Kids and adults omit or distort the truth to avoid expected pain. The pain may come from within or from other people. From this view, we liars are *scared,* not bad or immoral! We're still responsible for our behavior.

Think of the last time you needed to lie to someone. What discomfort were you avoiding? Now think of the last time you feel someone was dishonest with you. What do you think s/he was avoiding? Premise - all adults and kids avoid being completely honest at times because we feel *unsafe* disclosing the truth.

Our feared discomfort can be self-inflicted (e.g. guilt, shame, regret, sadness, and anxiety) and/or it can come from the other person (hurt, anger, criticism, rejection, pain, attack, etc.).

Some people avoid truth-telling because it feels too complex to explain (justify) it well enough. We need to avoid the discomfort of having the other person not understand and accept us. Have you ever had that experience?

Ancestors, social mores, and holy books command us to tell the truth. They sternly label lying as bad, immoral, weak, wicked, shameful, and irresponsible. This implies that you're not OK if you protect yourself or other people from significant discomfort from truth-telling. Notice your reaction to this idea. What would your parents and mentors say about this premise? ("Yes, but..."?)

Dishonesty can be intentional or spontaneous, and situational or chronic. Chronic dishonesty ("Alex is a pathological liar") strongly suggests that the person bears significant psychological wounds and/or that the person's environment is perceived as chronically unsafe. Neither of these is the liar's fault!

Adopting this view allows seeing dishonest kids and adults as defending themselves aginst pain. Would you agree that doing this is natural and instinctive, not "bad" or "wrong"?


1) Observe your behavior with people telling you unpleasant truths - e.g. am I too critical, indifferent, or shaming? Do I make it too unsafe to tell the truth?

2) Ask liars "Am I doing something that makes you feel unsafe?" - and then listen;

3) Replace shaming accusations and judgements like "You're a liar!" with something like "I'm sad (and/or frustrated) you feel too unsafe to tell me the truth." And you can...

4) Teach young kids to (a) grow healthy self-respect and confidence, and to (b) recognize, validate, and manage their fears, so they feel more comfortable telling unpleasant truths.

Can you imagine a child looking at an adult and calmly saying something like "I'm afraid to tell you the truth at times because you make fun of me, don't listen to me, or tell me I'm bad or wrong."?

What would your childhood have been like if you had been lovingly taught to do that without excessive guilt, shame, or anxiety?

Bottom line - you can become aware of your attitudes about and reactions to people who need to omit or distort the truth. You may be unconsciously encouraging that!

You can also identify what causes *you* to lie (including denials), and how you might better manage the discomforts you un/consciously fear.

Pause, breathe, and reflect - what are your inner voices saying now? Do you want to do something with this information now?

For more perspective and options, see these articles on...

honesty -

distrust -, and

family secrets -

Author's Bio: 

I have been a family-systems therapist (MSW) since 1981. Part of my research has been on what causes psychological wounds and how to avoid and reduce them. Another part has been studying and teaching innerpersonal and interpersonal communication skills. To see what I've learned in my research, visit my nonprofit educational Website at