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Lying Like Hell and Other Fictions
by Alicia Swaringen

To tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.

Living in a nation where the Attorney General perjures himself to Congress, where the President and Vice-President lie to the people to justify sending the military to invade countries, where construction companies bilk billions of taxpayer dollars intended for the reconstruction costs of disasters and war, where CEOs of major corporations embezzle their employees’ investments, and where insurance companies deny coverage to patients based on false premises, it becomes apparent that honesty is not a value that the leaders of this nation hold dear.

Truth is, the citizens of the nation don’t care that much about truth-telling, either.

Trickery, conning, bluffing and diverting have evolved as skills over the centuries by monkeys, baboons, apes and humans in order to further their own ends. According to the Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis, put forth by primatologists Richard W. Byrne and Andrew Whiten, the need to survive and the drive to outsmart other primates brought about social gamesmanship and the rapid increase in animal intelligence.

“The Homo sapiens who are best able to lie have an edge over their counterparts in a relentless struggle for the reproductive success that drives the engine of evolution,” says David Smith, who wrote Why We Lie. “As humans, we must fit into a close-knit social system to succeed, yet our primary aim is still to look out for ourselves above all others. Lying helps. And lying to ourselves—a talent built into our brains—helps us accept our fraudulent behavior.”

“The best deceivers continue to reap advantages denied to their more honest or less competent peers. Lying helps us facilitate social interactions, manipulate others and make friends. There is even a correlation between social popularity and deceptive skill.” Smith cites a study by Robert Feldman, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, that found that the most popular teenagers in their schools also lie to their peers the most. “Research shows that liars are often better able to get jobs and attract members of the opposite sex into relationships.” He goes on to say, “Fooling ourselves allows us to selfishly manipulate others around us while remaining conveniently innocent of our own shady agendas.” [David Smith, Natural Born Liars, Scientific American, June 2005].

Most of us don’t even know how much we lie. One study shows that the average person lies about three times per ten minutes of conversation. Several other studies show we lie about how much we lie. Smith has a theory that we developed self-deception as a skill. It is easier to fool others if you believe your own lie.

Perhaps those in the White House have persuaded themselves that their own lies are the truth. Certainly, there are plenty of Americans who still believe that Iraq was responsible for the people who turned four jets into weapons. Perhaps they are still convinced because Bush truly believes the lies he has told.

Most of us want to be liked, accepted, hired, loved. If it takes a little lie here and there, why would any of us ever want to stop lying?

The truth is: lying has a direct impact on our health. Lying is stressful.

“We all lie like hell,” says Dr. Brad Blanton, a psychotherapist from Virginia. “It wears us out. It is the major source of all human stress. Lying kills people.” In his book, Radical Honesty, How to Transform Your Life By Telling the Truth, he advocates spilling the beans every day, to everyone. We may be able to get away with lying, and get ahead socially or financially, but there is a price.

Lie detector tests rely on the stress activated by lying to determine peoples’ honesty. Otherwise known as the polygraph, the psycho-physiological detection of deception examination uses a series of wires hooked up to the heart, lungs, skin and anus. When a person lies, his or her body reacts with classic stress indicators. The heart beats faster. Breathing becomes shallower and more rapid. The skin perspires and rises in temperature. And, the anus tightens. All these reactions are typical of the sympathetic nervous system, the flight or fight mechanism that responds to danger.

The latest in lie detector tests show changes in brain waves. A recent study at the University of Pennsylvania recorded the brain waves of students telling lies and determined that there were sections of the brain that become more engaged during lying. These areas, having to do with paying attention and controlling error, include the anterior cingulate gyrus, near the deeper part of the brain, and parts of the prefrontal and premotor cortexes, in the front of the brain. “It requires more brain activity to lie than to tell the truth,” says study leader Dr. Daniel Langleben, assistant professor of psychiatry at UPenn. “Truth is the default position of the brain. It’s harder to lie than to tell the truth because the first thing we need to do to lie is to suppress something.”

Therapists have noticed the effects on their clients who withhold their truth. Iona Teeguarden, who created Jin Shin Do, says in The Joy of Feeling, “Tension in the jaw acts like a gag, to keep us from saying things that others might not like. Setting the jaw helps us to hold back both tears and shouts. It helps us to resist expressing ourselves in ways that might be disapproved—like crying, grimacing, yelling, screaming, sucking, spitting or laughing.”

The remedy comes with letting out what is being held in. “Releasing the ring of neck tension is important for free Self-expression,” says Teeguarden. “By tightening a lasso of tension around the neck area, we can keep threatening feelings from arising out of the heart or guts, and we can ignore the conflicts between our thoughts and feelings. Eventually, tension here can act like a noose—trapping us in our own defenses, and restricting our freedom to feel and express ourselves.”

Bite your tongue, young lady!

The masseter is one of the most powerful muscles, pound for pound, in the body. It originates in the lateral part of the cheekbone and inserts in the angle of the mandible, the jawbone. It raises the jaw, clenches the teeth, and chews food. Its name is derived from Greek, for chewing, and is associated with angry and aggressive states. When this muscle is habitually tense, “Temporal-Mandibular Disorder,” also known as TMJ, can occur.

“Symptoms of TMJ—jaw pain and teeth grinding—can come from chronically holding back the negative, in the interests of being nice,” according to Teeguarden.

With TMJ, one’s jaw feels tight, sometimes with a generalized ache. It can be difficult to open one’s mouth more than a finger width. There may be clicking and popping while talking or chewing. Teeth grinding, gritting, clenching: the sufferer is possibly infuriated and finds a situation unbearable, but feels they must “hold their tongue.”—“I was tongue tied.”

“If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.” This statement sounds old fashioned, but even today it is spoken in earnest.

