Written by Dr. Eric Perry
“He who has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.” ~Sigmund Freud
In my profession, it is important to know if someone is lying to me or more importantly to themselves. Whether it is a small lie or a malicious lie, everyone lies at some point. Research shows that on average, people lie 10 times per day. Many people lie to keep the peace or to inflate their ego. Others might lie because they are pathological liars or have a personality disorder.
Lying appears to be part of our genetic makeup. It develops early in children and peaks in adolescence when a person begins to establish their identity and independence. Lying declines as we mature and begin to embrace our true selves. Being able to spot deceit or an outright lie may be useful in our every day lives when dealing with our children, co-workers, employees or when buying a car. It can also help us identify individuals that want to harm us. A prevalent trait of narcissistic personality disorder, psychopaths and sociopaths is their ability to lie in order to take advantage of unsuspecting victims. When trying to spot a lie we must listen to what is said and not said. Further, we must look at all of the exhibited behaviors.
This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list. Every individual may have their own unique way of exhibiting lying behavior, but here are some general examples of behaviors that researchers suggest may be indicative of lying or deception:
1. Refuses to answer the question
When asked a question, the person may simply refuse to answer. They will choose to remain silent, unable to formulate an alternative truth.
2. They don’t answer the specific question that has been asked
A person who is lying will avoid answering the question and will instead make a convincing statement. The statement may be true but it is not an answer to the question. For example, when you ask your child if they skipped school and they answer by saying “I would never do that. I am a good student.” In another example, say you are missing money at work and ask your coworker, “Did you take the money that was here?” and they answer by saying, “I have been working here for years and am a good person.” These statements might be true, but they are not answering the specific question that has been asked. The person is trying to convince instead of conveying the truth. Convincing statements are a strong indicator of lying. You might need to ask more questions to get to the truth.
3. Responds to a question with aggression
Individuals that are being dishonest may feel like they are cornered when asked for a truthful statement and may respond to your question with aggression. They may attack your character in order to shift the attention away from them. Statements such as “Why are you always picking on me?” “Why are you wasting my time with this?” and “Don’t you have anything better to do?” are examples of aggressive responses to being questioned.
4. Inconsistent statements
The dishonest individual will provide inconsistent narratives. They are not able to keep their original story straight and will simply keep making up new statements.
5. Evokes religion
A person who is being deceptive in answering questions may use phrases such as “I swear to God” and “God as my witness” in order to convince the other person of the truthfulness of their answer.
6. Perception qualifiers
When answering a question the individual may dress up the lie. They will use words such as, “In all honesty,” “frankly” and “honestly.” We all use these words and need to be aware that these words may indicate deception when answering a question. A person needs to look at all the behaviors of a person to see if there is actual deception.
7. Verbal /non-verbal disconnect
The person’s physical behavior does not match what is being said. An example of this is nodding the head no when saying yes. Take a moment and say yes while nodding your head from side to side to indicate no. This is a big indicator of deception. It can be difficult to do unless there is deception. It is important to take into consideration that there may be exceptions to this based on cultural differences. Another indicator of deception is when someone is relaying a difficult and emotional event such as a murder or death and the person smiles or laughs.
8. Dressing up a lie
When a person is being deceptive they may feel the need to dress up the lie and subconsciously exhibit grooming behavior. They may fix their tie, arrange their hair or clean their nails.
9. Fight or flight response
The person’s subconscious response, when cornered for truthfulness, may be a fight or flight response. They may feel flushed and place their hands on their face. They may touch their nose, play with their ears or actually place their hand over their mouth as if they are physically trying to stop themselves from stating the truth. Another response could be that they start to scratch their hands.
The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a therapeutic relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
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