Lying and Compulsions | Counseling | Therapy

Lying and Compulsions

Richard (Rick) Snyderman , LPC, CADC, CSAT, NCC — Therapist, director of group therapy

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Although someone with a compulsion / dependence problem or their loved one may not want to admit it, lying and compulsions / dependence go together. This is especially true when the compulsions / dependence is still active. When you really think about it closely and non-judgmentally, this is not surprising especially given the societal stigma that often plagues people who are dependent. It is when we come to understand why it is so common for people with compulsions / dependence to tell lies, that we can develop a greater understanding for the various reasons this occurs. This tip will describe some of the purposes that lying and compulsions / dependence go together as well as some ways to stop lying if you are motivated to do so.

First, one of the main reasons that lying and compulsions are paired is simply due to denial. After all, if we breakdown the word “denial” into an acronym, it stands for “Don’t Even Notice I Am Lying” and I will add… myself! Yes, the compulsive person tells lies to others to hide or minimize their compulsions / dependence, but they are also lying to themselves too. Some of these intrinsic lies include the belief that the compulsion is not that bad, that it can be self-controlled, or that no one will ever find out about it. These attempts to block honesty may work some of the time, but due to the progressive nature of compulsions, it will likely not last. By the time compulsions / dependence begin to cause problems or become excessive, the lying can start to become more entrenched. Why? Because people with compulsions / dependence are not ready to give up this acquired coping skill that they grew to depend on physically or psychologically to get by and they therefore lie about it.

Second, lying and compulsions go together because of the feelings of guilt and shame that result from a person acting out on their compulsive behavior. The more progressed the compulsions becomes and the more people with compulsions engage in behaviors designed to keep the compulsion active, the higher the level of guilt and shame take over when the intoxicated behavior ceases. Despite what stereotypes are out there, people with the compulsion eventually begin to feel bad that they are engaging in it, especially if they try to quit and learn that they cannot stop on their own. The difficulty for a compulsive person to admit they cannot control their compulsion (until they are ready for recovery) will prompt lying as a way of masking the problematic effects of the compulsions and provide the illusion that they are okay. For example, the compulsive person may under-report the full extent of their use or make statements that minimize the behavior as a more serious problem such as saying “it’s only a little pot and weed will be legalized soon anyway.” The compulsive / dependent person framing their experience this way removes the motivation to do anything about it because altering the behavior is seemingly not urgent. Sometimes, the guilt and shame that results from getting into “trouble” with the behavior can become the same reason the person continues to engage in it despite the negative consequences. This is known as a repetition compulsion that serves to keep the vicious cycle going. For example, a person with problematic food behaviors may feel guilty about eating too many carbs, but then continue to eat more of them to not feel the guilt.

Third, lying about one’s compulsions can also be rationalized with the belief that the compulsive / dependent person is trying to protect their loved one or friends from feeling hurt by the continued acting out compulsive behaviors. For example, instead of the person admitting to over-spending money on non-essential things, they may lie about where the money is to not upset their partner. This rationale is often distorted because it is usually the lies that will upset people more so than the compulsion itself, especially when your family and friends already know about your problem. Ironically, it is being rigorously honest that will help you maintain sobriety as well as serve to repair trust with those who have lost faith in your true intentions to change; a win-win.

What if you are in recovery, but still tell lies? This scenario is also not uncommon because the tendency to hide behind lies has become an ingrained way to protect yourself from the negative consequences of the compulsion, or any other perceived negative behavior, and your resultant feelings about it. As mentioned above, because of the intrinsic feelings of guilt and shame, honest disclosures can often be staggered. This means that the truth sometimes comes out piece-meal rather than all at once. This serves to protect the person from perceived excessive blame and shaming by the other person often disguised by the compulsive person as a form of “protecting” their loved one from being hurt or disappointed. The longer the compulsive person holds on to lies, the longer it takes for the rebuilding of trust.

If you are committed to your health and want to work on being as honest as possible, I have listed below two techniques to help you stay accountable to being your true self.

· Arrange a 24-hour grace period with your partner. This is an arrangement that you discuss with your significant other in advance that you will commit to owning any mistruths that you may have “forgot” or “left out” within a day of an honest disclosure. As we talked about earlier in this article, staggered disclosure happens where the compulsive person sometimes struggles with disclosing the full truth all at once because of shame, guilt, and/or conflict-avoidance. By having this arrangement, it allows you an opportunity to clear up anything that may have been left out without fearing a set-back in your effort to rebuild trust. However, if you do not come back within a day to clarify anything missed, then your loved one can feel more assured that the information they heard was the complete truth as you know it without them having to keep asking for reassurance.

· Begin an honesty journal. Buy a small notebook or journal where you will write on a nightly basis any situations that you felt like lying about, did lie about, the repercussions (if any) about the mistruth, and how you plan to repair whatever consequences may have resulted. By writing out any situations or experiences where you were not completely honest, whether it be related to the compulsions or anything else, allows you to maintain the accountability you need to keep information on a more accurate level. It will also be beneficial for you to include what your feelings were behind the mistruth as well as the reasons for the rationale you picked to cover it up. All of this information will be helpful in identifying underlying thought patterns and emotions so you know what to further work on in your journey. This journal also proves your motivation in wanting to make a change and be more truthful to yourself and those you care about.

In conclusion, the message I hope you receive from this article is that lying and compulsions seem to go together for many reasons that were explained. By making a greater effort to be honest about your compulsive behavior, the more likely your sobriety will stick and the quicker your loved ones and friends will learn to regain their trust in you. If you need further help with this process, feel free to schedule an appointment at

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