How Does Lying Affect Your Mental Health? 10 Surprising Effects Of Telling White Lies
It's easy to see why lying might have some damaging effects on your life, since lies are sneaky, malicious, and often hurt others. But did you know telling white lies can have an impact, too? While they might not carry the same weight as a major lie, these smaller fibs still add up — and can even have an affect on your mental health, over time.
"By nature of telling a lie, you are keeping a secret," therapist Leah K. Barison, LPCC tells Bustle. "While we often keep secrets to push something away, the act of concealing in fact gives weight and power to a secret. Think of a time when you told a white lie; did the thing you were hiding seem to grow bigger, scarier, and become more real? This effect can transform a white lie into an uncomfortable, consuming experience." And that's why, even when it comes to telling little, tiny fibs, they can still take a toll on your mental health.
While there are some instances where it might be OK to tell a white lie — and all of us tell a few silly ones, daily — the truth is usually the way to go. "Transparency feels good," Barison says. "When you practice honesty and drop the tendency to edit and censor, you can be more present in your life." And, if you make an effort to figure out why you're lying — possibly by talking to your friends, or a therapist — you really can free up your brain. Here are a few surprising ways white lies can impact your mental health.
1. They Can Wear You Out Emotionally
While they may not feel like a big deal in the moment, "the problem with white lies is that they require maintenance," therapist Kryss Shane, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW tells Bustle. If you tell a small white lie once, you then have to remember what you said, in order to maintain the story.
And so on and so forth from there. "This can feel like an exhausting charade, especially if you've told one white lie to each person in your life and those people come together for your birthday," Shane says. If it's something insignificant, it may not snowball, but if you know this information will come up again, it may be best to just stick with the truth.
2. They Keep You From Addressing The Real Issue
When telling white lies, it's important to ask yourself why you're doing it, because, whether you can admit this to yourself or not, Shane says white lies are almost always a way of covering up a deeper truth.
Instead of focusing on the real issue, being honest with loved ones, or uncovering a few truths in therapy, white lies have a way of piling more problems onto your plate. And that can, for obvious reasons, make the situation much worse.
3. They Can Take A Toll On Your Friendships
Going off of that, it's important to remember that white lies may feel like they're preserving your relationships. But in reality, they might actually be doing the opposite.
"Each lie only further separates people's understanding of who they think you are from who you actually are," Shane says. If you do not feel comfortable talking about something, that is completely OK. But if you are hiding something from your loved ones, and it's impacting your relationship, it can feel alienating.
4. They Can Lead To Anxiety
With all the maintenance and coverups going on, it's no wonder white lies can create a sense of anxiety. And, "if you worry about being caught, this can lead to feelings of panic," therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW tells Bustle.
The funny thing is, we often tell white lies in order to prevent feelings of anxiety. So recognizing that they can actually make anxiety worse is a good thing to keep in mind.
5. You Might Start To Feel Isolated
Instead of simply relaxing and going about your life, white lies demand that you keep a constant running list of who knows what, and what you said to whom. And that can be incredibly isolating.
"If you are having trouble remembering your stories and keeping things straight you may find the need to hold back from engaging with others," Hershenson says. After all, it may be easier to chill by yourself, then to go out and risk getting caught up in a lie. If you find this is the case, setting the record straight may be your best bet.
6. They Can Affect Your Sleep
Again, due to all the anxiety involved, little white lies may even start to keep you awake at night. As Hershenson says, you might "find yourself having sleep issues due to worrying about keeping your story straight or hurting others." And, on top of leaving you feeling tired and groggy, the lack of sleep can actually make other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, much worse. Speaking with loved ones or a therapist can help to alleviate these symptoms, as well as help you uncover the root of why you are telling these lies.
7. They Can Create Trust Issues
Whether or not people find out that you're lying is besides the point. By simply telling white lies, you're already creating trust issues with yourself, and with others.
"When we lie, whether we are conscious of it or not, we send a the message, to ourselves and to other person, that neither is capable of handling the feelings that accompany truth," licensed psychologist Dr. Jill Gross tells Bustle. "The net result of this is that we start to trust ourselves less and trust others less as well."
8. They Can Create A Sense Of Insecurity
Telling a few white lies can also have a way of making you feel insecure.
Here's why it happens. "Since trust and safety go hand-in-hand, the net effect of telling white lies, over time, is a deep sense of fear and insecurity that permeates all of our relationships — professional, platonic, and romantic," Gross says. "In short, when we tell white lies, we are more likely to feel insecure."
9. They Lower Your Self-Esteem
Again, telling a tiny white lie in order to keep someone happy — such as saying you love the food your friend cooked for you — is perfectly OK. But if you're covering up something essential to yourself, or are lying because you can't address the truth, it can have a negative impact.
"Habitually lying can snowball into a personality trait and because you know you aren't able to be honest, you can start to think less of yourself," licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Racine Henry, PhD, LMFT tells Bustle. "The guilt of misleading others can eventually cause you to second guess the kind of person you are." And that's probably not worth it.
10. They Can Lead You To Feel Misunderstood
In order for people to treat you the way you'd like to be treated, and in order for people to "get you," you kind of need to be honest. So don't be surprised if, after telling a white lie, you feel misunderstood.
"By telling little white lies, you could give others a false impression of who you are and what you are going through," Henry says. "If you lie to your friends, boss, etc. about how much you can handle or your own emotional health, they could falsely assume that piling more on you or having higher expectations of you is acceptable. Then, when you can't deliver or fall short, they have little to no empathy and/or can take your failures personally." And that can lead to a vicious cycle.
So definitely think about why you want to tell a white lie, as well as the impact it might have if you do. Save for a few rare occasions, it's almost always better to tell the truth.