[MENTAL HEALTH]The truth that lies at the root of lying“There is!” “There isn’t!” “I saw it.” “I haven’t seen it.” “I don’t know about that.”
The fight over Hwang Woo-suk’s research into cloning and stem cells is nearly over, leaving only the prosecutors’ investigation. According to the review team at Seoul National University, Dr. Hwang’s papers in the journal Science were fabricated.
Lies sometimes heavily hit the individuals involved and society at large, as in Dr. Hwang’s case, but ordinary people also lie in daily life ― even if they excuse themselves for telling “white lies.” How can we interpret this behavior pattern, something that most people “learn” as soon as they begin to talk? And when should lying be considered a disease?
People lie in order to avoid responsibility or punishment as well as to defend their reputation. Some psychologists explain that people lie when the balance of id, ego and superego breaks down. The id contains our impulses and desires; the superego controls them and the ego is in charge of the sense of reality.
“One lies when the superego that holds one’s conscience, ethics and morality collapses because of the id that strongly desires something,” said Lee Dong-soo, a psychiatrist at Samsung Medical Center.
Bovarism, a form of exaggerated and glamorized self-conceit (a term derived from Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary”), is considered by modern psychiatrists to be a good example of this. In the novel, a poor woman wants to marry soon, but is ashamed of her situation. She concocts a new past and lies about it to the man she intends to marry. Her lies get more complicated and sophisticated until her mind confuses the reality she has created with the truth ― she believes her lies are the truth and uses all means at her disposal to maintain a false ego in order to escape reality.
People with certain character disorders also find it easy to lie. Those who think they were born with a special ability or are better-looking than others lie in order to attract others’ attention, as do those who are capricious or have hysterical personalities.
Sometimes people lie unconsciously. For example, when they break an appointment, they say that they forgot, when in reality they just didn’t want to go.
“People unconsciously remove suffering by ignoring thoughts, desires or impulses they can’t accept,” said Dr. Lee.
Lying begins from the moment that one learns to speak. Curious and imaginative children often lie as a means of expressing themselves. They form their values on lying by watching their parents’ reactions. That’s why parents shouldn’t just laugh when they know their children are lying.
Lying can lead to other bad behavior or habits such as stealing, or the development of an aggressive personality. Children who habitually lie are more likely to have anti-social or changeable personalities than normal ones, because they don’t feel guilty when lying.
A liar can also have problems in interpersonal relations ― if they succeed in deception they feel better, and if they fail, they get depressed, becoming emotionally unstable.
Thus, the habit of lying should be stamped out as soon as possible. When children lie, parents should look at themselves first before scolding them ― they should ask whether they have confused the child’s value systems. One way they may have done this is to have involved the child in a “white lie” of their own, for example by saying, “If someone visits, tell him that your dad isn’t at home.” Another is by mistrusting a child by assuming they are lying ― this actually leads the child to lie in order to win parental approval. Parents should repeatedly explain that lying is very bad in order to promote the right values.
If lying becomes habitual, psychiatric help is necessary to find the root cause, which involves counselling that can take up to one year.
by Hwang Se-hee