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Like House famously and frequently said, “Everybody lies.”
Not only are most of us guilty in affirming this statement, most of us have a dysfunctional relationship with our lies, which keeps us away from the lives we wish we had.
One of the underlying causes is that most of us have tremendous difficulties dealing with our negative emotions in a healthy way. But how could we not? Therapy doesn’t come free or accessible—worse, in some cultures (including our own), it comes with stigma.
Most of us are not given the tools to properly deal with our negative emotions, so how do we learn? And what do we learn?
We learn best from what we see around us, and what we see around us is mostly wounded people in distraction, destruction, and avoidance, occasionally applying Band-Aids to cover up, all the while convincing themselves to carry on. I have been one of these people, and I have known people still carrying on this way well into their 40s, 50s, and even 60s.
Losing who we are and becoming a vessel of the energies around us is, sadly, a trajectory that most of us will take at some point in our lives, men and women alike, though we process and project these experiences differently. Jane Fonda admits (in her most recent Vogue interview) that only after 80 did she stop living a double-exposed life. I am fortunate to have turned around at 29.
However long we stay on this path is however much of life we will have wasted, but if we are able to take in the lessons our darker experiences have taught us, and stop carrying our life further down this dead-end road, then nothing is truly wasted. Oftentimes, these lessons are not obvious. Particularly in the screened culture we live in, the easiest way out is to be distracted. But distractions don’t offer a real “out,” they just sink us deeper.
We are meant for more. We are meant to blossom and thrive and even light up those around us. But we can’t give what we don’t have. We can’t be of any service to those around us if we are perpetuating unprocessed pain. Anger and dissociation are the easiest choices, and ones I’ve chosen many times.
As I’ve spent the last 15 months mostly by myself, disconnected from social platforms, confronting and reckoning with darkness every single day, I’ve learned the following lessons, which I hope will help you find the courage to turn around and light up sooner.
The opposite of lies isn’t truth; the opposite of lies is bravery.
When we think that truth must be in the opposite direction to where our lies are, we are mistaken. They are not opposites; they are located in the same place, at different depths.
The juxtaposition of lies and truths as opposites and mutually exclusive in nature is a misdiagnosis of the most common pain of all. Consequently, not only do we hurt more, but we are further away from the real truths that are actually displaced and masked in the lies we tell. To address the root causes of why we lie, instead of looking away, we should be digging deeper.
To help us switch from a path of disempowerment to empowerment, we must first figure out, where are our pain points? Where do we hurt the most? What can we not speak about?
Recently, I had the honour of meeting Deepa, author of Chup: Breaking the Silence about India’s Women. She told me that the most chilling finding, as she wrote her book, was that women were forced to learn how to disappear over time. That their coming of age stories weren’t ones of empowerment, but a slow and steady process of being diminished and reduced, so that they didn’t take up space or decibels. What does this teach us? That our truths cannot be valued, so we start to erase ourselves.
Our lies give us access to the person we wish we were or could be.
As early as episode one of season one of “Mr. Robot,” Sam Esmail writes, “I’m not saying anything new. We all know why we do this, not because the Hunger Games books make us happy but because we want to be sedated. Because it’s painful not to pretend, because we’re cowards.”
Because the truth is too painful.
Most of us struggle with thinking that we are not enough. Our survival instinct is to reach out to whatever offers most comfort, and most of the time, truth does not offer comfort. Consequently, we make up the difference by lying.
Sometimes, these embellishments are to impress others. Other times, these lies are to soothe ourselves from the pain that comes with secrets and failings, from the trivial to unmentionable. Almost always, these lies build an illusory sense of self and, therefore, placement in and relation to the world we live in.
We are often told to, “fake it until you make it,” and some of us eventually make it, but that isn’t the only output from following this mantra. A lot of us end up stuck just faking it, while others develop imposter syndrome. “Making it” is the bull’s-eye—but there’s a million other places we often land and injure ourselves. What are those places? We don’t ever share those stories, the more common ones.
Our lies are a function of the shame we carry.
This is because our deepest truths—truths laced with shame—are not always comfortable. But being punished for the lies we tell doesn’t bring us closer to the truths we seek.
If truths are shamed into lies, more shame will only bury us deeper. It’s easy to say that “the truth will set you free”—of course, we all want the truth and I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t want to be free—but has anyone looked closely at what is actually shackling us? Because it’s not lies, it’s shame. It’s shame that make things unmentionable, whether it be lies, secrets, failures, or regrets.
So to say that truth will set us free, we must ask: has shame been addressed or handled in any way? We simply cannot arrive at truth without addressing the shame factor.
Our lies always protect someone.
But who is this? Sometimes, it’s ourselves. A lot of the times, it’s other people. And how often have we realized only too late that we protected the wrong people? Because those who truly love us should be able to accept and withstand whatever hell our truths may unlock.
I have been both the recipient and giver of such lies, so I understand the excruciating pain and paralyzing fears on both sides. For a long time, I chose to lie to circumvent both dealing with pain and affecting it onto others. It’s easy for us to choose the path of least conflict, but it’s difficult to accept or reconcile what deception leaves us with.
No one can grow or evolve without nourishment, and lies may offer temporary comfort, but nourish us, they do not. Conversely, lies both feed into and result from deprivation. It’s worth challenging ourselves to take a closer look at who it is we are protecting, and for what reason we are withholding our truths. What is stopping us from being our most vulnerable selves?
Our lies indicate that we are still living in fear, that we don’t feel safe enough to speak our truths.
It takes real courage, strength, and bravery to be honest, and common social dynamics simply aren’t set up to offer us this safe space we need. In the absence of safety, when we don’t default to lies, we default to silence, both of which keep us injured and endangered. Because fear and silence are the easiest ways to live, and we are all more cowardly than we wish we weren’t.
We can accept that there is truth in fiction, and often more in fiction than in real life, so why can’t we have some degree of compassion in treating the lies we tell? In Meisner class, we are taught that “theatre is a safe place to do the things that are unsafe to do in real life.” Most of theatre’s content comes from real life problems, the satisfaction is that these problems actually get resolved on stage. How fascinating to think that during the brief hour or two, fundamental questions get answered—the same questions and problems most of us carry for years, if not decades.
Yet, after the show is over, how many of us decide to live courageously? Sadly, not even the actors themselves who fooled us all. I speak from experience.
In the modern age of chaos and anxiety, the only certainty is that we have all become better liars. We stray further away from happiness as we perpetuate the very misinformation we fight, and distract ourselves with fiction that gives us temporary escape and comfort.
We never truly resolve the fundamental questions that plague us, leading to common deathbed regrets, as well as what we perceive to be unmentionable failings and secrets that are strangely commonplace.
There is a crowd of self-help books pushing us to figure out our truths and dreams, but perhaps the way to the answers we seek are within the lies we tell, in the darkness of shame. What if we explored the very common lies we tell through a lens of compassion as opposed to the common disgrace and punitive default? The above all offer points of entry to this.
Fellini once said that a different language presents a different vision of the world. Our lies are a synthesized language of behavior and words, and ultimately act as a vessel to give us access to the person we wish we were, or the circumstances we wish we had. By looking at the world through the language of our lies, we are highlighting our blind spots.
The retelling of our lies strengthens only the mythology of our imagined realities, and the mirage in the desert, leaving us thirstier than ever before. Only by recognizing the functions of our lies, are we able to assess what we are missing in real life, so we can replace our lies with content that is nourishing instead of depriving.
To know ourselves is to know our lies. What we cannot talk about will always have power over us. While truths are not the opposite of lies, a rich life is the opposite of a life of depravity, the latter of which is the only destination our lies are ever able to afford.