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Little White Lies

Aldina Braganza

Have you ever wondered about lying? Upfront when asked about lying we all condemn it, but isn’t that a lie in itself? For how often we have told a friend who is asking for feedback exactly the opposite of how we feel about it? We hesitate to speak truthfully because we don’t want to hurt their feelings or when we forget to do a favour we so eagerly promised, we conveniently cook up stories about the place being closed or the person not being around. We call these harmless white lies. We don’t think much about it. In fact when people react to these innocent acts of deception we say that they are being over sensitive.

Now flip the other side of the coin of lying. 

When you come to know you have been lied to, how do you feel? Let’s say the lie was not even a great one. It could be the simple feedback you are getting for something you cooked. Say your friend doesn’t like it one bit but so as to make you feel special the friend lies and tells you that’s the best thing ever! Very innovatively done! And quickly in less than a sec after paying you the compliment, turns around and makes a terrible face to express disgust and this you pick up on the reflection in a mirror. Or your friend promised to do you a favour and forgets but when asked, she convinces you with excuses like ‘The person wasn’t there or it was unavailable’. Later you find out that the friend lied to you. How does that make you feel?

White lies, as they are harmlessly called, are common and happen to everyone, sometimes as the recipient and other times as the committer.

Although the act is the same, the feelings are totally different. For a long time it baffled me – this dichotomy of behaviour reactions – until I began asking myself the question. Why do we lie? Is it a protective behaviour? And if so what are we protecting? The term ‘white lie’ dates back to the 1700s and white stood for purity, free from malignity or evil intent, beneficent, innocent and harmless.

Yes, we all lie. It is common in our culture to avoid the feeling of discomfort. White lies are considered by many as a social lubricant. In fact within 10 minutes of meeting a new person, we may have lied three times already. So what is the big deal about lying? There are lies, and there are lies and lies and of course even though they could be identical there are certain factors which if not taken cognizance of could have disastrous effects.

White lies should not be an automatic response to start with. It should be used cautiously and judiciously, especially when you won’t need to come clean at a later stage. If your lie will have helped someone through something then lie. If you feel your honest opinion will do more damage than good for the person then silence is golden.

However, there are some relationships for which honesty is the best policy. Emotional honesty in intimate relationships is not only about not lying, but also about vague statements, half-truths, manipulation through exaggerating, minimising and withholding which are equally damaging.

If a person is led to emotionally invest in a relationship based on half-truths and is deprived the freedom for informed action, they are affected at the core level when the truth prevails. Such relationships never have a chance to survive. True intimacy comes with having the ability to be open to vulnerability and being truthful. With such foundations, the relationship will withstand the strongest of conflicts.

When you start lying you need more lies to cover up and eventually it blows up in your face.

In an intimate relationship, most normal people begin to feel guilty if they have been lying (unless of course the person has a personality issues and is not conscious about the consequences of the lying behaviour). It is precisely this guilt that affects the intimacy between two people. It begins with avoidance which will spiral into a painful break up.

Guilt that is conscious or even subconscious has disastrous consequences. It weighs you down at two levels. One is at the self-level and is attached to shame. The other level is the damage lying has caused to the recipient. Such feelings of guilt and shame eat away at a person’s sense of self.

Unfortunately it doesn’t end here. This internal darkness roams the psyche as excuses which eventually take a toll on the dignity and worthiness of a person. Deep within their being the person carries a sense of dichotomy – their pretense and their truth.

The journey back to self-validity is a dance with truth. If you do not learn to dance with your dark side, be comfortable enough to acknowledge it and tell the truth, the tangle will make you fall.

(Writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and the HOD of psychology at Carmel College for Women)

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