Lying to Myself Never Works

[Today’s guest post is from Laura Droege, a wonderful writer who touches upon the vulnerabilities of life and the strength of faith.]

***

Back in high school, I was unpopular with the boys. Seriously unpopular. I’m not sure they were aware of my existence, except for those rare occasions when they called to get homework assignments for a class they’d missed. And, being a very self-conscious teenage girl, I was certain that everyone in the entire school was aware of my dateless status. The thought filled me with angst, but I couldn’t exactly coerce a guy into asking me out, and asking him out was out of the question. Too aggressive.

One day in English class, we had a substitute who let us study, do homework, or talk. (You can guess what most of us did.) I was midway through a reading assignment when Susan, the girl sitting in front of me, turned around. “So, who have you gone out with, Laura?”

My best friend poked me in the spine. “Say you went to the movies with a guy last summer,” she hissed.

Susan was popular. I followed Cori’s advice. “Well,” I began, “I went to the movies last summer with this guy. We saw The Lion King.”

Susan’s eyes widened. Here was new information. “What was his name?”

“Joshua, Joshua Trent. He goes to my grandmother’s church, and I met him when I stayed at my grandparents’ house. He’s really super nice. He goes to Vanderbilt. He’s in the pre-med program there.”

“Oooo.” Susan seemed impressed by the details. “So, did you, you know, let him kiss you?”

I smiled one of those I’m-not-a-kiss-and-tell-type-of-girl smiles and flicked my eyes away, like I was remembering a romantic moment.

Now, there was indeed a young man named Joshua Trent whom I had met when I visited my grandmother’s house that past summer. He was very nice. But he was a year younger than I was and he didn’t go to Vanderbilt and we never got within spitting distance, much less kiss.

The news that I had gone on a date spread across the classroom, spilled into the halls between classes, and raced through the cafeteria. By lunch, everyone in my small high school knew. A guy from The Table of Popular People approached me at my place at The Table of Outcasts. “Hey, I heard you’re dating a guy at Vanderbilt. My sister goes there. Maybe she knows him.”

I thought fast. “Well, what I really meant was that he used to go there.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, he lost his scholarship, and his parents didn’t have enough money to keep sending him there, so now he’s going to MTSU.”

Wes trotted back to The Popular Table with that information. Cori’s boyfriend, sitting across the table from me, had his head in his arms because he was laughing so hard. My other friends rolled their eyes.

The more lies I told, the more I had to tell. And with each lie, I became more and more convinced that they were really, in some twisted way, the truth. My mind started whirling with the possibilities of friendship and romance between myself and the half-mythical Joshua. Never mind the truth. In my mind, Joshua and I had a bond, we were destined for each other, and the pain of separation was excruciating. (Really, the only “bond” was my attachment to my lies and their attachment to me.) By the end of the day, I announced to my friends that I missed Joshua. “I feel so sad,” I said, close to tears.

And I really did feel sad. I’d spoken this bizarre lie to myself, as well as other people, and let a lie change my emotional state to sadness and sorrow over a guy who didn’t exist in reality. And why? All to avoid embarrassment.

The wonder at unpopular Laura’s relationship with the former pre-med major-turned-scholarship-loser died off by the next day. To my knowledge, Susan and Wes and the crowd at The Popular Table never found out the truth. So I never got caught in my web of lies like conventional wisdom says liars do.

But I still think about it, every once in a while, and wonder why I felt compelled to lie about something so trivial.

And not just lie once, but multiple times.

And not just lie to others, but to myself and allow a lie to manipulate my emotions.

And not just that, but to allow it to affect my relationship with God. I was telling God, “I don’t trust you to comfort me if someone else finds out that I’m dateless. I can protect myself from gossip with a lie. I can protect myself better than you can, God.”

Maybe that’s why the Bible tells us not to lie. It’s not a suggestion. God commands us not to lie, not just to protect other people from dishonesty, but to protect us from the harm we do ourselves each time we tell ourselves a lie.

***

[Laura Droege is a wife of a rocket scientist, a mama of two daughters, and a novelist with three manuscripts in search of a good publishing home. She holds a graduate degree in literature and taught English as a second language for four years. I hope you visit her blog and connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.]

***

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8 Responses to Lying to Myself Never Works

  1. Laura Droege says:

    Thanks for reposting this, Tim. I appreciate it!

