Why Do People Get So Upset When They Are Caught Lying?

Why do people get so upset when the truth is exposed?

While everyone lies, no one likes view themselves as a liar.

Everyone works very hard to maintain a positive self-image, even when such an image is hard to justify (see self deception).

We all have the tendency to see the world from our own point of view and put the best possible spin on what happens. This is a universal feature of human behavior.

This type of behavior is easiest to see with kids when they are caught fighting. Children see their actions from their own perspective: “I was just responding—I didn’t start it, she did.”

While adults are more sophisticated in their reasoning, their underlying behavior is much the same. When negative events occur people like to think that they are just reacting to events rather than causing them.

On the other hand, when positive things happen people often try to take credit for it (see self-serving bias – Wikipedia).

And while most people strive to maintain a positive identity, everyone lies from time to time (see how often people lie).

Lying is part of our human nature. In fact, most lying occurs with little thought, effort, or planning—in the spur of the moment. And often people tell the same lies so often that they forget what the truth really is—they start to believe their own lies (see facts about deception).

Not only do people lie on a regular basis, but they also tend to be hypocritical about lying. Society views deception and lying in the worst possible light—telling lies is viewed as evil, sinister, and evidence of a character flaw (see Solomon).

When a person’s dishonest behavior is pointed out, it can be very difficult to for that person to accept it. There is a contradiction between how a person views him- or herself (I’m honest) and their actual deceptive behavior (lying).

This creates dissonance or stress (see cognitive dissonance – Wikipedia). Many people react to the contradiction between their image and their behavior by attacking the person or persons who pointed out the inconsistency.

It is very difficult for most people to accept the idea that they sometimes engage in deceptive and unethical behavior. Unfortunately, it's easier to attack the person who is exposing the truth.

Additionally, attacking someone for pointing out the truth often stops that person and others from raising the issue again in the future. Attacking a critic is a great way to silence him (see react poorly).

It often takes a great detail of insight and character to acknowledge one’s own flaws, including one’s deceptive behavior.

Related Information:

See more common questions.

Do you have a general question you'd like to ask?
If you are dealing with a specific problem, please see ask an expert.

Truth About Deception – back to our home page.