Originally posted November 10, 2012
I feel every sex addict (and their spouse) should read this article by Dr. Johnson on why addicts lie and why some continue to lie. This is not an excuse for continued lying, but an understanding why sometimes a lie is the first and only response an addict can give. In recovery, we must practice rigorous honesty, something we lacked for a majority of our lives. Progress, not perfection!
The Amazing Lie-O-Matic
(author: A. Michael Johnson, Ph.D. PLLCJ)
Addicts lie. They lie to maintain their double lives. Maybe some addicts learn to lie just to support their addiction, but usually not. Lying usually begins much earlier. Children learn to lie if their parents and other caregivers are too fragile to handle the truth. They learn the skill of lying to manage the emotions and behavior of their caregivers. They learn to lie to protect themselves from punishment, shame, anger, judgment, and rejection. Those things are toxic caregiver junk. The learning doesn’t happen all at once.
Children start out speaking the truth. It’s the obvious, easy thing to do. If the caregiver loves and accepts the child as the child speaks the truth, regardless of the content of the truth, the child keeps speaking the truth. But if the child gets junk from an adult after speaking the truth, the child begins to lie. Each time a child gets junk after she or he tells the truth, a little bit of learning happens. An alarm begins to develop. The alarm says, “Warning, Warning, Warning -You will get junk for speaking the truth -Warning, Warning, Warning – Protect yourself”. After a while, that response becomes quite automatic. It bypasses the part of the brain that could assess the reality of the situation. The decision to lie becomes automatic. A Lie-O-Matic is installed in the child’s brain.
Why don’t kids just take the toxic shaming caregiver junk? Children and other humans require continuous proof that they will survive right now. For children, the language of that proof is love, acceptance, attention, and evidence that their caregivers know what they are doing. When children get that proof, they feel safe and they tell the truth. But, when they do not get that proof, they feel a bone deep, primal fear that utter annihilation is at hand. Like any other animal, they do what is possible to feel safer. One thing to do to feel safer is to lie. Survival is the fundamental thing – more important than the truth.
There is a danger detector in the Lie-O-Matic. The detector sets off the alarm when the fear of annihilation occurs. The Lie-O-Matic sets its level based on experience. It optimizes protection. Suppose a kid gets junk when she tells the truth about cleaning her room but does not get junk When she tells the truth about doing her homework. The alarm will go off around room cleaning but will not go off around homework. If a kid gets toxic junk when he tells the truth about his feelings, he will come to lie about his feelings. If a kid gets junk for talking about her perceptions, she will come to lie about her perceptions. If the kid has been really, really, scared, more lying will happen. If a kid has been less scared, less lying will happen. The Lie-O-Matic is a clever, sensitive, flexible device.
Like all good alarms, the Lie-O-Matic alarm bypasses unnecessary steps. It operates largely outside of awareness. The alarm triggers the unconsidered decision to lie. The Lie-O-Matic does not prevent the person from being aware that she or he is lying. In fact, the Lie-O-Matic instructs the person to lie. But the content of the lie requires that the person tune into the facts of the situation and use their imagination. That is certainly a conscious process. The Lie-O-Matic does prevent the person from thinking about why he or she is lying. The decision to lie is automatic.
When the Lie-O-Matic is first installed and adjusted it is a subjective truth that the kid will be annihilated by too much caregiver junk. When you are a kid, you think like a kid, feel like a kid, act like a kid, and lie like a kid. As an adult, when the Lie-O-Matic alarm goes off, you again feel like a kid and, so feeling like a kid and with the decision already made, you again lie like a kid. Lying to avoid toxic junk was a good and safe short cut when you were a kid. But now you can use your mature mind and resources to keep you safe. You can no longer be annihilated by what is now phantom caregiver toxic junk. Now the Lie-O-Matic is a problem and a part of the psychological system that supports your addiction. The Lie-O-Matic and its Lie Ability is truly a liability.
Fortunately, the Lie-O-Matic system includes two signals that are detectable and that can be used in a scheme to recover conscious control of the alarm. The first of these signals is the experience of fear. However, faint, the fear that triggers the Lie-O-Matic can be detected by the healthy and mature part of your brain. This part of your brain may need practice learning to detect this signal, but with effort and help, that can be done. The second signal that can be detected is the activation of the fabrication system. The fabrication system constructs the particular lie before it is uttered. It invents new lies, searches the archives for old lies that have worked, or old truths that can be used as lies. It assesses the plausibility and discoverability of lies, and keeps a record, however imperfect, of lies told. One of the delightful aspects of the fabrication system is that it takes time to decide what to do. Lying takes more time than does telling the truth. It is a fairly simple thing to develop a mindful oversight of the fabrication system so that rational, fact-based, mature decisions can replace those mandated by the Lie-O-Matic.
With these two sets of signals in mind, one can make more rational and mature decisions about lying. Often, there are more healing and effective ways to soothe the frightened child within us. Often we can see the harm we do others and ourselves when we choose to lie. Often we can predict the shame we will feel by lying and avoid that shame. Often, we can stay in the truth.
Understanding how you came to be a liar is important because it helps to strengthen your compassion for yourself. You did not learn to lie because you were a bad person. You learned to lie because you were a frightened child protecting himself. That understanding is not a justification for continuing to lie. The understanding helps to remove obstacles to living in the truth. And living in the truth is a central thread in the fabric of recovery.