Shame, Guilt and Compulsive Lying

“No sympathy for The Devil, buy the ticket, take the ride.”

–  Hunter S. Thompson

It can be a very difficult aspect to face up to that you might be a compulsive liar, unfortunately it’s a component of addiction that is very real.  No matter if it’s through omission, white-lies, downplaying aspects of self, or outright gas-lighting there are no addicts on this planet who couldn’t have been described as dishonest or a liar at some point in their lives.

However, in this blog I want to shine a light on other aspects of dishonesty, the cause of it. We live in an enlightened time beyond good and evil, but there is still so much moral dogma ingrained into the heads of many people who walk this earth. Even those who may lay claim to being above it all, they are still have a mind possessed with laying blame and retribution. It’s an issue I’ve continually fought throughout my career.

Shame and Guilt the main reasons for lying

If you’re a tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) kinda person:  The short answer is people lie to protect and defend themselves from some form of harm

Quite a few years back I was watching Myth-Busters, there was an American Ninja on the episode and they were testing out Ninja-Myths, one myth was that a well-trained ninja could catch an arrow being fired at them (arrows travel at around 100-600 feet per second). They fired an arrow at this ninja and he caught it before it struck him. Through over a decade of training he was able to achieve a super-human mechanism of defense. Think on this throughout this piece.

Some people develop a pattern of dishonesty in their youth, they may feel like they are scoring social points by over embellishing the truth, controlling their peers with misleading them, but you have to question is why do people do this to each other? 

Two of the biggest contributing factors to this are family dynamics and peers.  From the moment of birth, we are tasked with making sense and surviving this world, we have to learn who to trust and who not to trust very early on in our development.   Life is far from perfect for most of us on this planet. We can’t play the blame game here, overcoming adversity and building resources is about accepting our responsibility from this moment onwards If family dynamics are difficult and dynamics with are peers aren’t solid, it can be a recipe for a pretty messed up life. 

Around the age of 11 – 19 we begin to develop “intimacy or isolation”, we are either becoming close to others (including family) or we are becoming isolated. This is a crucial stage of development, disruption at this point causes a life-long legacy of issues in self-esteem, self-efficacy problems, insecurity and behavior issues. These aren’t small issues, they will define your actions, character and then lead you to your destiny.

Identity Crisis

Some of us develop a sense of “if you knew who I really was you wouldn’t like me”, I think we all have to some extent, however for certain people it becomes a deeply concerning issue. It’s worth noting that most people experiencing this aren’t fully conscious of this. These issues begin to form at a subconscious level, they can be driven by need and instinct and rarely expressed as careful cognitive plan.

Identity crisis was a term created by Erik Erikson, this was used to describe those who through disruption a key developmental stages of their life were insecure or unclear who they actually were.  Although the focus is on development stages, 0 – 25 years (roughly), we are still developing throughout our life.

Not noticing  guilt – Losing touch of feelings

There is a condition known as alexithymia , which is used to describe someone who can’t name their feelings, a lot of addicts lose touch with their feelings, they begin to have a limited range of emotions. The world begins to become very black and white, things are either at a level of elation or frustration. People switch wildly from being angry and upset to liberated and happy.   Not many addicts enter into treatment aware of the guilt and shame they’ve been carrying throughout their lives that has been causing massive amounts of instability in all aspects of their being. 

Personal inventory and Self-Reflection

One endearing aspect of 12-Step recovery is that people are eventually tasked to do a personal inventory where they out-line all their fears and resentments. These come in the shape and form of people, places and institutions. It requires a person to actively name those things they feel a grudge towards, caution is urged during this “Forth Step”, as the emotions it can bring about can be over-whelming.  This doesn’t have to be done through a 12-step fellowship, it can be done with a counsellor or through a CBT process.

Trauma inflicted to us at the hand of others tends to have the biggest impact on us [cite]. Therefore when we are asked to think of those people who’ve harmed us the most over the years it can bring about overwhelming emotions that may have been greatly suppressed by acting out on addiction. When working the steps or doing in-depth counselling  a person should be sober, they should not be acting out on any form addiction (although smoking and coffee is tolerated –  sex, shopping, over-eating is generally not tolerated).  When a person is sober they will experience the return of emotions, although this sounds good (to some perhaps) this can be the hardest experience of all. A person may have never experienced some of these emotions before (or for a long time). 

If you’re an addict, there’s a good chance in a certain aspect of your life you’ve experienced more adversity than resources. Now you must face up to certain things in your life that you might have done, maybe even terrible things, you must ask yourself do you have the resources to cope?

Don’t suffer alone

This is why many people seek out professional help, rehab and support groups. My advice is do not attempt to do this alone.  Go to a meeting, book an appointment with a counsellor, if you have simply no access to money call a helpline. However, my main advice on this is to seek out an addictions counsellor or maybe a former addict. The traditional model of counselling that the “worried well” seek may be very ineffective at dealing with issues at a very pathological level. Your manipulation may be so rampant and unseen that you might be able to mis-lead a traditional counsellor, you might find yourself unwittingly manipulating them or acting out a role that everything is okay because you can’t over-come that people pleasing aspect of yourself.  They might become your co-addict and “sign off on your bullshit”.

Your emotions won’t kill you, but they do have the power to make you kill yourself.  One of the biggest killers of men aged under 45 is suicide in the UK. Drink and drugs are a killer, process addiction is a killer, but let’s not spin the clock ahead too fast.  One of the most worrying aspects of all this is that if you are not able to get a handle on your addiction you may experience existential-death, remain totally uncertain about who you are as a person. It is also physically and mentally exhausting to live a life of wearing different masks, a mask at work, a mask in a relationships, a mask in society, a mask in addiction…etc. 

