Over the years, my colleagues and I have collected hundreds of stories about the most serious lies in people’s lives.
We collected stories from the liars (about the most serious lies they ever told anyone else) and from the targets of the lies – the dupes (about the most serious lies anyone ever told them).
After reading transcripts of the stories over and over again, I realized that there were predictable ways that liars fooled themselves about how the process of deceiving another person was going to unfold.
In my book, Behind the Door of Deceit: Understanding the Biggest Liars in Our Lives, I discussed each of the most common ways that liars lie to themselves. Here, I will share the discussion of the first self-deception, then list six more.
Excerpt from Behind the Door of Deceit: Understanding the Biggest Liars in Our Lives, by Bella DePaulo
Thinking of lying? Join the club. Many people who find themselves in a difficult or threatening situation are tempted to try to lie their way out of their troubles. To liars, lies are like wishes.
If only their lies really were true, life would be so much kinder, more indulgent, and carefree. And so liars egg themselves on, by telling themselves the following lie myths. I think they are best considered as self-deceptions–lies that liars tell themselves.
#1. “I can get away with this lie.”
Few liars embark upon the telling of a serious lie thinking that they are going to get caught. More commonly, they think they can pull it off.
My advice to them is, “Don’t count on it.” Despite their generally high expectations for getting away with their lies, about 40% of the liars in our research were eventually found out.
Liars can develop an inflated view of their chances of success not only because they overestimate their own lie-telling skills, but also because they fail to appreciate the extent to which the fate of their lies is out of their control.
If just one other person is in on the lie, if just one other person knows about the lie, or if just one other person knows about the bad behavior that the lie was meant to hide, then all of the lie-telling skills in the world will not save the liar from the risk that the lie will be leaked by that one other person.
Liars usually do realize that the targets of their lies can become suspicious and then try to check out their suspicions. But they are not always fully tuned in to the magnitude of those suspicions or the extensiveness of the target’s efforts to learn the truth.
Further, some dupes are adept at hiding their suspicions; thus, they can be getting closer and closer to the truth as the liar remains blissfully oblivious.
This combination of a clueless liar and a shrewd and sensitive dupe often ends on a shocking note for the liars–they discover all at once that they have been completely undone.
#2. “No one will ever challenge me – I’ll make sure of it.”
#3. “Even if my lie is discovered, I can make it up to the person I deceived. Eventually, we can have just as good a relationship as we had before.”
#4. “I have their best interests in mind.”
#5. “I’m going to confess – later.”
#6. “This is just between the two of us.”
#7. “If I can get away with this lie, there will be no costs to telling it.”
About Bella DePaulo:
Bella DePaulo (PhD, Harvard) has authored more than 100 scholarly publications, many of them about the psychology of deceiving and detecting deceit.
Her other books on deception include The Hows and Whys of Lies; The Lies We Tell and the Clues We Miss: Professional Papers; and Is Anyone Really Good at Detecting Lies: Professional Papers (co-authored with Charles F. Bond Jr.).
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