How to Stop Telling Lies When You Live with Social Anxiety
You might not realize it, but social anxiety and lying tend to go hand-in-hand. Stop and think about the last time you told a little white lie. It probably didn’t seem like that big of a deal and you might not have even realized you were doing it. The thing is, if you live with social anxiety, lying may be a part of your life that contributes to your anxiety—without you even realizing it.
Why Do People with Social Anxiety Lie?
Let’s consider the main reasons why social anxiety and lying are linked. We’re not talking about earth-shattering lies in this case; more likely, little lies are woven throughout your day that affect what you do.
There are five main reasons why social anxiety and lying tend to go together:
To Avoid Feelings of Shame
How many times have you told a lie because you were ashamed to admit something, wanted to impress someone, were scared of being judged, or didn’t understand something (but didn’t want to admit it)? If so, you’ve lied because of feelings of shame. These types of lies are rooted in feeling not good enough and needing to cover that up somehow.
Perhaps you are ashamed of your job or the fact that you’ve dropped out of school, so you lie or embellish a little to make yourself appear more successful or like less of a screw-up (your words in your head, not mine). Maybe there is something about you that you keep hidden (for example, your sexuality) for fear of judgment from others.
To Avoid Punishment
Sometimes, social anxiety and lying are linked because we lie to avoid punishment or out of fear. Go back to your childhood and think about a time that you lied about something so that you wouldn’t be punished. As a teen or adult with social anxiety, you might lie out of fear someone will be angry with what you have to say. If the truth is uncomfortable or could lead to consequences, you might avoid it.
To Fit In
The third way social anxiety and lying are linked is when you lie to fit in. This often takes the form of agreeing with things you don’t really agree with or pretending to like something that you don’t really like. While sometimes this is okay (such as eating a food you are not crazy about so as not to hurt someone’s feelings), doing it all the time amounts to lying—to yourself and to others.
To Get Out of Doing Things
How many times have you pretended to be sick to get out of doing something? Or not answered the phone and then said: “Oh sorry, I missed your call” by text or email?
If you’ve lied to avoid doing something, you might have experienced the repercussions—people start to get suspicious over time if you keep doing it. Then you have to cover up your lies with more lies, and eventually, you find yourself in over your head.
To Hide Your Anxiety
This is a big one for people living with social anxiety. How often have you lied to hide your anxiety symptoms? Or simply not acknowledged how you are feeling?
This is the toughest lie to break because inherently your worst fear is that others will notice your anxiety, but at the same time, lying and covering it up is what magnifies it in your mind. If you could acknowledge it a little, it might not grow and feed off of the secrecy.
What Happens If You Stop Lying?
If you’ve been lying about things for a long time, you might not know what it would be like to stop. But if you stopped telling lies, what would probably happen is that you would be forced to solve problems. If you really are ashamed of something for a valid reason, then you might find a way to fix it. In this way, lying holds you back from improving your life.
When Is Lying Justified?
On the other hand, there might be times when lying is justified. Lying so that you don’t hurt people is one case in which you might be able to justify the lie. You don’t need to be brutally honest with everyone if it hurts their feelings; there are cases where white lies are the best option.
You also don’t need to explain your anxiety to people who don’t want to understand or who will never try to understand. Not do you need to explain a panic attack or anxiety symptoms when you are in the middle of it; it’s fine to just say you are not feeling well, particularly if people don’t know you have anxiety. When anxiety is running high is not the time to try and explain yourself.
How Do You Stop Lying?
If you recognize that you engage in one of the five types of lying, you might wonder how you can move past it to get to a more authentic life and version of yourself.
The first step is to figure out WHY you are lying. You can do this by being alert to what you say and picking up on the lies. Over time, you can recognize when you tend to lie and train yourself not to do it.
If you tend to lie out of fear, think of other ways to manage your fear in those situations. Research tells us that anxiety increases our threat perception, meaning that when you are anxious in a social situation, you are more likely to perceive others as judgmental and angry.
Before you go into a social situation that you know will put you at risk for lying, do everything you can to reduce your anxiety. This might mean practicing meditation, challenging your thought distortions, and simple things like coming up with answers to questions that usually make you squirm. You could also practice saying positive affirmations to help reduce your feelings of anxiety.
In the following video, social psychologist Amy Cuddy describes the best way to use positive affirmations to reduce your anxiety in social situations.
But Why Is Lying So Bad?
If you’ve relied on lying to reduce your feelings of shame, to fit in, or to get out of doing things, it might feel like a safe strategy for you. It can be hard to let go of a safety net.
Let’s consider what lying might be COSTING you so that you can start to weigh the benefits and drawbacks.
Below are some ways that lying affects you in a negative way.
- Lying gives weight to your secret. Something that might not have been a big deal all of a sudden takes on much more importance.
- Lying takes a toll on your mental health, makes your anxiety worse, and can interfere with your sleep.
- Lying makes it hard for people to get to know the real you.
- Lying makes you worry about getting caught up in your lies.
- Lying makes you feel isolated.
- Lying makes it hard for others to trust you.
- Lying can make you feel insecure and worsen low self-esteem.
On the other hand, what can you gain from not lying? It feels good to be totally transparent.
Think of a time in your life when you were with someone with whom you felt you could be totally yourself. Wasn’t that a freeing feeling? That’s the feeling you want to achieve more often. When you get there, you will be able to feel more present in your life, less stressed, and better able to solve the problems that hold you back.