Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

When Is a Lie an Act of Love?

Experiments have found that ordinary people tell about two lies every ten minutes. I don’t see how that’s possible, as I’ve been alone the last hour writing this piece (oh dear, am I making it up as I go along?). However, the half-hour before that, I averaged about fifteen per minute.
“What are you eating, Mom?” (I’m shoving chocolate-dipped macaroons into my mouth at an ugly pace)
“Carrots, want some?”
Robert Feldman, a social psychologist at the University of Massachusetts found that liars tend to be more popular than honest people (think politics). Because social skills involve telling people what they want to hear (things that aren’t, um, true). The more social grace a person possesses, experiments say, the more willingness and ability he has to deceive.
But some lies are meant as acts of love. Truly. Parents lie to protect their kids from distressing or harmful facts (your uncle crosses his eyes because of a vision impairment…not because he’s a sloppy drunk; daddy went on a business trip…not down the road to a hotel because we can’t figure out whether or not to divorce).


Ever since I got summoned to jury duty awhile ago, I’ve been paying attention to lies. More than a few people said to me, “Just say something racist. You’ll get out of it.”
Um. Yeah. I could do that. But I have something inside me called a Catholic conscience. My conscience makes a dinging sound every time I approach the danger zone: where my depression is hovering like a hawk to feast on all the guilt (and I’ve given up trying to feel less guilty).
So, these are the lies my Catholic conscience condones:
Perpetuating myths of Santa, the Easter Bunny, and all kinds of fairies (Tooth, Diaper, Binky); fibbing to the kids for reasons of discipline (“Your teeth will rot if you don’t brush”), nutrition (“Mommy’s eating carrots, not frozen Kit-Kats”), health (“The shots won’t hurt”), or recreation (“Barney will make you stupid and unpopular”); deceiving for the purpose of surprise birthday parties or similar ocassions (my aunt Kay can’t even do that, God love her); “forgetting” certain details of my mental health record (when dealing with bureaucratic crap like renewing my driver’s license or background checks for a part-time job); and telling falsehoods for convenience matters (“Yes, this luggage has been with me the whole time,”…except for when the stranger next to me watched it so I could change my babies’ diapers with two hands.)
Of course there are also those forced compliments (the ugly baby dilemma): including reactions to artistic expressions by people who shouldn’t hold a paint brush or a microphone but really like to (“I love it!” I say to the novice artist who shows me a portrait of moi that resembles Michael Jackson with Hillary Swank cheek bones; “You sounded great,” I say to my sister who sings the national anthem when she gets drunk); feedback on attire (“Yes, the pants are flattering,” I say to a friend who has just bought a ridiculously expensive pair of pants which add at least ten pounds to her butt); and weight matters (“No, you don’t look heavier,” I say to a sister who has gone up at least one size).
Then there are the deceptions that set off my depression alarm: lying for a co-worker who is having an affair (can’t do it, get someone else); hiding something from Eric that he deserves to know; ignoring a pretty serious breach of trust in a friendship; denying that a friend’s statement hurt my feelings when it did; pretending I’m okay with a neighbor whom I’ve very pissed off at because he stole my babysitter.
But what do you do when the truth hurts? When “honesty bumps up against other values”? asks Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara who once conducted a study in which she asked people to recall the worst lie told them, and the worst lie they ever told. Many young people said that the worst lie was told by a parent, but DePaulo found that the parent thought that lying was the right thing to do, that they weren’t deceptions but acts of love.


Click here to subscribe to Beyond Blue and click here to follow Therese on Twitter and click here to join Group Beyond Blue, a depression support group. Now stop clicking.

  • JBird

    Great post. Something we all deal with on a daily basis. My issues are with lies of omission. My husband hid his affair from me to “protect” me (until I found out about it). Was that a lie out of love?

  • Myfanwy

    I agree with everything you just said.

  • clare

    Is that why my uncle was crosseyed? Sigh.
    Seriously great piece Therese. I think it is easy to cop out with anger at “liars of love” but it is one of those situations where we have to step into another’s shoes and say they did their best (especially with parents/protecting.)

  • RJ

    There is no such thing as lying in love. When we truly love someone, we do not need to lie. We tell the truth in loving kindness. Lying keeps reality out of the game. Fear is what keeps us from telling the truth. We fear the reactions of those around us. We fear being abandoned, we fear being fully known…. why? We dont honestly love ourselves and we feel unwanted. We end up lying to maintain relationships which maybe would end if the truth were known. Unfortunately, the ending of a relationship only solidifies our own feelings of unwantedness. As a result, we fight with everything we are worth to keep relationships that are just big games of pretend.

