Little white lies

When does a little white lie become a problem?  We all tell them.  And you’re lying if you think you don’t.  It can be anything from “I’m nearly home” or “I’ve had that dress in the wardrobe for ages, I just don’t wear it that often”, or “I’ll start my diet tomorrow”. They seem meaningless most of the time and often do little or no harm generally. 

According to Emily Cronin in Red Magazine, research found most people lie two or three times within the first 10 minutes of meeting someone new. Cronin quoted Dr Emma Hepburn, a psychologist and author who says it depends on reason for the lie. Maybe someone calls in sick with a physical illness when the reality is they’re having mental health issues but afraid of the stigma that might be attached. Maybe someone underplays how much they spend on clothes to their partner to avoid any snide comments. Dr Hepburn says most little white lies stem from shame or stigma.

Sometimes we might invent a little white lie if we don’t want to participate in a social engagement and would rather be at home in our own company, so we make up another engagement that’s already been in the diary for ages. This also might be partly to save the feelings of the other person too. We don’t want to let people down, or there’s a fear of feeling inadequate or unreliable, or not a good enough friend. These types of feelings reinforce the people-pleasing and we’ll never find out that its ok to say no.

There are many types of lies. Lies of convenience, omission, politeness, lies we tell ourselves, lies we tell consciously and lies that are truths we keep silent. There’s also the childhood lies we are told and tell others in order to prolong the magic.  The existence of the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas – spoiler alert!   They don’t exist.

Sometimes little white lies have no impact whatsoever and Dr Hepburn said it was important not to beat yourself up if you’ve done it, but in most occasions honesty is best.

Martha Beck conducted research where participants in one group were told not to lie, not even a little white one for two weeks.  They demonstrated better relationships and moods, physically emotionally and relationally better, than those who didn’t promise not to tell lies. Beck is an advocate of integrity and says that committing to not telling lies, even little fibs was transformative in her life.  She realised she was gay, so ended her marriage, left her unfulfilling job, and although saying it was extremely hard, it was 1000% worth it. It was better to do that than continue living the lie her life had become in being someone she wasn’t.

Beck explains there are better ways to express yourself and be polite and loving without the need to tell lies, you just have to get creative. But its hard to get over the feeling you might be hurting someone else’s feelings.

I recall a co-worker many years ago who was on the rather large side, and we used to have some cracking conversations and could speak quite openly and honestly to each other.  One day she asked me whether I thought the outfit she was wearing suited her.  I quite honestly replied that I didn’t think it did.  She was mortified.  I was mortified that I’d upset her and followed it up with “Well you did ask”.  She didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day, but we did make up the next day. 

It’s hard not to let those little fibs creep in, even if its to save someone else’s feelings, but doing in order to supress your own is not healthy.  Easier said than done though.


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