Lying is defined as a “manifestation contrary to what is known, believed or thought”. We all tell lies, some authors suggest that we tell an average of 20 lies a day and some days even 200, as Pamela Meyer, author of the book Liespotting, says in her TED talk.
University of Virginia psychologist Bella DePaulo concluded in her research that we are in about one-fifth of social exchanges that last longer than ten minutes. The latest studies seem more sincere and show that on average we tell one or two lies a day. There doesn’t seem to be consensus on how many lies we actually tell per day, but more than the number, we want to know why we lie and who lies the most.
In this article, we will explain the most common reasons why people lie, talk about mythomania and explore the possible causes in case of a tendency to lie well above average without this being considered pathological.
“Why am I lying so much? » Possible causes of the tendency to lie
One can lie out of courtesy, out of compassion, out of kindness, so as not to harm a loved one, or also for one’s own benefit, to get rid of a reproach or compromise, although psychologists recommend not to tell the truth instead of using a lie. , for example, change the subject. In these cases, we are aware that we are lying, but… Why do we sometimes make up stories instead of telling the truth?
Some people lie more than others. You’ve probably heard of mythomania. Mythomania is described as the pathological tendency to lie, mythomaniacs do not seek to avoid punishment or gain advantage, but lie compulsively.
There is also people who do not fit into a clinical category but lie more than average, within this group of people, you will find for example people who are too concerned about their image, such as politicians, who can continue to tell 4 times more lies than others. The same study that found that people tell an average of 2 lies a day, tracked for three months, also listened to Trump’s statements over the same period and recorded the former US president speaking an average of 9.9 lies a day times more than the rest.
There is a long list of reasons why people resort to lying. The main or most common causes of not telling the truth are related to avoidance of punishment, it seems very logical in children, but for adults, it is always the main reason for lying, to save us a unpleasant situation. As Paul Ekman explains, we lie to protect us, maintain our privacy, or save us from embarrassment; not all reasons are selfish, sometimes we lie so as not to harm others or to avoid suffering, for example with pious lies.
As Mark Twain once said, “No one could live with someone who told the truth in the usual way.” We lie because others exist, mainly because of socialization. Relationships sometimes require lies; How are we in the elevator, or are we telling our grandfather or grandmother that we don’t like that gift he gave us with all the excitement of Christmas, and society often demands that we show an enhanced image of ourselves on your Instagram, only part of the truth is shown.
What is mythomania?
Some go beyond those little lies and fictions that one may even consider necessary. The cases where the lies take on disproportionate magnitude are not behind them, avoid an unpleasant situation or obtain some advantage, there is something free in lying, lying without having to lie, by constraint. Pathological liars or mythomaniacs come to create beautiful stories around them.
Mythomania was first described by Anton Delbrück. This German psychiatrist and hospital director was surprised to find that some of the patients he treated were able to tell fabricated stories as if they were true, offering all the luxury of detail and data.. Delbrück used the term “fantastic pseudology” to refer to this behavior that he had missed so much. Since he first named it, Delbrück identified five other cases related to mythomania that he would analyze in depth.
Mythomaniacs are also known as compulsive liars. In history we can find known cases, like that of Anna Anderson who claimed to be Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia, the youngest daughter of the last Russian Tsars, Nicholas II and Alexandra, killed with all their descendants in 1918. For many years the whole world believed her, and the mystery remained alive until in 1991 the DNA of the Romanovs was compared to that of Anna Anderson, giving a negative result. Finally, Anastasia’s remains emerged in 2007 and it was confirmed that she and her entire family were in fact killed that night.
The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) does not consider mythomania as a mental disorder per se, but as a symptom or condition within antisocial personality disorder. In the absence of general diagnostic criteria, it is difficult to decide who is a mythomaniac and who is not. However, it is understood that a person is a pathological liar when his lies are totally disproportionate to the intended goal, this is a behavior that must also be repeated over time, mythomaniacs constantly distort and falsify reality.
Mythomaniacs usually know they are lying, but as some experts explain, at some point they may lose touch with reality and being engulfed by their own lies and fabrications, which they begin to see as real.
But what makes someone compulsively lie? The causes of mythomania are not really determined. Apparently there would be a biological component: the brains of mythomaniacs would have more white matter at the front of the frontal lobes of the brain, which would mean that they have more connections than other people. Science then seems to say that mythomaniacs lie because they have the ability to; by having a greater number of connections, they can associate their ideas and memories much better and are therefore able to tell more coherent and believable lies and maintain them over time.
But having the ability to do that doesn’t really explain why you’re lying. Other social and psychological factors would be hidden behind the need to lie compulsively; the construction of the mythomaniac’s personality would be associated with his own lies, without them he does not know who he is. This it can start with little lies that get bigger and bigger to keep the character created.
Finally, many mythomaniacs have issues with low self-esteem, which may stem from a childhood where they did not receive much affection. Frédéric Bourdin was famous for impersonating long-dead children. He even spent time with some families and gave implausible explanations for the physical changes he exhibited when it came to children, such as having undergone experiments that changed his eye color. Police said he lied for fun, but whenever he was questioned by police as to “why”, he answered with a simple but meaningful: “to make me want to”.
Common reasons why we may lie a lot
As we have seen, one of the causes associated with mythomania is low self-esteem, let’s explain why this condition, in addition to others, considered non-pathological, makes individuals more likely to lie.
1. Self-esteem issues
Self-esteem is the appreciation one feels for oneself. Low self-esteem can come from different places, for example, the inability to accept yourself and life as it is. Inability to Accept Ourselves Can Cause Us to Add Details to Our Lives and our abilities or those of others, for example, parents who lie about their children’s results, being seen as better parents, or lying about the trips we have taken and the places we know. In the end, what we feel is an excessive preoccupation with making a good impression, favorable to others, derived from a lack of esteem for our true life or our true abilities.
2. Extreme shyness
Shy people dislike speaking or expressing themselves in public, being the center of attention, or spending too much time in conversations with strangers, so they may resort to lying to avoid prolonging interactions with strangers or semi-strangers or attend events involving many people they don’t know.
To avoid going there, they can invent that they have another commitment to respect or another business to settle. It’s true that it’s a good strategy to get rid of it, but lying can be stressful and in this case it is better to say that we do not feel like it and why generate spaces and places where we can be comfortable with the people who have invited us to the party.
3. Socioeconomic precariousness
People in financial difficulty or on low incomes are often motivated not to say publicly what their situation is. This, in many cases, leads them to end up lying so as not to feel judged by their environment or deprived of professional opportunities.
One of the characteristics of addicted people is lying. Lying in drug addicts is considered part of the disease. It’s important to remember that an addiction is a chronic brain disease., where the way of thinking has changed. The biggest concern of the addicted person is to consume and, for this, he resorts to lies and self-deception.
- Castro Campos, C.; Lopez Ramirez.; Morales Martinez, E. (2013). Cognitive study of human lying
- Dike, CC and Baranosky, M. (2005). The pathological lie revisited. Journal Acad Psychiatry Law, 33 (3): 342-9
- De la Serna, JM (2017). Mythomania: discovering the compulsive liar. Tektime.