  • Judy

    As a recovering addict who has 7 years in a recovery program honesty comes up as a topic way to many times at mtg’s. Some people talk about cash registered honesty and that I guess is being honest in all my affairs(and I don’t mean cheating lol). I spent to many years living a lie so as much as sometimes it hurts I really do strive to be honest. I believe there is a a thin line between being brutaly honest and saving someones feelings. To me honesty isn’t all that black & white, sometimes there is some gray. So I take the stance if it is not going to hurt you or myself then okay be honest, but my motives are important. Am I being honest to hurt someone or to act like the bigger person? I also can’t take the chance of drinking or using again so am I telling a little white lie every now and then, or am I living lies that can potentialy get me loaded? Anyway just a few of my thoughts as I was reading this article.

  • Marlene Emmett

    I love the title of your column today.
    “When is a lie an Act of LOVE”?
    Don’t know if you watch HBO’s Trueblood?
    Well if you do then you’ll know that one of the main
    characters William Thomas Compton III has told lie after lie
    since he came to the fictional town of BonTemp’s LA.
    This vampire has not only lied he’s used his Southern Manners
    to win over certain people in the town.
    One being a telepathic waitress and her grandmother.
    Now I’ve watched all three seasons of the show and have read
    Charlaine Harris’s books that the show is based on.
    At first I liked William Thomas Compton III who is played by
    Englishman Stephen Moyer. Stephen’s very handsome 5’10,dark brown hair,Sapphire blue eye and in great shape for 42 years of age.
    Now I have nothing against the actor I do on the other hand despise
    his character on the show!
    Why you ask? Plain & Simple I hate liars!!
    I’ve been lied to by my parents and by my husband and my in-laws.
    When I was 18 I had an abortion. I didn’t want.
    At 24 I got married and had really wanted children.
    My husband knew this fact before we married.
    Once he told me “I want a little girl who looks like you” and I filed
    that away in my “memory banks for future use”
    I replied to him:”Well I want a son who has your eye’s”
    Five years later I reminded him of those words and he said
    well it took him 21 years to tell me he never really wanted children
    he lied to me to get me into his bed~ and I fell for it.
    Well this year’s Season Finale of True Blood had to do with a betrayal
    and I was betrayed by my parents when I was 18.
    Instead of letting me go have my child I was told I was having an
    abortion and I had no say in the decision.
    This hurt me greatly as I was the child of a women who’d become pregnant with me but chose to give me a better life by giving me up
    for adoption to a couple who couldn’t have children.
    I couldn’t understand why they did this to their only grandchild.
    It’s been 38 years and I’ll never understand it.
    This supposedly was an “Act of Love that was a LIE”
    I can’t yell at my parents anymore cause they’re dead.
    All I can do is continue to cry.

  • MC

    Great article. I agree wholeheartedly. Never lied, NEVER to my husband, my only love,my partner for 38 yrs. Perhaps I should have lied,put money away instead of working towards a future life after children. I am now divorced and it is extremely hard. Too bad co-workers fed him so much negativity, I believe because they lied more often than not…

  • Dr. Paul C. Denny Jr.

    I try to do my very est to find someone that I could love and I think I have done that . Thank You.

  • Cee

    Finally, someone with a realistic attitude about lying. I think the examples you give of the lies you can live with are very acceptable and yes, loving. You just have to use good judgement and compassion.

  • Margaret

    I hate lying. i am aware that I have told lies and rationalized them I try to bring awareness to what I am doing at all times. I acknowledge to myself that I am lying. I ask myself if I am comfortable with that. Sometimes I am, for what ever reason. I am striving to get past accepting my lies. I mostly lie to save myself embarrassment.
    I wouldn’t lie to someone about how they looked in something. That person has to go out and be seen by others. I think the truth is less humiliating. I work to say the truth in the most positive and least damaging way possible.
    When I find that someone has given me advise because that is what they thought that I wanted to hear or said that they liked something that I like because they wanted to be friends, I feel betrayed. If someone invites me to a movie and asks how I liked it, I have to say that maybe it wasn’t my kind of movie. The closer the friend, the more honest I feel I can be.
    Maybe I lack social skills. I just treat people the way that I want to be treated. I want people to be honest and direct with me.

  • Skylark

    Marlene..That was a powerful testimony. I would like to tell you
    that you may very well have saved another woman from the same sad
    mistake! Also you can find others who regret their abortion in
    the organization called Rachel’s Vineyard….and learn how to forgive yourself….and much more there. God bless you…you have recogized
    that lies abound in our culture which puts pressure on young women
    to kill their babies…and incur a life-time of guilt. I will pray
    that you will be healed of this great hurt and know how to forgive those who lied to you!

