Compassionate Resolution of Dishonesty

Compassionate Resolution of Dishonesty

November 11, 2023
internal family systems, therapy

Introduction #

A complex array of motivations drive dishonesty. These include financial gain, self-preservation, social approval, ethical dilemmas, cognitive biases, and fear of punishment. Men are often more dishonest than women,1 and cultural and social factors also play a significant role in shaping attitudes towards honesty.2

Dishonesty in a relationship creates several challenges:

  • Erosion of trust: Trust is a fundamental building block of any healthy relationship. When one party in the relationship is dishonest, it erodes the trust that has been established over time. Rebuilding trust can be a long and difficult process.
  • Emotional toll: Being lied to or discovering dishonesty can be emotionally devastating. It can lead to feelings of betrayal, hurt, anger, and insecurity. Coping with these emotions can be exhausting and challenging, making it difficult to move forward in the relationship.
  • Communication breakdown: Open and honest communication is essential in any relationship. When dishonesty is present, it disrupts communication because it’s hard to know what to believe or how to address the issue.
  • Questioning reality: When someone is consistently dishonest, it can make their partner question their own perception of reality. This gaslighting effect can be mentally and emotionally destabilizing.
  • Fear of recurrence: Once trust is shattered due to dishonesty, there is often a lingering fear that it will happen again. This fear can be a barrier to true emotional intimacy and can lead to ongoing stress and anxiety in the relationship.
  • Decision-making dilemmas: When dishonesty comes to light, individuals in the relationship may face difficult decisions. They must consider whether they can forgive, rebuild trust, and move forward, or if it’s best to end the relationship altogether. These decisions can be complex and emotionally fraught.

To explore different ways to address dishonesty, imagine a fictional scenario. Suppose Alice and Bob are in a relationship. Alice got pregnant via Bob but tells Bob that she isn’t pregnant. Carlos is Alice’s platonic friend. There are a variety of ways that Bob and Carlos can address Alice’s dishonesty.

Confrontation #

Without a confidant #

sequenceDiagram participant Alice participant Bob Alice->>Bob: Lie Bob->>Alice: Confrontation

Alice lies to Bob. Bob suspects or otherwise learns about the lie. When Bob confronts Alice, it can be very painful. Bob may feel vindicated and morally superior, but Alice is vulnerable and exposed. She may be embarrassed about the lie and feel guilty. There is also potential for shame. Alice might think, “I’m a terrible person for lying.” If Alice otherwise adores Bob, the sting can be severe. “My behavior disappoints Bob. I hate to disappoint Bob.” What message does Bob’s behavior send to Alice? “Bob forces me to reveal vulnerable parts of myself before I am ready.” Alice may double down on her efforts to conceal future lies. “I’m determined to avoid getting caught in a lie by Bob.” One possibility is for Alice to refrain from lying to Bob, but she needs to weigh this against the difficulty of disclosure before she feels ready to disclose.

With a confidant #

sequenceDiagram participant Alice participant Carlos participant Bob Alice->>Bob: Lie Alice->>Carlos: Confides Carlos->>Bob: Unmasks the lie Bob->>Alice: Confrontation

Suppose Alice confides in her best friend Carlos who then proceeds to tip off Bob that Alice lied. When Bob confronts Alice, it can be painful in the same way as the situation without Carlos. With Carlos involved though, it is worse. Alice feels betrayed by Carlos, and Carlos is wounded by his betrayal of Alice. Bob may praise Carlos for his moral superiority, but Carlos has to weigh moral superiority against the betrayal of Alice.

Graceful Way #

With a confidant #

sequenceDiagram participant A as Alice participant C as Carlos participant B as Bob A->>B: Lie A->>C: Confides C->>A: Encourages confession A->>B: Confesses

Alice confides in Carlos. Instead of tipping off Bob, Carlos confers with Alice. “It is really necessary to lie?” “What are you afraid would happen if Bob found out?” “When do you plan to tell Bob?” Carlos helps Alice explore the parts that want to lie to Bob. With courage nurtured by Carlos, Alice may decide to confess to Bob. Alice keeps her dignity. If Bob would usually confront a liar, he loses his chance to flaunt his moral superiority. Bob can receive the confession begrudgingly, “I wish you had told me sooner,” or with gratitude, “I’m really glad you told me.” Bob may suspect that he needs to build more trust with Alice.

Without a confidant #

sequenceDiagram participant A as Alice's lying part participant C as Alice's confessing part participant B as Bob A->>B: Lie B->>C: Encourages confession C->>A: Encourages confession A->>B: Confesses

Most likely, Alice has mixed feelings about lying to Bob. She has a part that feels obliged to lie to Bob, but she also has a part that is aware of the liabilities of lying and would prefer not to lie. Bob is a sensitive guy and suspects that something is up. “What Alice told me feels off.” Bob reaches out to the parts of Alice that would prefer not to lie. He asks himself, “Why might Alice lack trust in me? What can I do to reassure her?” Bob is careful not to confront Alice’s lying part. He knows it might be there and steers clear. Bob works to make Alice feel safe, accepted, and validated. He bides his time. He lets Alice know that he will not force her to disclose anything. If Bob is successful then the power will shift in Alice’s inner system. Alice’s lying part will yield to Alice’s confessing part. She confesses to Bob. Alice keeps her dignity. Bob can also be gratified that he could succeed in such a delicate procedure.

Conclusion #

How will you choose to resolve dishonesty in your relationships? You probably have had a chance to be in the role of Alice, Bob, and Carlos, each on different occasions. A little grace goes a long way. If you are graceful enough, you might even shape your talent for working with deception into a career like Apollo Robbins.

Notes #

  1. Kennedy, J. A., & Kray, L. J. (2022). Gender similarities and differences in dishonesty. Current Opinion in Psychology, 101461. ↩︎

  2. Lupoli, M. J., Jampol, L., & Oveis, C. (2017). Lying because we care: Compassion increases prosocial lying. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 146(7), 1026–1042. ↩︎