08/31/2012 07:53 EDT | Updated 10/31/2012 05:12 EDT

How to See Right Through a Liar


Everybody lies, that's nothing new. What matters is the type of lie a person is telling. White lies are usually told to spare someone's feelings, and are often less hurtful than brutal honesty. The type of lie I want to discuss is one that's told for the purposes of control, manipulation or profit.

Those of us in the West believe that we're free to make our own decisions and live our own lives, but this isn't always the case. Many people and institutions want something from us: our money, power and votes; even control over our bodies, and they'll resort to lying in order to achieve their goals.

Many liars are successful, but that's usually because we make it easy for them. As intelligent, experienced adults, it shouldn't be so easy for others to fool us, but interestingly, in this era of unlimited access to information and instant global communication, we're still too gullible.

Perhaps our infatuation with celebrity is responsible for our being charmed by attractive, charismatic liars. Perhaps our educational system isn't spending enough time teaching us how to be critical thinkers.

Whatever the reason, our willingness to be deceived enables these individuals to steal our hard-earned money, misinform us about our world, trick us into voting for them and seduce us into their beds.

If we want to be more empowered in our lives, we should stop allowing the liars of the world to take advantage of us. This requires opening our eyes and seeing the truth, so that we can begin to make truly informed choices about what we need.

When people or institutions are communicating with us, we must ascertain whether we're being told the truth or we're on the receiving end of uninformed opinion, misinformation, sneaky half-truths or pure fabrication.

Here are four basic tools for seeing through the liars in your personal, professional and political life and making sure that it's a lot harder for these people to fool you in the future:

1: Be your own fact-checker. Successful liars are especially good at making statements that seem credible at first glance but which don't hold up to scrutiny. If we want to regain control over our lives, we must closely examine what our institutions, bosses, politicians and potential lovers are telling us.

Politicians frequently make statements that are more opinion than truth, or outrageous, false claims about their opponent. It's up to each one of us to listen closely to what's being said and practice a healthy form of skepticism, rather than accepting their words as facts. We can easily assess the accuracy of their statements by doing a bit of research.

People who want our money will play on our heart-strings or our greed. They scam us with pleas for contributions to dubious charities or entice us with promises of enormous returns on our investments. Again, some fact-checking will go a long way in protecting ourselves from being taken advantage of.

Everyone has heard the cautionary tale of the bride met online who drained her new husband's savings, or the story of the charming man who was found, after the wedding, to have two other wives, credit cards in five different names, or a nasty STD. Even so, people continue to be taken in by these emotional con-artists.

We all want love, but we can't be so desperate that we turn a blind eye to the signs that there's something not quite right about our romantic partner. We have to verify that the person we're getting involved with is who they say they are and that their intentions are honourable. Especially in this era of on-line dating, checking the facts can be a matter of life and death.

2: Explore their motivations. When someone tells us something that we suspect might not be true, or something that sounds too good to be true, we should always examine why they might be say this. If we look into the motivations behind someone's words, we can easily separate the liars from the forthright.

For example, if, in our travels, a resident of a foreign country known for its poverty or human rights abuses claims that we're the love of their life, we should probably consider that they might be looking for a way out of their current circumstances. Many people who sponsored a foreign spouse for immigration into their safer, more prosperous country have been horrified to discover that they'd been used.

Advertisers often exaggerate the benefits of the products or services they want us to buy. They make their living telling us that these things will make us happier and more popular. If we think before we part with our money we can see that often, it's the advertisers and the companies they work for who'll benefit the most from our purchases.

3: Explore your own motivations. It's important when we're listening to other people that we think about why we're inclined to believe them. Many of us feel a deep sense of disconnectedness in our lives and are convinced that the way to belong is to believe in someone else.

We think that if we agree with what they're saying, we'll feel less alone in the world and therefore less anxious and unhappy. Unfortunately, in our quest for belonging, we allow ourselves to be deceived by unscrupulous individuals who seek to control nearly every aspect of our existence in return for the promise of connection.

We need to see that we can create healthy relationships and communities without giving up our autonomy or skepticism. We can recognize that when there's mutual respect, people are free, even encouraged to ask intelligent questions, look beneath the surface of things and use this knowledge as the basis of their choices.

4: Stop lying to yourself. It can be tempting to practice denial. Facing the truth about yourself or your life can be uncomfortable or upsetting, so it's not unusual to resort to the defenses of denial, wishful thinking or self-delusion.

The problem is that eventually, these dysfunctional ways of coping will catch up with us, and we'll have to live with consequences which are far worse that the initial discomfort or displeasure we might experience from facing the truth.

It's important that we get in touch with our own needs and feelings and honestly examine how our choices are affecting us. We must also face the truth about the people in our lives, and stop ignoring when our gut feelings tell us that they're being insincere.

If we don't do these things, it will be far too easy for the users, manipulators and thieves of the world to take advantage of our willful blindness or hopeful fantasy. We become vulnerable to dishonest people when we aren't honest with ourselves.

When we acknowledge the truth of what we feel and what we see, our needs become clear and in this way, we become empowered. We're more able to achieve our goals and a lot less likely to be thrown off track by someone who's deceiving us in order to promote their own agenda.