Strange as it may sound, people are not always in touch with things that might seem very obvious to an impartial observer. I’m not talking about denial, a willful refutation of observable facts, but of obliviousness. Everyone has different levels of awareness, internally, externally and psychologically. It’s all too easy to assume someone is consciously lying or denying when in fact it might truly be a lack of awareness.
On the other hand, there are times when people consciously choose to not tell their therapist the truth, or the whole truth. There are good reasons why people lie to their therapist and different kinds of lies. Lies of omission that don’t tell the full story, and lies that purposely distract from the truth. Both have short-term healthy unconscious motivations of self-protection from feeling too vulnerable, embarrassed about something, or having to deal with an issue they’re simply not ready to approach.
Of course, there are times when one lies to a therapist because they don’t yet trust them or they don’t trust anybody. Usually, this makes a lot of sense. Their experience is that people are unreliable, unpredictable, disloyal and will betray their confidence or use it against them.
As they spin a story, another part of them is aware this is unhelpful, but the deeper goal of protecting vulnerable child parts inside is paramount. The good news is, in time, therapy with a trustworthy person in a safe space allows the gradual unfolding of one’s truth.
With greater safety it’s possible to look at someone’s lying as an amazing opportunity to discover how it actually protected them by keeping boundaries until they felt safe to speak more freely.
Here’s an example:
Someone whose drinking is problematic tells their therapist they are drinking less, or not at all. On the face of it, it looks as if this is incredibly unhelpful to them; yet, what would feel far worse would be vulnerability to possible criticism or feeling shame.
At first glance it defies logic. Somebody pays for therapy, takes the time to go, and sabotages it. But are they sabotaging it? No, they are simply going at a pace that feels comfortable to them.
Many years ago, therapists and researchers spent a lot of time looking into what they called resistance. Now, most counselors understand there is no active resistance, just self protection and fear.
We all have a multiplicity of parts and sometimes they get polarized. One part may want to get sober and another part wants to protect that vulnerable child inside from getting hurt. The good news is, these parts can learn to talk to each other and recognize that they want the same thing: peace in the valley. Peace from craving and aversion. Peace from knowing that the person they are now is truly capable of taking good care of themself in ways that are different from how they did it in the past. These new ways ultimately feel much safer and compassionate. In the meantime, until someone is ready, it may be safer to only tell part of the story.
Clearly, it’s crucial to have a therapist who understands your lying has nothing to do with them and is necessary as long as it’s necessary. When you feel safe enough you will be more forthcoming. Until then, it’s really crucial to be kind to yourself when you notice you lied to your therapist. This never makes you a bad person, just someone doing the very best they can to feel safe.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang