Sunday, April 8, 2012

If I Were to Tell You I'm a Liar, I Would Be Lying: The Abnormal Psychology of the Pathological Truth-Telling Liar

What might be the difference between “normal” and “pathological” lying? How do the various institutions of our society (business, government, academia, science, and religion) view lying, and how might these views affect the prevalence and nature of individual lies? Why do people often admire someone who deceives, a flatterer, an art forger, a jewel thief?

When "normal" is used in relation to lying, I assume there must also be an "abnormal." Normal and pathological are not antithetical, although pathological lying may be abnormal. Pathological lying is, definitionally, compulsive or obsessional lying - when lying is pathologized for medical or criminal purposes linguistically, it is considered lying that occurs in relation to a condition of psychological disturbance. Pathology, to my mind (!), is a method of separating normal from abnormal  (or majority from minority) for medical or clinical purposes. The question Dr. H-R poses assumes that normal lying is not pathological. I tend to see lying as being a very core and common human behavior. I consider myself a highly aware and brutally honest person, and I am aware of how hard it is for me to be honest sometimes about small or large things. I actually think most humans are habitual liars - lying seems to be somewhat of an innate self-protective and self-advantageous behavior and is also reinforced early on in life. It's no wonder that lying is (has been, is, will be) an essential part of the human psyche.

Whether it's predominantly innate or learned; it's an automatic process in humans - and it's difficult to challenge that process, even for the most self-conscious and aware of humans. We cannot go beyond our own perception, no matter how hard we try (damn it). I think people lie for two reasons - to avoid unpleasant consequences and to gain pleasant consequences (to avoid getting what we don't want and to get what we want, from moment to moment). Most people lie out of fear (to avoid unpleasant consequences). I think in certain contexts, culturally and historically, lying is very advantageous to humans and IS required for survival. If I were a Palestinian homosexual woman living TODAY, I would likely live a life of lying and denial in order to SURVIVE. If I were to openly admit my lesbian identity, it is likely that I would have a lot to lose. Mainly, my life. My lying would be the key to my survival. If I were a teacher living in the southern United States sixty or so years ago (or maybe even today) and I fell in love with another female person, especially one of a non-European American ethnicity - lying would very likely be the key to my survival. I would need to lie in order to survive. I would either be forced to lie about my identity as a lesbian - to DENY my self and my desire and my identity, OR I would have to lie about my lifestyle - to HIDE my self, my desire, my identity and my love-relationship in order to survive (and to exist with a sense of security...although to what extent, I cannot say).

Depending on the context, forms of lying and degrees of lying can be negotiated. If I don't want my mother to know that I just spent an hour editing a you tube video instead of doing my homework - I have a choice about whether or not to be honest. I have the ability to weigh the consequences. Obviously I will not lose my life if I tell her the truth about what I was doing. Isn't it interesting that even though my survival is not at stake, I might still choose to lie. If I tell my mother what I was really doing, then she will likely act annoyed, impatient or disappointed. Is that a consequence I can live with? Sure. Is that a consequence I would rather avoid? Of course. If I have the ability to choose how my mother is going to FEEL about me or act in response to me, will I choose to have her feel happy and proud of me or annoyed and disappointed in me? The choice seems clear. That is, until you consider that the happy and proud feelings are false - are created from an untruth. How good will it feel to have my mother be proud of me for doing something I did not do? To me, it would not feel good at all. I would not reap any of the benefits of her happiness or pride because I would know it was based on falseness. So then it just becomes a matter of how unpleasant it is for ME to have my mother be annoyed with and disappointed in me. For me, those are very unpleasant emotions and so I would be tempted to lie. When this actually happened in real life last week, I told her the truth. I said, "No, I haven't done it yet. I was doing other stuff." She acted annoyed but became distracted moments later with the television show she was watching so my anxiety at having her feel negatively about me was alleviated.

