My Father died when I was just 15 from a heart attack. The reason why he died is because he lied about taking his heart medication in order to allow my mother to get to church on time. He was driving at the time and a few minutes after the lie, he had a massive heart attack and swerved into oncoming traffic killing both he and my Mother. I spent nearly two weeks in the hospital, but eventually recovered almost 100%. Ever since this incident nearly 30 years ago, I’ve not been able to knowingly tell a lie. I can be sarcastic and jokingly tell stories, but never an outright lie. I’ve been in denial about this problem for a long time, but just recently it’s become somewhat of an issue at home. Can you tell me if there is any clinical term for my condition, and if so, what kind of treatment would you suggest. Thank you for your help.
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There is no standardized clinical label that fits exactly and only what you are describing. However, it is clear that you learned in simple, horrible, traumatic terms, what the wages of lying are: the ‘preventable’ death of those who are closest to you, extended hospitalization and rehabilitation, etc. You are describing a clear trauma, and it is entirely possible that you were traumatized and are suffering some spectrum form of the aftermath of trauma (which in severe cases is diagnosed as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD). How could the massive life-changing circumstances surrounding your parent’s death not have made a permanent impression on you? Given the severity of your lesson, it is completely understandable that you would never lie again. How could you risk it?
The thing is – there is a difference between your father’s sort of lie and its massive horrible consequences, and the normal everyday and relatively harmless sort of ‘white’ lying that people do to get along with one another. For example, it is common practice for someone you don’t know very well to greet you by asking, “How are you doing?”. This “How are you doing?” is, in fact, not a question, but rather is equivalent to “Hello”. The expected answer to “How are you doing?” is “Fine, and you?”. If you aren’t fine, it doesn’t make any difference. You are still expected to answer with “Fine”. Saying you are fine when you are not is a white lie – something that misrepresents the truth, but preserves social interactions. Another good example, is when a woman asks you if you think she is over-weight. It doesn’t matter if you do think she is over-weight; if you say that she is, you’ve given the wrong answer. Most of the time, the question is not really, “Am I over-weight?”, but rather, “Will you support me?”. Like ‘em or not, white lies are necessary to the proper functioning of society, and the proper functioning of individuals in society. If you aren’t capable of ‘white’ lies, you aren’t functioning well in society. And there is an important difference in the consequences of white lies versus your father’s sort of lie – white lies usually function preserve relationships (though they don’t do much for intimacy), while your father’s sort of lie broke relationships down. It is important to know the difference between relationship-preserving, and relationship-destroying sorts of lies, and to know when each are appropriate/inappropriate.
I’d argue that it is important for you to learn more about lying – so that you can better understand where other people are coming from, and so that you can better function in relationships. Hear me clearly here – I’m not suggesting that you ever lie in an irresponsible way that will harm others or yourself. But I am suggesting that you explore and work to overcome your reticence to lie at all. I’d also seek council on your journey towards resolution – from a qualified psychotherapist and/or from an ethical leader you respect and admire. If you go the professional route with your treatment, seek a consultation with a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker who has experience treating PTSD and trauma.