You catch someone in a lie… and it hurts.
You feel a cauldron of emotions beginning to bubble up within you.
Anger, shock, resentment, disappointment, sadness.
And that’s just for starters.
The whole thing leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. You’ve been disrespected, humiliated… you might even go so far as to say you feel violated.
And it is a violation of your trust. The practical and emotional equity that has built up between you and the perpetrator is devalued.
Your relationship is damaged.
But what do you do about it?
What is the best way to respond to the lie?
How should you deal with the person who lied to you?
What can you possibly say to them?
And, ultimately, how can you get over being lied to?
These are difficult questions to answer. The ‘right’ answers will differ from person to person.
But we can, at least, give you an idea of how you might react and what you could do.
Before you can begin to plan the best way to confront the lie, you need to take a broader look at things…
Assess The Situation And Context
There’s more to a lie than meets the eye. A catchy phrase, yes, but one that holds a lot of truth (note the irony in an article about lying).
You see, a lie is never told in pure isolation. Someone will have a reason for lying, even if those reasons may not seem very reasonable.
And, as much as we might not like to admit it, we all lie pretty much every day of our lives.
These little white lies are unfortunate, but they are a general part of social interaction and getting to know a person.
You can live your life with blunt, brutal honesty, but you may find this approach ruffles some feathers and drives people away.
But back to the point… this lie you’ve been told is more than would be expected as part of the social contract we all silently hold with one another.
This lie can’t be overlooked as mere social etiquette. It’s more important than that.
So to figure out how best to respond to it, we must first ask a number of questions.
Being lied to by a coworker of acquaintance will probably annoy you somewhat, but it might not cut to the bone.
A lie told by a friend will hurt more, although the severity of the wound inflicted will depend on whether they are a casual friend or a really good friend.
Lies told in close relationships will really sting and will undermine the intimacy and connection you have with your partner.
Similarly, lies told by family members will probably cause a great deal of pain, heartache, and soul searching.
Why did they lie?
Sometimes, people lie out of insecurity, fear, or nervousness without even realizing that they’re doing it. It’s a survival mechanism of sorts.
That’s not to excuse the lie one bit. And it doesn’t make it any less acceptable or hurtful.
Most of the time, however, people realize that they are lying and make a conscious decision to go through with it.
That’s not to say there is always a malicious intent or reason.
Those little white lies we all tell are often designed to soften the blow of criticism, or to save both parties from an awkward conversation that really doesn’t need to happen.
When your mother tells you that she really enjoyed the flower arranging class you sent her on for her birthday – even when she found it all a bit drawn out and tiring – she’s telling a lie to save your feelings.
These sorts of lies are common and even if you later found out the truth, you’d probably understand why she told it.
Another type of lie, however, is less easy to overlook or forgive.
We’re talking about the lie told to hide an unacceptable thought, opinion, or behavior.
These lies are double-edged swords. They cause pain not only because of the deceit involved, but also because they hide an equally hurtful truth.
Why do people tell these sorts of lies?
They tell a bare faced untruth to avoid punishment or blame.
They lie to save their own skins.
The perpetrator may claim that they didn’t want to hurt your feelings. While that may well be true, it comes a distant second in terms of why they chose to lie.
That’s part of the reason why these lies hurt so much. They are not really told for your benefit at all.
So if your partner lies about working late at the office when they are, in fact, having drinks with their work mates, it’s entirely for their benefit.
And if your sibling claims they can’t repay the money you lent them, even if their bank balance shows otherwise, it’s because they don’t want to pay you back (and are probably hoping you’ll forget about it).
A third type of lie sits in a slightly gray area. It’s the lie that’s told in order to gain some sort of benefit or edge over the person that’s being told it.
It’s not malicious in the sense that it’s not designed to harm or hurt the person directly.
Yes, the lie is used to hide some important information, but that information will not, by itself, cause any great pain.
Say, for example, that a position opens up at work and you ask a colleague whether they are going to apply. They may lie and say that they are not when, in fact, they are.
It’s a lie, yes, but they may have told it to gain an advantage over you in terms of getting that promotion.
You may say that this is a betrayal – and if you are on friend terms with this person, it will still feel that way – but they may say that it hasn’t done you any harm so what does it matter?
Some other lies are told with the best intentions, and you may understand the reasoning, but you can still feel hurt or betrayed.
Take a manager who doesn’t tell you about a big new project or contract because they know how much you have on your plate right now, both at work and at home.
It’s a lie of omission in that they didn’t directly lie to your face, but simply failed to tell you about something.
And they may have thought they were doing you a favor.
So, as you can see, the “why” behind a lie can vary greatly. Figuring it out can help you decide how best to respond to it.
How big was the lie?
Some lies are small and are not worth expending too much energy getting worked up about.
If your friend tells you they’re unwell on the day you were meant to meet up, and you later see them tagged in a photo doing something else with other people, is it really that big a deal?
