Lying by omission is when a person leaves out important information or fails to correct a pre-existing misconception in order to hide the truth from others.
“I didn’t lie; I just didn’t tell you.”
Ahhh, that old chestnut. Now where have I heard that before?
Some people view omissions as more than just white lies, but as outright lying, because by omitting information, you’re no longer being transparent.
A lack of vulnerability and transparency hamper communication, and destroy the safety that is expected in all close knit relationships – be they friendships or romantic partnerships.
Lying by omission is not always intended to be harmful; it is often thought of as an action undertaken to spare the recipient pain or embarrassment. But it can still have a detrimental effect on a relationship.
Even if the damage isn‘t immediate, the information omitted will eventually surface. The fallout from this can cause more problems than it would have if the information had been shared immediately, and accountability had been taken by the person sharing it.
Why Do We Omit Critical Pieces Of Information?
There are usually three reasons for people lying by omission:
Fear (being on the receiving end of anger, reprisal, or punishment)
Guilt (for the activity that caused them to lie in the first place)
Shame (for their reputation being damaged, and how they will be perceived if the entire truth was known)
How Do People Lie By Omission?
It’s not just about leaving out a specific detail, lying by omission can take another form: manipulating your response to garner sympathy, or to protect self-interests.
There are two sides to every story – are you only sharing yours? If you tailor your responses to leave out the harshness of what really happened, you’re not being genuine, and that’s lying.
You’re more concerned about how you will come off socially than you are about sharing the truth, and that colors how others will respond to you. What does that mean? For one, you’re not getting their honest opinions because you’re not giving them all the information – half truths provide half-baked answers.
For example, if you tell a friend about a fight with your mother and how she was being unreasonable because the train was delayed causing you to be an hour late for her birthday dinner party, they will probably nod their head and sympathize, because let’s face it, sometimes we’re at the mercy of others. Stuff happens, technology fails, trains break down, or get rerouted.
However, if you also neglect to tell that friend that you left the house half an hour late because you were busy scrolling through Twitter, then realized you had to dash, and then lied to your mother about the train delay… how would their response differ?
You haven’t painted the full picture because you’re afraid of how you might look, to them, and your mother. To your mom, it would look like scrolling through social media was more important than her (because being late is saying, I am ok disrespecting you and devaluing your time). To your friend, you would look insensitive and rude, and that’s the truth.
Lastly, you also know that your friend would be likely to take your mother’s side if all the facts were laid bare, so you tell them an edited version of events. Then, your mother looks like the “bad guy,” and you come out smelling of roses.
This is just a tiny example of how people lie every day. In a million different ways, tiny bits of information are left out of conversations. What we get is half a story; and seemingly insignificant things that come back to haunt us later.
You’re scoffing, “How does lying about a train delay haunt someone?” How does omitting information damage you, and your relationships?
Here are four ways lying by omission hurts everyone.
While most people think that they are sparing the other party by omitting important details, they don‘t realize that they are also inadvertently damaging themselves.
Keeping secrets is stressful. It can cause loss of sleep, and increased anxiety. Why? Because you’re preoccupied with trying to keep the problem under wraps, and keeping your story straight, while also fearing what will happen if the secret ever gets out.
The phrase, “the truth shall set you free” has never been more appropriate. By being fully open and honest with the other person, you free yourself of the burden of hiding this information and worrying about the fallout.
Losing sleep, and being stressed, will eventually have a harmful effect on your physical health. The sad thing is, it’s completely preventable, and completely in your hands.
It Damages You Emotionally
Lying by omission can leave a bad taste in your mouth. In addition to the stress and sleep issues, it can make you feel inauthentic. You feel like a fake, and emotionally, that can take a toll on your self-esteem.
In the example mentioned above, do you feel good after you have painted your mother out to be an unreasonable tyrant? Does that sit well with you? You may have saved your reputation with your friend, but you have inadvertently made your mother look bad at your expense.
If you have any shred of decency, you will feel bad about it at some point. Protecting yourself at the cost of making someone else look bad will always haunt you. You know you’re harming them, and influencing how other people will view them. There are things money can’t buy, and self-respect is one of them.
It Damages Your Credibility
Lying by omission breeds mistrust. Once the person you have been hiding things from finds out, the likelihood of them trusting you again has gone out the window.
It doesn’t matter if it was for their own good, or a protective move, it will just come across as an excuse, or what it really is: keeping yourself from getting in trouble.
In the eyes of that person, a lie, is a lie. There is no shade of gray when someone feels they have been lied to. That’s the point people miss when they believe that by omitting something they are not lying, but straddling some magical misty zone of truthiness.
Once the information is out, your credibility is shot and it will take a long time (if ever) to earn that back.
Last, but not least, lying by omission is selfish as Hell. Admit it. On a deep level, omitting something isn’t really about the other person’s feelings; it’s about protecting yourself from looking bad.
If you really have a hard think about the anxiety and fear that surrounds omitting a piece of information, nine times out of ten, in your gut you know it’s about saving your skin.
Saying it was to “protect the other person” is often a cop out. It’s just a convenient way of deflecting your need to control the outcome of a situation where you could potentially be perceived negatively.
Why do all this to yourself, and to the people you care about? Nothing feels better than being able to look someone in the face knowing you are being the most authentic version of yourself.
Being honest also demonstrates a profound level of maturity and compassion. When you aren’t busy saving face at the expense of others, and you’re fully accountable for your own actions, it’s not only incredibly empowering, but it’s also extremely empathetic.
It shows strength through vulnerability. It’s human to make mistakes – we are all blundering our way through life. There are no perfect people on this planet, so lets drop the façade, admit our follies, dust ourselves off, and get on with living life honestly, and to the fullest.