We often don’t know the reasons why we do what we do, feel what we feel, or make the choices we make, but apparently we are very good at creating reasons that seem quite logical and that reflect favorably on us. For example, we may believe that cheating and lying are wrong. Yet, according to Dan Ariely (2012) most of us lie. He’s not talking about the big lies that cause major damage to others. He says we lie only to the extent we can still see ourselves as good people. We tell ourselves stories to justify our actions, like everyone cheats on their taxes or it’s only an extra dollar in change the clerk gave me and the company owes me more than that for all the times I’ve overpaid.
If we’re annoyed with the person we are interacting with, we are more likely to cheat or steal, believing we are justified. We may tell ourselves that we are simply restoring karma and crusading for justice.
Ariely found that in general creative people tend to lie more than people who are less creative. And when there is less certainty about a situation, creative people are even more likely than less creative people. He suggested that creative people are better at coming up with explanations that fit the situation, better at making associations between various facts and explaining to themselves why they were doing the right thing even when they were not.
Ariely says that while creativity enables us to find novel solutions to tough problems, it can also enable us to develop original paths around rules and allows us to reinterpret information so that we can continue to think of ourselves as honest people when we are not behaving honestly.
Ariely didn’t identify emotionally sensitive people in his studies, so we don’t have data on how they would have responded. Emotionally sensitive people tend to be creative, thus they’d be more likely to create “stories” about events and situations than less sensitive people, and be better at making associations between ideas and facts. In my experience, sometimes the stories are about putting themselves in a better light, but many times the stories actually exaggerate their mistakes.
One of the primary fears of many emotionally sensitive people is abandonment. They worry that they could lose important relationships over even small difficulties or mistakes on their part. They may have difficulty seeing the whole of the relationship, and tend to focus on whatever is threatening to them in the moment. Thus, they may tend to lie to others to save relationships. Perhaps they tell themselves that they will never do whatever they did again, so lying now is okay. Or they believe that they had a good reason for what they did but the other person will not understand. Their creative reasoning may help them feel okay about not being honest; however, in the long run, the lies often damage the relationship rather than save it.
At the same time emotionally sensitive people find ways to blame themselves for events and situations that are not their fault. They can be be quite convincing to themselves about the reasons they are responsible for other people’s moods and actions.
We all create stories at times to explain our behavior to ourselves. If you are emotionally sensitive and creative, you may be better at it than most. Knowing when you should, and shouldn’t, trust your perceptions and the explanations you have for life events is part of creating safety and trust for yourself. So knowing that you might have a knack for interpretating events in a way that blames you or exonerates you, especially when you are emotionally upset, can be helpful.
The first step in using this information is awareness. Watch for extemes and absolutes in your thinking. Many times extremes are indicators that the truth may be more in the middle. If you find yourself thinking in absolutes or experiencing intense emotions about a situation, try to check out any assumptions you are making. Do you have all the facts? Do your thoughts fit the facts or are you interpreting the facts? Are there other interpretations? Consider the long term consequences of any action you are contemplating. Taking these steps may help you determine the wise decision and the most effective path given your life goals.
Ariely, D. The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone–Especially Ourselves. New York: Harper, 2012.
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Last reviewed: 29 Sep 2012