5 tricks that chronic liars use
Most of us know someone who lies. Even though lies are usually revealed and cause more problems than they were intended to avoid, the people who tell lies usually don't stop. There are just some people out there who lie chronically. They seem to have internalized it as a habit, a go-to method for dodging conflicts or responsibility.
When someone you know has lied to your face, it can be hard to believe them after that. You might always end up with the feeling that you can't trust them, even when it happened a long time ago. Sometimes even when it was a banal-seeming, unimportant lie.
It's not always that easy to tell if someone is telling you the truth either.
If you're not sure how to trust your gut (probably the best arbiter of trust we have), then these five indications could help. Here are things that chronic liars often do to cover their tracks:
1. Emphasizing their own honesty
"Believe me" is a phrase we've heard a lot over the past year, and one tycoon-turned-President has even been called out for over-using it. It's actually one of the classic calling cards of chronic liars: they have a tendency to add phrases like, "I'm being completely honest" and "I'm telling you the truth" without prompting. They're anticipating someone catching them out, and trying to insist on their honesty in advance.
"I always do x." "I never do y." Etc.
Nuance is a pathological liar's enemy. Fibbers love to hide behind generalizations — about themselves and those around them. Since reality is complex, and usually forces you to confront an unpleasant truth somewhere along the way, people who lie often rely on big, general statements to avoid... what was that again? Oh yes, conflict and responsibility.
3. Unnecessarily detailed stories
Sometimes when a person is late, doesn't show up at all, or screws up in some other way, they'll try to justify their mistake with an elaborate story. The classic bad liar's trick is to fill the story with so much detail that it will sound utterly real. Though of course, when we're telling the truth, most of us don't include that much detail unless it's really necessary.
A liar might recall exactly what time something happened, when it's not relevant, or add in odd specifics about what people were wearing, etc. If you feel like you're hearing a bunch of unnecessary minutiae, step back and check whether the whole thing is an excuse.
4. Avoiding the word "I"
Apparently liars don't like to place themselves in the center of their invented stories. That would feel too weird for them, so a lot of them avoid using the word "I" which brings more responsibility with it. To avoid having a share in the liability, they'll say "we" or simply "she" and "he."
A study from the University of Texas had researchers analyzing written narratives and they discovered that people who were lying not only used the word "I" less often, they also steered clear of exemptive words such as "but" and "except." The study noted that liars tended to use words more often that were associated with negative emotions, like "hate," "worthless," "sad," and "angry."
5. Excess defensiveness and suspicion
If you question a liar's story, chances are they'll defend it with everything they've got. They'll justify their actions and try to make it clear that they have always been right — sometimes even when you don't call them into question. When they're defensive without even having been attacked, it's a strong sign that they're anxious about being found out and preemptively angry that someone could see through them.
The flip side of a liar's defensiveness is being suspicious without reason. It's common, for instance, for a cheating spouse to accuse the cheated-on spouse of cheating. As if a liar expects other people to be doing the same thing they're doing. Or perhaps, they want to keep other people on the defensive to evade — yep, that again — the real conflict and their own responsibility.
It's important to note that not everyone who shows the above five qualities in a conversation is a liar! It's essential to pay attention to whether there are other pieces of the puzzle that don't fit together and whether you notice it happening more often. And of course, listen to your gut...
When you get the feeling that someone close to you isn't actually trustworthy, try taking a step back and observing the whole picture. It's painful to realize you've been lied to, when that's what is happening, but it's very stressful to be around a liar and it will take a real toll on your own sense of reality — your ability to trust yourself.
So get some distance and be honest with yourself about what you need to do! Honesty and trust are the absolute most important building blocks of our relationships!