Self-Compassion instead of  Self-Abusive

It’s very important that you begin to aspire to become more self-compassionate, if you are plagued by thoughts of unworthiness, rejection, inferiority and doubt, these are part of self-abusive framework of thinking. They will cause instability in your being.  I work with people who speak to themselves in their own head in a way which they would never call out their worst enemy. 

This self-abusive thought process increases feelings of shame, which can lead to more lying and dishonesty.

Lying as a means of defense

Dishonesty is a form of false-safety behavior, I use the term “false-safety” because ultimately it is false and will lead to an increase in problems.

Let’s consider for example “’Jane Doe” aged  14, her father is an abusive binge drinker who has physically abused her. Her father notices she is late one day from coming home, she was walking the long way home with a boy who she likes. Is it wrong for Jane to lie in these circumstances?   If she tells the truth her father will fly into rage and knock her other to the other side of the room, if she lies about a lesson going over-time her father doesn’t have any reason to beat her up today.

I use this example because it shows the consequence of the truth, also Jane is in a powerless situation, being aged 14 she has no resources that she knows of in managing the situation. She has to live at home and she has no control over the unpredictable nature of her father, she can’t talk to any of her friends about this because she feels a sense of shame that her father is like this.  Here we see a hypothetical situation of adversity being much greater than the resources to cope.

It doesn’t have to be like this, say for instance if Jane had insightful friendships that she had good levels of trust with, or she had a lot of other resources, she might be able to over-come these issues within the house. But if Jane has poor connections, or she is facing other forms of trauma such as being bullied at school, it may be much more difficult for her.

Unfortunately for some people this situation or situations similar to this can make people a compulsive liar, it’s a resource initially, even a skill-set of survival in difficult circumstances, however it will cause the person a unique set of problems in life.  Once you start burning those around you with your lies you’ll become isolated, distrusted and even shamed.

No Blame Game

You can’t blame people for your own behavior and thoughts, understanding where it came from only gives you the context of which it developed. Understanding how it developed within you can be very helpful. It can highlight that you needed act out of these defects of character, maybe your shame and defensiveness stems from transference of conditions that no longer exist in your life – if they still do, start thinking about how it can change!

The change comes from understanding yourself and making a commitment to grow out of it.

Consequences of Lying

The consequence of lying is quite big, in itself it causes to those affected by your lies: trauma, uncertainty, insecurity, low-self esteem, anger and irreversible damage to relationships. People may become very punitive and shaming towards you and in their mind, rightly so. This further installs feeling of shame and doubt and ultimately leads to a disappointing road of regret and sorrow.  It also ultimately leads you to back to acting out on your addiction.

You have to have a level of acceptance about the harm you have probably done to others through manipulation.  People may not forgive or trust you again for a very long time, that’s okay though, you can’t expect to win back someone’s trust over-night, all you can do is stay committed to your own personal development and hope that over time things improve – it generally does.

There was a modern-day philosopher called Robert Anton Wilson, he worked mainly on a lot of theories from Timothy Leary and conspiracy theories.  One thing he noticed that when governments lied or were unclear about their intentions they created what he called a “disinformation matrix’. What this means is that essentially there is a disbelief and mistrust everywhere once governments are caught out to be lying.   We can see this on a society level where people reject medical treatment because of “big pharma”, or believe that the earth could be flat because NASA have a vested interest in lying to us.  We can see that this happens on an interpersonal level, when you’ve mislead someone about what you’re up to or what your intentions are so many times they begin to doubt everything you’ve been up to.

Unseen side of self

The danger of being a compulsive liar is that even if you become aware of it and make a commitment to change your dishonesty it can represent itself again throughout your life. 

Just because you’ve gone through the process of self-examination and change doesn’t mean the world is going to land in your lap. Life is life, there will be moments of temptation, seemingly overwhelming desires to act out and rationalizations of why you need to lie.  Stressors might get your back up and it might come out again as an automatic process. This is why you must continue to work on yourself and your personality.

You can’t be perfect, but you can be ideal.

Psychopath or Sociopath?

These terms are not helpful in address your mental well-being. Of course being a compulsive liar means you will share traits with the aforementioned labels but surprisingly a lot of people do.  Recent studies have shown that a lot of personality disorder labelling is actually very unhelpful and doesn’t aide a person’s recovery at all  [CITE] .  The clinical term for “psychopath” is anti-social personality disorder, other personality disorders that share similar traits are boarder-line and narcissistic.  

There isn’t a single addict alive who isn’t somewhat anti-social, narcissistic and Machiavellian. It’s at the very heart of addictive disorders.

You’re not alone

The truth is, you’re not alone. How many times have you read a newspaper that completely lied over a story?  How often have we been mislead by politicians and corrupt officials?  We’ve even gone to war on the basis of lies at the highest level.

Our society has integrated checks and balances in order to address this human trait.  My advice is to start getting honest with a certain group of people first, you need to learn to trust people again but this might start with small intimate groups, maybe even 12 step meetings where there is an emphasis placed on anonymity or with a counsellor who is bound to confidentiality.  Chances are if you’re experiencing compulsive lying you’re probably around people you can’t open up to. It doesn’t mean they’re bad or you’re bad, it’s just the way things are, but what’s important is you start getting accountable for your actions.

Start being more compassionate to yourself, those around you and stop blaming others.


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