  • Lee

    Here are some alternatives to lying to a loved one:
    1. It ISN’T fibbing when you say “Your teeth will rot if you don’t brush;”
    2. health (“The shots will be uncomfortable, like when you fall stub your toe, but it doesn’t last long. Remember when you fell in the playground last week and you felt better pretty soon? This will be the same. I’m right here with you and you will handle this very well”);
    3. recreation (“Barney isn’t the kind of show that helps you grow creatively; we’ll watch something else instead”);
    4. telling falsehoods for convenience matters is the easiest and most insidious way to lie. Don’t do it.
    5. forced compliments (the ugly baby dilemma — “I love the way her hair curls up; how peaceful and content he looks; how loud she is”)
    6. reactions to artistic expressions by people who shouldn’t hold a paint brush or a microphone but really like to (there is no person who ‘shouldn’t’ hold a paintbrush if they get joy from doing it. Instead, say: I love that color blue and want to use it in my kitchen; when I look at your drawing I’m reminded of your energy and passion; tell me more about the song/poem/story you wrote)
    7. “It’s probably just me, but I don’t think those pants do you justice. I really like the gray ones you had on last week.”
    8. “You sound like you are worried about your weight/health. What’s going on?”
    When you lie, for any reason, your ‘self’ knows that who you say you are isn’t who you really are. You then begin to doubt yourself, and that is a horrible life. Except to protect life or limb, don’t lie.

  • AKA Top

    I’m with Margaret and Lee. I try to find ways to tell the truth in a softer way.
    But near the end of my marriage, I found myself telling lies to my husband. I wasn’t so much wracked with guilt as I was surprised at myself. (For example, I would say I had found no time for a task he had asked me to do, when the truth was I had forgotten. Or, I would say he was never mentioned in my conversation with my sister when the truth was that I had changed the subject rather than talk about him “behind his back.”)
    When I looked at the circumstances -even then- I recognized that they were warning signs. I was lying to protect myself from accusations and criticism. Communication had broken down to the point where I didn’t trust my ex to respond rationally to the truth, so I told lies.
    I have not been tempted to tell lies since the divorce.

  • Association Management

    As per my point of view if I counted all the minutes are staring at the flames, and I wonder just how many years that my life will be. Surely more than an hour in cleaning your teeth or comb my hair only.
    Association Management

  • Frank Jackson

    Lieing is only acceptable when as Rahab lied to allow the God’s Army to escape from the enemies city down the wall. When it is for a cause for good and helps in advancing the the Kingdom of God over Satan the great father of lies then it is justified.

  • Sense-abilitygal

    …also covered under Catholic conscience, as a matter of fact recommended for smooth, lasting marriage, not to mention self-preservation, is the time honored, traditional negative response to “does my ass look fat in these pants”.[There may even be a Vatican publication with an Imprimatur stamp on this one- -especially since having fine, fat, healthy babies is often what sends girls into “Mom-jeans”.]

  • Jules

    You’ve mentioned Catholic conscience before…I am interested in your view on that… overall has your connection with Catholicism been positive or negative? Do you feel bound by it?

  • Marlene Emmett

    Beleive it or not I’ve already did save a friend’s daughter from
    making a mistake. A close friend had a daughter who became pregnant
    and he asked me to talk to her.
    He and all of my other friends know what my abortion did to me.
    This girl went on to have a beautiful daughter.
    I feel like her godmother.
    I was never given the chance to have my child.
    I know I would give him up for adoption in hopes of oneday finding him
    And this past Summer I finally told my child’s father that I had an
    abortion~something that I kept from him for 38 years.
    But I did this out of LOVE~not hurt.
    I never wanted him to be hurt by my telling him I aborted our child.
    He says he understands my decision but wishes I had told him .

  • S. Mayberry

    I have Asperger’s Syndrome and it is pretty much physically impossible for me to lie. I can’t do it. Yes, even when the big Santa question came up (I have 3 children – now teenagers), I couldn’t lie. I asked, “What do you want to believe?” As they grew older, they realized that Santa is a part of Christmas, but he is a spirit that is shown through the kind acts of others. To this day, we are Santa for at least one family in need each Christmas (anonymously of course – otherwise it wouldn’t be Santa).
    It serves me well, the people who are close to me know that they can always depend on me for the truth, for complete honesty.
    You are right, though, my less honest friends are much more popular. :-)

