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The Cost of Lying

Consider the real cost of lying.  It’s not what you may think.  It’s not about people catching you, finding out that you’re lying.  It’s not the cost to your reputation when you do get caught.  It’s not about other people getting mad at you if they catch you.


If the above happens, it means you’re not skilled enough at the tactics of lying.  You can always get better.  You can always lie very strategically in a way that tremendously minimizes the likelihood of getting caught.

That’s the kind of lies I used to engage in growing up.

When I was 19, instead of spending the summer at the beach with my father as usual, I instead stayed at my mother’s house.  My objective was to get a summer job and save up money for college.

I didn’t get hired in the first couple of weeks, so I entered into an agreement to work for my stepfather.  After a week or two, that didn’t work out, so I ended up just not working for the rest of the summer.  When I went to visit my father at the end of the summer for a week or two, he asked me:

“How was work?  Where did you work?”.

I instantly made up a lie.  A big lie.  I told him I spent the summer working at the first place I applied (which had rejected me), and that it went well.

He said “Good.  I want to reward you for working during your summer, so here’s an extra $500 cash”.

I accepted it.  He never found out I lied.  (well, until I decided I should probably tell him about it when I put this blog post up 🙂 )

So, what’s the cost of lying?

After all, I got $500 for lying.  It was totally unexpected, but I still benefited from it.  I also generated some “good” feelings in my father since he was proud I worked, and I avoided “bad” feelings for myself by lying – as I avoided being criticized by my father.  I also avoided seeing my father disappointed in me.

Giving all of these wonderful benefits, what’s the real deep cost of lying?

The truth is that lying:

1)  Damages our self-worth, our self-respect, and how we see ourselves.  This severely limits our life.
2)  Damages others by disempowering, and weakening them.

How Lying Impacts Us

How do we feel toward others who lie to us?  Do we tend to feel a sense of disgust, dislike or disrespect toward them?   How does our society view liars?

Whatever feelings we have toward those who lie to us – we actually have the same feelings toward ourselves when we lie.  When we look in the mirror – the person in the mirror knows exactly what we did.   Even if no one else knows, we know it.  Our subconscious knows it.  And we feel the same toward ourselves as we do toward others who lie to us.

Lying sends this powerful message to our subconscious:  “I’m not good enough to tell the truth.”.  That impacts our self-esteem, our self-respect, and our feelings about our integrity.

Do that repeatedly, and the damage to the self-esteem keeps on piling on.  Our sense of integrity weakens, and we know it, if not consciously, then deep down subconsciously.

So what you might ask?  The result, when our self-respect is lower, we treat ourselves worst.  Our lives become harder.  We suffer more.  We don’t feel good about ourselves.  We’re not at peace.

That’s the real cost of lying.  The devastating inside damage we do to ourselves.

When I lied to my father about my summer, I was actually communicating to myself that I wasn’t good enough to tell my father the truth, that I needed to be ashamed at how I didn’t achieve my summer’s objective, and that I wasn’t brave and courageous enough to tell the truth.

I didn’t know at the time the cost I was paying for that lie.   Yet, I still had to pay it with that hit on my self-respect, my self-worth, and my integrity.

Looking back, that certainly wasn’t worth the $500.

How Lying Impacts Others

When we lie to others, even when we try to “spare” other people’s feelings (ie, so-called “white lies”), we disempower and weaken others.  It’s also a form of saying “You’re not good enough to handle the truth, so I’m going to lie to you.”.

When we tell a lie to others,  we may get the temporary benefit of the other person not being (temporarily) hurt.  But the long term result is that they don’t get empowered to make real decisions based on the truth.  They get more falsehoods thrown at them, and they’ll continue making decisions based on falsehoods.  Thus yielding worst results.  That makes their lives harder, not easier, and ends up weakening them.

Human beings are so much stronger and capable of taking on than what we give them credit for.  Yes, the truth can temporarily sting,  but lies do much more damage long term.  By telling people the truth, we empower them to make better decisions and come up with better realizations.  By being honest with people, we also communicate to them “I respect you.  You’re good enough to hear the truth from me, and I know you’re strong enough to take the temporary sting that comes with it.”.

It doesn’t matter if our loved ones never find out we lied to them, they must still pay the cost of our lies.

Moving Forward

Thus, lying always has a cost – both to ourselves – even if we aren’t aware of the cost, and to others, even if others aren’t aware we lied to them.

Now, there certainly are benefits to lying, which is why we’ve almost all engaged in it at one time or another.  However, when we look closely, in almost all cases, those costs are way higher than the benefits.  I can only think of a handful of cases though when the benefit to lying is higher than the cost.  One example:  If a madman asks me where my sister is because he wants to go kill her right away, the benefit for me to lie to him would definitely outweigh whatever cost there is.  These cases are rare, but they can and do happen.

Knowing that lying brings a tremendous cost to us in the long run is something I’ve found to be tremendously powerful in helping me express the truth – especially when that truth is hard and scary to say.  The next time I found myself unemployed, I told my Dad the truth.  That way, neither he nor I had to pay the price of me lying.  And that has made all the difference in the world for me.

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