According to a recent study, 1 in 6 Americans are on some sort of psychiatric drug—mainly antidepressants. The statistic alone is depressing. But what if our unhappiness epidemic has way more to do with us than we know (or are willing to admit)? What if one of the reasons we don’t sleep so soundly, toss and turn at night, grind our teeth, or need that cookie, drink or pill is from the anxiety that comes from managing all we’re not saying (or rather, lying about)?

Maybe it’s us

Yes, I’m calling us liars. We were practically born liars. The minute we figured out how to talk, we knew how to lie. No one had to teach us—whether it was lying to get out of trouble or get another cookie from Dad when Mom already said no.

Obviously, lying isn’t something any of us are particularly proud of. It’s why we hide the fact that we lie in the first place. And not only do we hide our lying, but we also spend an inordinate amount of time trying to justify it, defend it, and/or blame it on anything else other than our own sneaky and cowardly selves.

But not to worry. We are not alone.

In a study by Robert P. Lanza, M.D., James Starr and B.F. Skinner, Ph.D.,  (University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University), two pigeons were taught to use symbols to communicate information about hidden colors to each other. When reporting red was more generously reinforced than reporting yellow or green, both birds passed through a period in which they “lied” by reporting another color as red.

So you see, even pigeons lie for a “cookie.”

We’re trained early on to know that when we don’t do what we said we’d do or when we’re caught doing something that is frowned upon (like allegedly cutting up all your—OK,  my—mother’s favorite Pucci scarves to make clothes for your Barbie), so long as we feel terrible, look sad and say we’re sorry (whether we mean it or not), we’re decent people. Even as adults, most of us still think that as long as we feel guilty and have a justifiable excuse for our actions, then we’re doing OK. But here’s a question for you: Does feeling guilty, so long as we have an acceptable excuse, really make us a decent human? Or does it make us, more accurately and simply, well-intended liars?

What do you think?

Worse than just feeling guilty or justified or sincerely having meant well, lying also has other repercussions. It has gotten us into a bit of a bind. The real reason we do not and cannot fully believe in ourselves and our dreams is because out in the real world, we are not fully being ourselves. We have wrapped ourselves pretty darn tight in the pretense of who we want people to think we are.

Even worse, lying affects our health

In a study by Anita Kelly, Ph.D., and Lijuan Wang, Ph.D., (University of Notre Dame), titled “A Life Without Lies: How Living Honestly Can Affect Health,” they found that Americans average about 11 lies per week. In the study of 110 people over 10 weeks, when half the participants stopped telling major and minor lies, their health significantly improved.

Some of lying’s other side effects include the following:

  • Secrets create reality. The act of keeping and hiding a secret is what gives it weight and credence. We hide it because we want it to go away, but that is exactly what causes the opposite result.
  • Secrets hide the real you. If you hold onto secrets long enough and insulate yourself with them, in a sense, you become your secrets.
  • Secrets manifest problems elsewhere.
  • Secrets isolate you.

Building a relationship on a foundation of secrecy and lies is like building a house directly on sand. You cannot sustain deep connections with people who only get to see the carefully edited “you.” When you don’t say what you think, people don’t know you. You never feel fully loved for who you really are.

Learning to tell the truth

So how do we do it? How do we speak the truth when our species is seemingly hard-wired for lying?

Learning to tell the truth is an art. If you can start to see and feel the difference between who you are being when you are honest and who you are being when you are not, you can bridge the gap. In order to have true love, intimacy and real connections, we must not only lighten up about our dark side (our inner liar), but we also must have honest conversations about the hard stuff.

Transparency, what we all aim for, is sharing the real you—unfiltered and unrehearsed. When you are being fully transparent, everyone in your life gets to know the real, unedited you. And you feel totally alive.

After 20-plus years of coaching and thousands of clients later, I can’t tell you how many people, once they cleaned up their lie list and had tough conversations to resolve the big ones, felt a real relief of depression symptoms.

It seems that the age-old saying “the truth shall set you free” is age-old for good reason.

If I was going to radically change the world, I’d eradicate lying. Everyone has a list. Make yours. Some are easy to fix and some are not. Know your brand. Pick the one brand you are going to eradicate. Proudly tell on yourself and rat out (scientific term) how you do it. Have the hard conversation. (Food for thought: What if the conversations are only really “hard” because you haven’t had them yet?)

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Photo credit: Alex Holyoake, Unsplash