Perhaps. Or perhaps you just have to accept that something else might have come up at the last minute and they really wanted to go to it, but didn’t want to hurt your feelings by admitting it.
On the other hand, if you find out that your partner has been cheating on you, it’s a freakin’ big deal and there’s no way you can brush it off or not mention it.
So the size of the lie – which is a very subjective thing – will influence how you go about reacting to it.
Big lies do need to be addressed. Little lies may not.
What are the immediate consequences of the lie?
All lies have consequences, but some are bigger and more immediate than others.
If your boss lies about the state of the company finances only for you to turn up to work one morning to be given your belongings in a box because it’s gone out of business, you’ve got a lot to think about.
Whether this is the best time to confront them and give them a piece of your mind is debatable.
Or if your father has kept a life-threatening illness from you (he might see it as a way to protect you) and you find out about it, you’ll probably be more concerned about potentially losing him than you are about blaming him for the lie.
Sometimes, the lie plays second fiddle to the very practical matters it was hiding.
So while you may want to address the lie and the liar, it may have to wait until you have dealt with the immediate aftermath.
It this the first lie, or a repeat offense?
The first time someone lies to you, it can hurt, but you might be able to work through it.
As that same person tells more and more lies, your ability to forgive and forget is likely to disappear.
And even if each lie is small and seemingly inconsequential, they quickly add up to a complete destruction of trust.
For one, you might start to wonder whether these little lies are just the tip of the iceberg and that there’s much worse that you don’t know about.
The way you might respond to a first time lie will be different to how you react to the each subsequent lie.
How old is the lie?
It might not make any difference at all, but if a lie was told a long time ago and is only now coming to light, you might feel differently about it.
For one thing, people change all the time and generally mature as the years pass.
So, if a friend lied to you when you were both 18 and you’ve only now discovered the lie when you’re 30, you might consider it to be water under the bridge and chalk it down to adolescent immaturity.
You might be able to forgive today’s friend for the actions of yesterday’s friend.
Of course, it comes back to how big the lie is. Some lies are not so easily forgiven, no matter how much time has passed.
If your partner’s child from a previous relationship turns up at your doorstep aged 15 and you didn’t even know they existed, the shock of such a big omission might rock the foundations of your love for your partner.
How much do you value the relationship?
This is probably the biggest factor in determining how you deal with someone who has lied to you.
What does your relationship really mean to you?
If it’s your life partner and you have children together, you probably don’t want to make any rash decisions that you later regret.
You may get angry and confront them, but it might be worth letting the dust settle for a while before you make up your mind as to whether or not you try to save the relationship.
Similarly, if a family member is caught in a lie that really hurts you emotionally, it’ll be almost impossible to never speak to them again, especially if you will see each other at family events.
Or if you find that a colleague has lied to you, how much time and energy are you really going to expend on such an unimportant person in your life?
Generally speaking, the more the other person matters to you, the more carefully you have to consider how you deal with the lie.
You may also like (article continues below):
- Why Pathological Or Compulsive Liars Lie + 10 Signs To Look Out For
- 11 Things Only Truly Honest People Understand About Life
- How To Trust Again: Learning To Let Someone In Despite Past Hurt
- 10 Subtle Signs Your Partner Might Be Cheating On You
- 10 Things Every Woman Wants To Feel In A Relationship
Figure Out The Best Way To Respond
Once you’ve taken all of the above questions into account, you’re ready to formulate a response.
What are your options?
Say Nothing, But Leave
Hear me out before you dismiss this idea.
Yes, the lie is an affront to you as a person, but is a response a productive use of your time and energy?
Not all battles are worth fighting.
There are so many voices out there that preach that you must stand up for yourself! That people treat you the way you allow them to treat you!
And that’s absolutely true.
People, by and large, will treat you in the way that you allow them.
But standing up for yourself does not have to mean yelling and arguing with someone. It can also mean simply walking away from the people that disrespect you.
In fact, by leaving the situation and the person behind, you show YOU the respect that they couldn’t.
And you don’t give them the opportunity to treat you that way again.
What’s more, shouting and screaming and getting some form of verbal revenge on the person is unlikely to make you feel any better.
On the contrary, you’ll probably feel worse.
So, it is often an act of self-love to avoid heated confrontation.
The fact of the matter is, if you are in a position where you feel you need to “train” the people around you on how to treat you, it would be a much better idea for you to find a new group of people instead.
Most people could change if they wanted to – but most don’t want to.
Most don’t care either way.
They are just trying to get through their day intact so they can get on with whatever it is they want to do.
Why waste months or years of your life trying to instill a basic level of respect in someone that couldn’t see enough value in you to do that initially?
Doesn’t make much sense, really.
Oftentimes, the best response to a person lying to you is no response at all.
Just file it away in your mind and keep moving forward. There is no reason to divulge everything you know.