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Laura (and Tim). I could also feel my teenage self in your description. And that’s a really good point about how lies harm us. In one of Brene Brown’s books (actually probably more than one, since this is a common theme of hers), she talks about how coverups like this so often stem from shame. We feel ashamed and will do ANYTHING to take away that feeling, including lie. But shame is something we have trouble recognizing and admitting. Trusting God with our shame is hard. As hard for a mature adult as for a teen, often.

    • Laura Droege says:

      I’m a little familiar with Brown’s work, and I agree. Shame is such a powerful motivation, and it seems to have been that way since the fall in Eden. Adam and Eve cover their nakedness with inadequate tree leaves, experiencing shame for the first time, and lie to themselves and God.

    • Lea says:

      “she talks about how coverups like this so often stem from shame”

      Yes! For me, I have just been private and let people believe what they like. However, I’m trying to be consciously less private now. Which is hard.

      BTW, loved your story, Laura! High school is a whole different world, isn’t it?

      • Laura Droege says:

        A different world, oh yes, and I’m getting to experience it anew now that my older child is in high school! It’s a cliche to say this, but it really is a different world for high schoolers than it was in my day. (I feel old!) I don’t think I would’ve gotten away with this lie if social media and iphones had existed back then.

  3. Anu Riley says:

    Laura, sorry for my long reply. I liked your post so much I copied and pasted m reply from FB.

    Loved this story. I too was unpopular during my school years, and the only times I existed were to be taunted and openly humiliated by others!

    I too lived in a something of a fantasy world to cope. In my world, I was popular, liked and boys certainly weren’t repulsed by me. The snowball of lies I lived in could probably cover the Himalayas. And lies DID manipulate my emotions as well! That is how powerful they can be.

    But it was the only way I knew how to cope with intense loneliness and bullying.

    Deception and self-deception are hugely significant to me. I’ve often drowned or come close to drowning in one or both of them. So I am sadly well aware of the power that lies have.

    Whether you are telling them to yourself (self-deception) or telling them to others (deceiving others)—-it’s dangerous and not to be minimized.

    It would take too long to describe the MANY ways I’ve engaged in lies to myself (and believed them), or where others have torn me down with their own lies (I would be willing to be they too believed their own lies).

    A sincere deceiver (one that is so convinced their lies are truthful) is possibly one of the most dangerous persons, ever.

    They come across as so passionate and truthful that it is difficult to not get swept away in whatever web of lies they are spinning. And this can happen within ourselves as well.

    I’ve convinced myself that I was loved and cared for by so-called friends, when in truth they were just using me—for example. And they too were guilty. They truly seemed as if they cared about me, and tried very hard to convince me of their lies. They succeeded.

    I have had the honor of reading and listening to many abuse victims tell their stories. The common thread of all of them is that their abuse was rooted in lies. The lies may vary, but they are all deceptions, intended to victimize and cause tremendous pain.

    Lies straight from the devil. It is no coincidence that Jesus called him the “father of lies,” a “murderer from the beginning,” and he only lives to “steal, kill and destroy.”

    Lies are really that powerful. We tend to shrug and minimize or even encourage them, but in the end they have the power to ruin your life. Or someone else’s.

    Believers love to quote Jesus’s famous words: the truth will set you free. It’s a worthy quote, by the way! But now I wonder if it’s understood what that really means. It’s not a “fluff” statement—-meant to give us warm fuzzies.

    It’s a call to action, IMO. The truth is not always pretty. Usually isn’t, actually. Untangling yourself from lies (whatever their source) is a real work of the Spirit. John 15 speaks of this.

    Ultimately, it means freedom from bondage—because that is what lies do to us. They chain us up and hold us down. And hold us back. Whether the truth is hard, ugly or simply unpleasant—-it has to be faced. It’s far worse to keep getting wrapped up in lie after lie.

    They may feel like a warm blanket, keeping you safe and warm—but in the end, they will smother you.

    I don’t hate myself for constructing a fantasy world to live in back then. Or all the lies that came with it. A young girl in a very dark world has very few choices at her fingertips to cope with all that. But I never want to go back to that, either.

    The part about not trusting the Lord rang so true with me: “I can protect myself from gossip with a lie.”

    High school, IMO was NOT a totally different world than the one we live in now. No, we aren’t teenagers anymore, and hopefully we are not as immature or superficial.

    But gossip is still alive and kicking—-and often normalized in the adult world as well.

    And in the church, by the way. The one place where lies should immediately be kicked to the curb and never have a chance to take root and grow.

    Gossip is very difficult to resist and not engage in ourselves. This post was very good at summing it up. A lie cannot protect you like He can—-even from gossip!

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