Excuse me, but your pants are on fire.
I think the statute of limitations has expired and I won’t use any names here, but perhaps the ugliest lie I have ever encountered was by my new 1pm client on a Tuesday afternoon many years ago when I was a psychotherapist.
He came in broken-hearted, tearful and forlorn having taken the day off of work for our counseling appointment. He told me how incredibly torn-up he was inside that his wife of 12 years had accused him of having an affair with a blonde woman half his age who, halfway through the session, I had coincidentally deduced was my next appointment.
At that very moment she was likely waiting in my lobby for her 2pm meeting.
He used most of the session to passionately persuade me of his innocence and fear of what his now crazed, irrational wife might do as a result of her misguided opinion about his late work nights and three hour shopping trips to buy nothing. It was about halfway through our session full of tearful punctuations when two and two equaled four for me. He never even mentioned her by name. He didn’t need to. After all, his story was that he’d never met nor slept with this woman.
I allowed him his time, and at least for the first half of our meeting, empathized with him, knowing that while our 50 minute session may had been his first, it would certainly not be as therapeutic as the ones to come if he was as courageous as he was deceitful.
The session concluded and we set a time for a follow up meeting. I collected my fee in my office versus in the lobby for obvious reasons and he said he felt relieved and glad that I understood him. I handed him a box of Kleenex to take with him along with a very sincere: “I think you’re gonna need this.”
He opened the door of my inner office and having taken a few steps to the exit he turned left to me as if to say something and stuttered as he began to speak, seeing my next appointment in the chair–a woman he’d never met nor slept with– yet now called by name.
I did the same, and invited her to wait in my counseling office where I’d be with her momentarily.
I’d have called 911 but thought it best that he spent a little time aghast, speechless and bleeding. After all, I’d been quite generous with that 89 cent box of Kleenex.
It takes one to know one.
It’s not so much that people lie. Everyone did, has, does and will. It’s the ugly side of human nature. For some, they’re little white ones and infrequent. For others, like my client, lying had become a giftedness—a crafted way of life–for purposes only future sessions might discover if he dared.
Myself, I have never lied…except for right now.
Fact is, I was once a phenomenal liar, if not only to myself. Some get away with it in this life. They hurt people and hurt themselves. Some walk away unscathed, and just hurt people. Why?
Lying to save face. Desire for acceptance is sometimes so strong to an ego so weakened by criticism, people will lie their way into the good graces of others.
Lying to avoid consequences. All behaviors have consequences. As the late Mr. Rogers once sang, “Sometimes people are good, and they do just what they should. But the very same people who are good sometimes, are the very same people who are bad sometimes. It’s funny. But it’s true.” They weigh the painful consequences of being truthful against the delayed consequences of deceit. Karma.
Lying to your ego. Some cannot accept the fact that they might be mistaken and therein, convince themselves of the veracity of their own lies building a house of cards they can never pay for.
Lying for attention. A family friend once created an elaborate lie that she had cancer. As our family does, we banded behind her and raised money to treat her, created support structures to help her and pampered her as a cherished friend facing her death. The hurt and disbelief of such a long-lived, well-played lie was devastating while all she wanted was someone to care.
Lying for power. Some lie to get a one up on others who are less articulate or subjugates, believing their lies will prevail over the truths of others. This is a particularly devious person, most often sociopathic.
The worst part of a lie is not the lie itself but the curiously dissatisfying satisfaction when you get away with it.
I contend that the worst liars and the least likely to are those of us who have lied and learned, the process of which has burned an indelible, intervening conscience into our psyche making the pleasure of getting away with a lie anathema to that which we’ve become. We get sick, can’t sleep, self loathe and are forced to throw up the ugly untruths either before they are even committed or immediately thereafter.
So, I finished the session with my pretty 2pm client, keeping my integrity about not disclosing topics nor purposes of my 1pm client and doing some pretty good work with her despite the afternoon tension.
I was doing paperwork at my desk during a long break before my 5pm client which would end my work day when I got his phone call apology.
Rock bottom is a beautiful place, and mercy is a beautiful thing.
He began a course of counseling with me not about his infidelities but about his much deeper problems. When I last saw him months later, it was at the grocery store with his wife.
He flashed a huge grin across the checkstand. I did the same. And this time, his pants were not on fire.