Dishonesty affects our physical as well as emotional health, as, of course, they are both intricately linked. Our emotional wellbeing is directly connected to close emotional ties with others.

Intimacy and Truth
When we dare to tell someone how we really feel or think, then we dare to create intimacy. The risk in revealing our innermost thoughts and feelings is in opening ourselves to judgment, rejection, even exile. If we care what that person thinks or feels about us, then we obviously are careful about what we say. But, if we are too careful, we end up squooshing the life out of our relationships. If we don’t share what we really think and feel, then we are telling ourselves that it is not okay to be here. It is not okay to be ourselves. We might as well leave and go check out another planet.

If there is something we would like to say to someone, but we don’t in order to protect that someone from our truth, then we end up carrying the burden. We feel the conflict between what we want to say and not saying it. We end up with an internal struggle, rather than playing it out externally and giving the relationship the opportunity to grow. When the conflict is internalized, it often becomes a body symptom, such as high blood pressure, ulcers, migraine headaches, or a pain in the butt.

The reasons we lie instead of telling the truth are usually pretty simple. We embellish the truth to make ourselves feel better about ourselves and to impress others. Or, we lie because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. Maintaining cordial relations becomes more important than bringing up unpleasant facts or feelings. Sometimes we lie to avoid conflict because if we face the conflict, we risk losing the argument. We risk losing face, our dignity, our status.

Finally, we are dishonest because we want to remain in denial. If we don’t admit that we have an addiction, a contagious disease, an abusive partner, global warming or a government that is destroying our Constitution and murdering thousands of innocent people, maybe it will just go away. As long as we keep our heads in the sand, we can pretend life is good.

Our world is in danger of being destroyed on many fronts. If we do not dare to speak out about the changes we need to make in our society, then we, as a species, will cease to exist. We will take down a lot of other species with us.

Sometimes we don’t tell the truth because we are afraid of the response. Maybe we don’t want to know that our actions are hurting someone. But, expressing ourselves honestly goes hand in hand with listening deeply. If, instead of dialoguing, we monologue people to death, oblivious to the social clues that we are boring our audience, then we’ve missed the point. When we’ve stated our side, then we need to be willing to hear another point of view, allow it to sink in, and potentially alter our position.

Intimacy is related to democracy. For either to work, we must show up and we must participate.

In a climate of fear, there is more at risk. When a president of a country accuses anyone who disagrees with him of being unpatriotic, a traitor or a terrorist, it is as though a cold, wet blanket has been thrown over any chance at democracy.

It takes tremendous courage to speak out and face such charges. When a young person grows up in a family with abuse and/or addiction, there is extreme pressure to keep the family secrets and to remain loyal at all costs.

In a society based on hierarchy, the fear of punishment controls the people. We don’t tell the truth because we fear being caught. Being told we are wrong, that we’ve made mistakes and are bad could mean that we will be beaten, tortured, raped or killed.

We hide, and then it is impossible to be accountable for our mistakes. And when we are not accountable, then we cannot make amends. We cannot learn from our mistakes. We cannot make reparations or move forward, nor can our society move forward. Living in a culture based on keeping people in check through blame, shame, humiliation, revenge and punishment does not lend itself to people being honest.

If we do not feel safe to share what’s really going on inside of us, then we hold it inside. We are alone, isolated in our small, private worlds. Isolation is the malaise of the modern world.

Abuse survives in a family system because of secrecy. When one spouse, partner or parent says, “Don’t tell,” or even “Don’t tell or else you’ll be sorry!,” the behavior is covered up. The patterns of abuse and addiction are universal, whether it is physical, emotional or sexual. A person trapped in the cycle of abuse or addiction is in a form of denial, and attempts to keep those around him or her in that denial. There is usually collusion by other family members, knowing unhealthy things are happening, but not saying anything to anybody.

If our secrets are never shared, they fester inside. Confession is a physical need. The Catholic church has it right that confession is good for the soul. Of course, for many Catholics, it is related to sin and guilt and shame and all that. But, any of us with a moral compass will feel a little shame and guilt from time to time. These feelings give us clues that something needs attention. Some decision we made or action we took needs rectifying. Used proactively, shame and guilt are the barometer that allows us to bring things back into balance.

Can you imagine never telling another lie? Not just under oath, in a court of law, but every day, in all circumstances? No more tiny little white lies: “I got stuck in traffic and was late,” instead of “I was yakking on the phone and didn’t leave the house in time.” No more double lives: angel on the outside, devil on the inside. No more lies of omission: leaving out the parts that tell the real story. No more code language: “I don’t have time for a relationship,” instead of “I don’t want a relationship with you.” And, no more living in the closet: hiding affairs, sexual preferences, socially unacceptable diseases, abortions, miscarriages, cheating, etc, etc, etc.

Could we evolve as humans to the point that we no longer lie to ourselves or to each other? Could all of us, including our leaders, start being accountable for all our actions? Saying, “Yes, I did that. I am not proud of that, but I did it and I want to take responsibility for it and make it right,” rather than living in a world where we hide what we do in order to avoid being accountable, punished, shamed or blamed. Could we progress from being narcissistic and greedy to valuing others, and live for the highest good of all concerned?

Deep democracy, where everyone’s voice is heard, is about the good of all. Not just the majority. Not just the elite minority who make lots of the crucial decisions affecting our world. The good of all. If we commit ourselves to telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, then maybe we could start a revolution that will save the world, and us in it.

Alicia Swaringen is a Licensed Massage Therapist and Reiki Master, who completed her training in Process Oriented Psychology. She created BodyWisdom Therapy, a combination of bodywork and counseling, to help people unravel the messages of their bodies and to integrate the messages into their daily lives. She can be reached at 541-689-0430 or rubiasavage@yahoo.com.


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