others.
  • Lying can be controlled by learning these tendencies and why you use lying in your life.
  • Therapy is always a great option if lying is a big problem in your life.

Take the Poll!

Lying: The Questionnaire

Answer the twenty two questions below.

Did your parents lie to you as a child?

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Do they still lie to you today as an adult?

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Do you find yourself lying when you speak to other people?

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When in social gatherings and events do you lie to others about yourself?

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How do you feel about lying in general?

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Do you lie to your children?

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Do you tell lies when you are at work or school?

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Does telling lies make you feel uncomfortable?

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Do you think that everyone lies?

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Do you think the government lies to you?

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Do you think your doctor lies to you?

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Do you think that TV commercials tell the truth about products?

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Is lying a cultural norm?

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How many people do you have in your life that you feel are honest with you?

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Who do you lie to the most?

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If you were able, would you stop lying to everyone tomorrow?

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What do you think is the biggest reason why you lie?

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Do you see lying as a huge social problem today?

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Do you think most people are honest?

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Do you feel that more people lie now than they did 10 years ago?

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Do you feel any anxiety when lying?

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Do you feel lying is causing a big problem in your life?

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Do you feel your lying is pathological?

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Do you know someone whose lying is pathological?

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If therapy could help you stop lying would you go?

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If there were a seminar to help you with your lying would you attend?

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How do you deal with lying?

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    • Jasmeetk profile image

      Jasmeet Kaur 2 years ago from India

      I also believe that lying is a part of human nature and it is developed in the childhood. Kids learn it from their elders. Sometimes, because of fear and later it becomes their habit..