Confrontation often just leads to more lies and manipulation.
But I Must Confront The Person!
For whatever reason, you must confront the person.
Maybe they are a loved one or someone who is an integral part of your life.
Not everything in life can be clear-cut and simple.
The best way to confront a person is from a position of neutrality.
You don’t want to be angry. If you are angry, it gives them ammunition to fire back at you, which will make you angrier, which will give them more ammunition, and on and on it goes.
A calm approach gives you leverage to help determine the total truth. Your calmness will help disarm them and their defenses.
If they see that you are not going to get angry at them, they might be more open to being honest with you.
Ask pointed, direct questions, and pay close attention to how they respond.
Some people who tell a lie regret it the moment it has passed their lips. These people will probably be relieved if and when the lie comes out.
They will be genuinely repentant and may seek to explain how the lie came about. This shows, to some degree, that they respect you and value your relationship.
So it’s worth bearing this in mind if you are met with this sort of response.
But things might not go down this way, especially if you are dealing with a manipulator.
It’s common for a manipulator to throw out anger and try to instigate a fight, because it shifts a conversation to their terms.
They may trot out phrases like, “I can’t believe you don’t trust me!?” and “Why would you accuse me of that?” as they try to shift the blame back to you.
Again, pick your battles. Not every battle is worth fighting. And if the person is chronically dishonest, then you’re not going to make any real progress.
What often happens is the liar will simply apologize to you (even if they aren’t sorry), assure you that it will never happen again (which it probably will), and then you repeat the cycle over and over for years until you realize that they’re not going to change.
So, confront the person if you must, but pay close attention to their reaction. This can tell you a great deal about their motives and feelings.
Moving Beyond The Lie
If you decide that you don’t want to walk away from the lie and the liar (or you can’t for practical reasons), how should you move forward?
Well, first of all, insist that they are totally honest about the lie. Perhaps you only know a part of it, but there is more that they aren’t telling you.
Give them a chance to come clean entirely. Tell them that you’re in a place right now where you might be able move on, even if there is more that you don’t know.
But also tell them that this might not be the case if more lies come to light later on.
But don’t just say, “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?” This will likely be met with silence.
Say something like, “Look, you’ve made a mistake. We all make mistakes. I am ready to forgive you and move past this, but to be able to do that, I need to know everything that happened.
“Now is the best time for me to hear those details because I’ve accepted the situation for what it is. I can see a way through this for us. If more details come out at a later date, I’m not sure I’ll be able to say the same then.”
Now, if they do reveal something else and it’s even worse than you thought, you’re not bound by your words. What you said doesn’t constitute a verbal contract.
You don’t have to forgive them and move on. Some things are unforgivable.
You said there was a chance you’d be able to move on. You didn’t guarantee it.
But you will be better off knowing these things so that you can make a fully informed decision about your future.
Of course, they may reveal more details that don’t really change the situation. In this case, you should thank them for their honesty and discuss how you can move forward together.
With any luck, your response will show them that they can be honest with you without fearing what the consequences might be.
As we said earlier, some people lie because they worry what telling the truth might mean. They have insecurities of their own to contend with.
If they see that the truth is met with a positive response, they may be more willing to be open with you in future.
Liars And Manipulators In The Work Place
The wonderful world of employment can put us in proximity to a variety of people. Some will be great, others will be not so great.
And you may be in a position in your life where you can’t just change jobs or quit on a whim. It’s not always that simple.
There are some good ways to handle working alongside a liar or manipulative person.
Do not divulge sensitive details of your personal life or work unless you absolutely need to. There’s no reason to give ammunition to a toxic person to harm you with later.
Don’t let the person lull you into a false sense of security through phony friendliness or concern.
Do document as much as you can about your work with the person. You should be planning for the eventuality of that person throwing you to the wolves if something you’re both working on goes badly wrong.
Documentation is what will prove that you were doing things the way you were supposed to be doing them, as asked.
And if it’s your boss? Well, that’s a whole different can of worms.
Sometimes you can get results by side-stepping a manager and going above. Other times that will just get you fired or forced out.
Most of the time, the better choice is to just start looking for another job if they have been there for a while, because they will have already manipulated management into liking them.
The Choice Is Yours
How you choose to deal with lies and liars is going to depend on your own values and beliefs.
If honesty is paramount to your identity and you pride yourself on telling the truth, you may find it difficult to reconcile this with the lie that’s been told.
But if you accept that we are all flawed creatures and that you’ve probably made mistakes and hurt people in the past (even if there were no lies involved), you stand a better chance of continuing the relationship.
You’ll likely have to judge each lie individually as no two are ever the same. The advice here might be able to act as a guide, but your feelings are the best guide you can hope for.
However you might like to rationalize a lie that has been told, if your feelings don’t match up with your thoughts, you should trust your feelings every time.