It’s ironic because my name (Allison) means “little truthful one” but truth just never came that easily to me. Instead, my imagination would run wild with fascinating details and exaggerated facts that always seemed more interesting to me than the real ones. By the time I was in high school my parents would jokingly say they should have thought of a name that meant “little bender-of-the-truth”.
I tried to make a joke of it, to keep it lighthearted and fun. I insisted this is what made me a great storyteller.
But the bad habit was having a huge strain on my relationships.
So, I tried to stop.
For a long time, I thought I had stopped. I would catch myself every once and a while saying something that wasn’t true, and I would go back and correct my statement. A friend once compliment the highlights in my hair, and for some reason I was too embarrassed to admit I had been to a salon earlier that day.
So I said, “Oh, it must have just been the sun.”
I could see pretty clearly on his face he didn’t buy my excuse, but I let it go for about three hours, until I texted him to admit what I’d done.
I couldn’t figure it out. Why was I lying like this?
The final breaking point came when I was dating my husband long distance.
One day, during one of our morning phone conversations, he asked what I was planning to do that day, and for some reason, I completely lied. I told him I was spending the afternoon with one of my girl friends, but really I was meeting up with an ex-boyfriend who was still a friend of mine.
I really didn’t have anything to hide when it came to this guy, but I guess I was worried my then-boyfriend read more into than was necessary, so I just hid the truth.
And, for a few weeks, I got away with it.
But eventually my husband found out, and of course, he was upset. He couldn’t understand why I had lied to him. If I didn’t have anything to hide, the dishonesty sure made it seem like I did. On top of that, if l lied on this occasion, how was he supposed to know I had been truthful about everything else? How did he know I wouldn’t lie to him again?
This was no small deal.
We had been talking about getting married, but he made it clear that lying was a deal-breaker for him.
We spent hours hashing through the issue. I tried to explain why I had done what I had, although I didn’t really understand it myself. He asked a hundred questions, trying to get to the bottom of things and make sure I wasn’t lying about other stuff. The whole thing was awful. Truly, one of the worst days of my life.
Then, we struck gold.
Suddenly, as we were going over (and over and over) the turn of events, I realized: I didn’t have a lying problem. I had a manipulation problem.
I wasn’t lying to cover up something I didn’t want him to know. I was lying to manipulate him to respond to me in a certain way (I didn’t want him to be jealous or angry). So the thing I needed to do to quit lying wasn’t to stop giving false details necessarily, but to come to grips with the fact that it wasn’t possible, or even necessary, for me to control how someone else felt, thought, acted or responded.
It simply wasn’t my job.
That realization was life-changing for me.
It didn’t just help me overcome my bad habit of lying, it relieved my anxiety, lightened my emotional load and gave me the freedom to honestly express myself to others.
It simply wasn’t my responsibility to control other people or their reactions to me.
Manipulating their fear, anger, jealousy or compassion wasn’t just an affront to them, it was incredibly unnerving for me.
In fact, in comparison to the task of “quit lying,” “quit manipulating” actually seemed easy.
It was a huge weight off my shoulders.
These days, honesty comes much more naturally to me. But when I feel the urge to bend the truth a little bit, I try to remind myself I’m not responsible to control the response of others. As Dr. Henry Cloud says, I can care for the hurt, anger and fear of others without taking care of it.
(Photo Source: Giuseppe Milo, Creative Commons)