  • KC

    Plain and simple. A lie is a lie is a lie…I believe it is a tool of Satan. A little one this hour, a bigger next. As brothers & sisters, we need to keep eachother “in check” on such things. I believe when we begin to excuse a little lie, we open the door to begin lying to ourselves. Stealing is stealing. Whether it’s penny candy, or of great value. A lie is a lie, whether a teeny one to ease an uncomfortable situation, or a big bomb used to serve our own purposes. I agree, unless it’s done in faith of the greater good for His Kingdom, it shouldn’t happen. Of course, I’m not saying it doesn’t happen for me, we’re all sinners! But, I do find the truth, sometimes carefully softened through grace, builds character, credibility and better relationships. It’s not always easy. My honesty reward came when i was diagnosed with breast cancer. My young children, ages 5 & 8, found great comfort in my honesty. I reminded them I have never lied to them. I assured them there was no need to worry & promised to tell them if something changed. They trusted & believed this promise necause i speak truth to them…As a result, in the 2 years since my diagnosis, we spend very little time worrying or thinking about it. They are happy, healthy and focused on their own worlds.If I did not have that credibility from the beginning, they would not have been able to entirely trust my words with the big stuff. Sometimes, i retreat rather than lie. I try to follow, “if I can’t say the truth, don’t say anything”

  • chris russell

    The lie about shots are awful. Ur kids’s lives are important. There is titanium Mercury aluminum and other bad stuff. Bad lie. Find out by looking it up. These shots are bad man. Any parent who refuses to find out or gets mad at me for this is a bad person. If I gave u people a needle with titanium aluminum Mercury n other stuff in it u would flip. No good. awful lie.

  • Hooky46

    Okay, KC..You are honesty personified! Good for you! BUT Do you honestly think God loves you better when you make a young mother cry because you said “No, I don’t think your baby is cute.” than if you had told a tiny little lie and said “Oh, yes!” (Be Honest Now…) lol

  • Tom Baker

    Here’s one for the puriest like KC; who enjoy thinking that “their” God metes out rewards or punishments as though we His creations were simply children to be played with according to our earthly deeds.
    February 1944 while participating in the battle for Iwo Jima; Navy Corpsman Jim Bradley was called upon to identify a fellow United States Marine of whom he had gone through basis training State side with before being shipped out to the Hell which was the South Pacific war against the barbaric Japanese.
    His dead friend’s body was so brutally disfigured and torturedly cut up; that even a seasoned, battle hardened Navy medic like Bradley had real trouble trying to keep his human composure as he gathered up what remained of his close friend and carried him from the japanese cave down to the evacuation/burial registration section of black volcanic sand beach which was Iwo Jima.
    Upon returning to his hometown shortly after the ending of Wold War Two;Mr.Bradley took occasion upon himself to travel to the home of his dead and buried friend’s mother’s home and once there he told her a trumped up lie about how and where her brave hero son was killed in battle.
    By Jim Bradley’s own admission; he never intended to tell the mother of his Marine Corps buddy exactly how her son lost his life on that battle torn island so far from his home.
    What do you suppose Jesus Christ would have done in Jim Bradley’s stead?

  • KC

    I sincerely apologize for my post, I did not mean to sound condescending, better or as though I’m honesty personified.

  • alice y.epps

    I hate lieing! I see no sense in doing it, it only leads to construction in the long run.It takes more enery to tell a lie than it does to tell the truth. I not saying that I have never told a lie,
    but found out that it does not pay! before i tell you a lie, I won’t say anything at all. telling lies takes away trust and with out trust
    what do you have? my marriage is in sinking sand now,because my husband does not know how to be truthful.

Previous Posts

Seven Ways to Get Over an Infatuation
“Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I” wrote US songwriter Lorenz Hart about the feeling of infatuation. It’s blissful and euphoric, as we all know. But it’s also addicting, messy and blinding. Without careful monitoring, its wild ...

posted 12:46:43pm Feb. 19, 2014 | read full post »

When Faith Turns Neurotic
When does reciting scripture become a symptom of neurosis? Or praying the rosary an unhealthy compulsion? Not until I had the Book of Psalms practically memorized as a young girl did I learn that words and acts of faith can morph into desperate ...

posted 10:37:13am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

How to Handle Negative People
One of my mom’s best pieces of advice: “Hang with the winners.” This holds true in support groups (stick with the people who have the most sobriety), in college (find the peeps with good study habits), and in your workplace (stay away from ...

posted 10:32:10am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

8 Coping Strategies for the Holidays
For people prone to depression and anxiety – i.e. human beings – the holidays invite countless possibility to get sucked into negative and catastrophic thinking. You take the basic stressed-out individual and you increase her to-do list by a ...

posted 9:30:12am Nov. 21, 2013 | read full post »

Can I Say I’m a Son or Daughter of Christ and Suffer From Depression?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we read: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” What if we aren’t glad, we aren’t capable of rejoicing, and even prayer ...

posted 10:56:04am Oct. 29, 2013 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.