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Is Lying Inevitable?

By August 20, 2018May 18th, 2019No Comments

Is it possible to tell the truth?

Lying is a natural function of the human brain and develops somewhere around the ages of 2 and 4. In my opinion, it is contiguous with first hearing that voice inside the head and then realizing that no one else can hear it. Those who believe that others can hear what is not being spoken have a totally different sort of problem. But in the well-functioning brain, it seems easy to learn that this voice is private.

This is the moment just before learning to lie or deceive. You have the choice to tell or not tell what happened. You discuss it with yourself. Eventually you develop the ability to replace the truth with a good story. While some people are better at lying than others, we all do it.

Lying is more or less unacceptable in certain cultures, certain families and religious orientations in the United States and many other countries. Most of us grew up in a culture where it was prohibited, and we were instructed not to lie. Some of us tried; others did not bother. While honor and truth are considered virtues, it is almost impossible to function socially without some distortion of the truth. Some of this we do consciously and some unconsciously, but we all do it.[1]

Imagine, “Yes, those pants make you look fat. No, I did not like your talk. You think you are much smarter than you are. No, the members of this group do not want you to participate. We think you talk too much.” Without prioritizing at least some of the social rules, you may soon have no social life.

So we pit morality against social success. We are a social species and to keep the social aspect of our lives running smoothly, we must lie. But the strangest part of our mind’s evolution is that we lie to ourselves more than to anyone else. We justify, rationalize and defend our own feelings and thoughts. These are, of course, known as defense mechanisms in psychology, but they are self-deception. Perhaps if we lie to ourselves, then we are technically not lying to others. The evolutionary function remains mysterious, but involves distorting perception for the sake of survival itself.

Of course, one important aspect has changed drastically and rapidly in the United States in these years. Lying is no longer covert and tactful. This sort of struggle between truth and lies is being resolved in the psyches of many without therapy. In the public arena the opposing forces are at work. There are those who are struggling toward the truth about their gender, for example, and those who publicly state that there is no truth and it can change momentarily. In therapy, the goal is truth and the belief that lies even to ourselves damage each of us.


Kaschak, E. (2015), Sight Unseen:Gender and Race through Blind Eyes, Columbia University Press.

This article was originally published in Psychology Today.

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak, Ph.D. is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning psychologist, author and teacher. She is well-known as a speaker, workshop leader, human rights advocate and a public intellectual.