Why We Lie

Shrek - ICE Festival - Grapevine - Gaylord TexanNot too long ago, a reader sent an email asking why emotionally sensitive people lie. Her question suggested that the emotionally sensitive lie more frequently than people who aren’t emotionally sensitive.

Her email made me curious. What are the reasons people lie? Do emotionally sensitive people lie more than others?

People Lie Without Thinking

Robert Feldman, who wrote The Liar in Your Life,and has studied lying for more that four decades, said in an interview, “Not only do we lie frequently, but we lie without even thinking about it. People lie while they are getting acquainted an average of three times in a 10-minute period. Participants in my studies actually are not aware that they are lying that much until they watch videos of their interactions.”

That is a high frequency of lying. Dr. Feldman goes on to say, “Lying is not limited to one aspect of our society, one type of person, or one kind of institution…lying permeates the way we get to know one another and the way we form relationships. It is part of how we educate our children and how we elect our leaders. It is essential to our economy, and it is essential to the media.”

Reasons We Lie

We lie to avoid being rejected.  Conversation serves many purposes, one of which is to find out who we connect with, and who we want to be friends with. While its obvious that you don’t want to be friends with everyone, it’s not so obvious perhaps that not everyone will like you. Maybe in the general sense, but when you meet someone and they don’t like you, that rejection can be difficult, especially for those who are emotionally sensitive.

Having the same likes, dislikes and views is a way of forming a connections with others. Arguing or disagreeing with someone repeatedly when you first meet them would not be considered the best way to make a new friend. In fact, finding similarities is considered the norm. Some people lie about their true interests and opinions in order to gain acceptance and be viewed as likable, even though a relationship based on untruths cannot be intimate and close.

Lying about your interests can also be to protect yourself financially. Let’s say you’re an avid hunter. You meet your new boss at work and learn that he’s a strong advocate for gun control. Do you tell the truth about your own position and risk his thinking badly of you? Do you avoid giving your opinion?

Sometimes people lie because they feel insecure. We all have times when we don’t feel good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, accomplished enough or capable enough. We lie to cover up our perceived shortcomings.

 We lie to make others feel good.  The motivation to give false compliments is usually to make the recipient feel good or to avoid hurt feelings. Maybe we say we love the pie she made or that we like his new girlfriend when we really don’t.

We lie to avoid consequences.  If you were supposed to call a customer and didn’t, you might lie to avoid your boss being angry with you. You might lie to your spouse if you didn’t pay the water bill when you said you would. More seriously, you might lie to an authority figure about how much you had to drink or other violations that could have negative results.

We lie to protect others. Sometimes parents lie to their children to protect them. They tell children they feel fine when they are ill or very sad. They don’t tell young children that the star of their favorite television show is no longer on the air because she is pregnant.

We don’t tell our loved ones they look heavy in the outfits they are wearing.

According to Feldman, we all lie. In fact, we lie a lot and don’t even realize how often we lie. We start as young as three, sometimes even as young as two. We tend to lie the most to those we don’t know as well and least to those we are closest to. Some lies we don’t count as lies, calling them “white lies.” Given that many lies are to gain acceptance, avoid hurt feelings or conflict, and mask insecurities, perhaps the emotionally sensitive would have a higher incidence. But at this point, we don’t know that information.

The good news is that by far most lies are not malicious ones used to manipulate or take advantage of others. So do white lies matter? Are there times when lying is really for the best?  Feldman believes there are good reasons not to lie, even minor white lies that seem to just make conversations flow more easily, like nodding that you know what someone is saying when you don’t.

We’ll take a look at his reasons in a future post. And I’d be interested in your thoughts, too.  If you are an emotionally sensitive person, I’d be particularly interested in your experiences. What are the main reasons you lie and how frequently?

Note to Readers: Thank you for your responses to the survey about living with emotional sensitivity.  I am grateful so many of you have contributed. The more people who respond, the more information we will have to educate ourselves and others. If you haven’t participated, please consider answering the questions on our new survey. Results will be given in a future post

.photo credit: agroffmanCreative Commons License

Why We Lie

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

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APA Reference
Hall, K. (2012). Why We Lie. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2019, from


Last updated: 29 May 2012
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 May 2012
Published on All rights reserved.