Why do people lie? The ultimate truth-telling guide

Children begin lying quite effectively from an early age and many people continue to lie right through adulthood. Lying is something that comes quite naturally and often people have little awareness that they are even doing it, it flows so effortlessly.

Lying is one way that people influence others; in their thoughts, feelings and reactions. It is fairly common and comes in different forms. There is the bold-faced lie – saying something that is completely untrue and the teller knows it.

More commonly told are the lies of omission where tellers leave out important pieces of information yet give the impression that they are telling the entire story. This is similar to the bending of the truth where what is told is ‘technically correct’ but in fact quite misleading.

As Benjamin Franklin so keenly noted, “Half the truth is often a great lie.”

That’s a little bit about lying but it doesn’t tell us anything about why people lie, especially to those closest to them. So now let’s explore a little about the WHY of lying. Generally one or more of the following factors are behind a lie.


Avoid Punishment

Nobody likes to be in trouble, and nobody likes to be rejected. This is why people will generally try to hide, or even deflect, the truth if they think it is going to get them in trouble.  People are designed to avoid harm – even if it means lying to get away with it.

Children learn this skill early in life, as they learn that their actions have consequences they also learn that lying about their actions could help them avoid the consequences. As adults people continue to lie. If someone thinks that their partner is not going to like the truth they will generally to try to hide it.

Seek Approval

The opposite is also true. Nobody likes to be in trouble but Everybody has a need for approval. Some deception is often employed to create the most favourable impression. People will do almost anything to create a positive image, even if it means lying and most people will have done it at some point to gain an upper hand, to try and seem like the best.

There are times that this deception becomes a self-deception as people start believing their own hype, they start to believe their own lies. This form of lying is often the least recognised. This is the spin you put on things in your resume, the tweak in the dating application, the glittery bits you feel you have to add to make sure you stand out.

Maintain Privacy

Everyone likes to feel that they have control of the information that they share, being in a close relationship does not negate the need for privacy or the right to it.

Everyone needs to retain a sense of independence and of freedom, a sense of self in their own right, and something all of their own. Lying or avoiding the complete truth can be a useful means of retaining the information you want to keep private.

Avoid Conflict

There are times in every relationship when people have different opinions; whether it be a couple, workmates, friends, siblings, parents etc. Everyone is at some point going to be in a situation where they don’t see eye to eye.

If you wanted to you could engage in conflict eternally but that’s not good for any relationship. Instead of debating every single issue sometimes it’s easier to just let it go and agree to disagree – even if you don’t agree. Or just pretending to get along.

Even the balance of Power

Every relationship carries power differences to some degree, usually, this power relates to control of the decision-making – who gets the final say. The power generally switches depending on the issue, it would be very unusual for one person to have all the power all the time – not to mention unhealthy. Generally, it is the person with less power in a situation who is more likely to lie to get what they want, it is they who have more to gain.

Lying is one way for individuals to balance their power differences. For example, children are more likely to lie to their parents or teachers, employees are more likely to lie to their employers (depending on the situation) and the same reasoning can be applied to close relationships between friends and lovers, the person with less power is more likely to lie to gain it.


Lies come in many forms and many scales. We are all guilty of it at some time or in some situations – sometimes without even being consciously aware of the fact that we are doing it. At the same time, the majority of us would deplore lying and deception.

How many people have you heard declare the depth of their dislike for liars and lying….. I wonder how many of them have bent the truth a little on a job application.

You may also like to read Lie Hunter by Dr. David Craig.

3 thoughts on “Why do people lie? The ultimate truth-telling guide

  1. And some people just lie because they are pathological liars.

    They pretend to be your friend while sleeping with your husband, telling him to bash you while telling you to leave him for bashing you, and then after being caught out, admitting they see no problem with violence – even saying it was ok that he bashed you while pregnant, even killing your second baby, the baby you had longed for for years and can never have any more children due to the abuse from your husband.

    And then after you kick the violent cheating creep out, his mistress keeps stalking you for years, while lying to all her family and friends claiming that all the abusive things she is actually doing to you, that you are doing to her – even though you have no idea where she lives by then and aren’t a vindictive nasty person like her.

    and if that isn’t enough, you find out she’s lying about having a really tough medical condition that she learnt all the symptoms off you during your friendship, because she is a desperate attention seeker and wants to fake being ill to con the government into a pension.

    Some people are just psychopathic liars. but what can you do

    1. Jay I am sorry to hear that you have had such trauma in your life, no-one should have to suffer at the brunt of someone else’s pathology.

      I wish you all the best in the future and hope you find someone who will restore your faith.

  2. Great article and I think that it is just being human that we do lie, whether it is a very small one or an outright one.

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