Either way, whether I lie to gain or to avoid, I experience the guilt of lying... because I am lying. If I lie to avoid: I only experience the benefit of avoidance of truth, I do not receive the benefit of the lie (the promise of the lie). As a teenage, I wanted to be as honest as possible because I felt terribly guilty whenever I lied. I thought "God" was watching everything I did, and so I thought I always had a witness to every lie I told. I tried my hardest to tell the truth at all times. I confessed the smallest things to my priest during confession and relieved myself of the great pressure of the guilt. I was able to confess in MOST cases during my childhood because in most cases I was doing things that others approved of (or that others did not strongly DISapprove of). It was only in the cases in which I feared deeply the disapproval of others that I withstood painful guilt in order to lie. In those instances, I told myself that I would just pray later to God that he could forgive me. When I stared at photos of Angela Lansbury before bed when I was six years old, I did so privately and with the understanding that others would not be accepting of my desire to stare adoringly at the photos. If anyone noticed my excessive fondness for her or questioned it, I would have turned beet red and either started laughing or getting angry in self-defense. In such instances, I would have lied to protect myself from the humiliation of being discovered to be some kind of weirdo or pervert (or sinner!) or I would have lied in order to maintain the acceptance and love of the people most central to my life, my security and my sense of self.

Now that I am an adult and I can THINK about those moments in which I am tempted to hide and lie, I am able to tell the truth and face the consequences of my behaviors in most instances. Still, even as highly aware and conscious as I am, I am tempted at times to hide and lie. Sometimes trying to be honest can become an anxiety-provoking, consuming and compulsive act itself. Because lying is SO habitual for most people (so HUMAN for most people), NOT-lying can become its own form of self-imposed torture or form of pathology. Maybe lying is not as bad as we think it is. Maybe we should just stop thinking so much about the fact that we lie. Every word that comes out of our mouth (yes, our collective human mouth of bull shit) is a story coming from the brain-mouth of human perception. In a way, every story is a lie (and every word is a lie). If lying is so human and, therefore, SO common; then perhaps pathological lying is only a form of lying that falls along one of the far ends on the continuum of lying. I, personally, fall pretty far along the OTHER end of the continuum of honesty. I fall into the extreme honesty end of the continuum of lying - but no one, as far as I know, has yet labeled my level of honesty as "Pathological Honesty."

How can I judge a pathological liar when I am a pathological truth-teller (and occasional liar)? I think humans are in MAJOR denial of their lying (of the habitual nature of their lying). I guess a normal liar WOULD be almost completely unaware of his lying; whereas a pathological truth-teller (and maybe even a pathological liar) would be much more aware of her lying. I guess I just don't trust what any "normal liar" has to say about lying because a "normal liar" is in major denial of his lying. As such, I think the worlds of business, academia, government, science and religion - as institutions of normalized lying - are simply the products of their parts: amassments, or bodies, of fiction. They are all micro parts of the macro of the fiction of humanity. Views of lying in the major institutions are simply large-scale reflections of the views of lying in the people within those institutions. The institutions have no effect on the prevalence and nature of the lying - they are the products of the lying. If anything, they simply perpetuate and continue the lies that already exist. I am not sure that anyone admirers lying itself. It seems that they admire the contents or forms of the lying - the manner of the lying or the results of the lying. If the manner of lying is unusual, it is attention worthy. If the lying achieves some shocking or astonishing result, it is attention worthy. When people praise a liar, they are praising the finesse or cleverness of the act of lying - not of the act of lying in and of itself. Is there an Art of Lying? I suppose lying can be an art - an art that mocks its subject (lying) or an art that renders its subject more or less attractive than it is (which is both lying and art).

As for me, I might admire the work of the art forger but not the act of forging the art. I might admire the cleverness of the jewel thief but not the act of thievery. I would prefer that the art forger create art for selfish purposes that do not involve stealing and I would prefer that the jewel thief put her cleverness into an endeavor that benefits the common good. As for the flatterer, I will not criticize his lying but that is not to say I will fall for his lies. As a person who knows lying pretty well (i.e., is conscious of the processes of lying within my own mind), flattery might just be the best kind of lie there is...yet I am the least likely to fall for totally false flattery. I tend to want flattery the most from people who are the most incapable of giving others genuine or false flattery - those are just incapable of flattery period. For a person from whom I would sincerely (and not falsely) fall for flattery, I would not care whether or not it was a lie. The cleverness and aptness of the flattery (aptness of the delusion of flattery?) would be pleasure enough for me to look past its inevitable falseness. Sometimes we liars, I mean humans, know it best: we know it's best to let a lie that does no harm go unharmed. Now, I must end this diatribe of lies immediately so I can go pluck my belly button hair. Am I lying? Come on now, would I ever lie to YOU?

1 comment:

operaerobic said...

Cosmetics tell me at face value if a woman is lying, or is it just flattery? Methinks mimes are being honest about their makeups.