It is a universal truth: We all lie to our therapists!
We wouldn’t lie to our auto mechanic about the funny noise under the hood. We wouldn’t lie to our hair stylist about wanting to cover our bald spot.
Then why lie to our therapists, wasting money, time and emotional energy?
There are many reasons, both complex and simple. Click continue to see the top 10!
1. We don’t want to reveal painful or embarrassing information
Emotional pain registers in the same part of the brain as physical pain. Sometimes it just hurts too much to tell the therapist everything. We avoid telling the truth or the entire truth to our therapists because:
- We don’t want to own up to our limitations and failings.
- We feel shame for our actions.
- We perceive our actions as unpardonable or heinous sins.
- The way we survived a trauma is by not talking about it, or admitting how much it affected us.
- We have done something that shocks us and we can’t believe we are the kind of person to do it. If the therapist doesn’t know, we get to be who we think we are again.
- We are repressing painful things and events.
- We are keeping secrets that we have kept for years.
- We are fooling ourselves, believing things we know are not true.
2. We are in denial
We deny we need treatment
We live in a society that preaches that we should be able to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. More than two-thirds of Americans deny they have a mental disorder until something catastrophic happens that drives them to therapy. We deny that we need treatment until it’s just too painful to endure any longer. It’s a victory just to get into therapist’s office. Ways that we deny our need for therapy in the therapist’s office are:
- We hide what we feel and fake what we don’t feel.
- We pretend we’re OK just to avoid knowing that something is wrong with us.
- We are conflicted whether we want to be in therapy or not.
- We are not confident therapy can help us.
3. We don’t know or acknowledge that something was important
Often we will omit telling our therapist important events or issues that seem — to us at least — to be unrelated to the issue at hand. We may even be OK with something that is of vital importance, such as purging after every meal. Part of the problem is that some of us are delusional, have false beliefs, or cognitive distortion. But some of the most common reasons for not telling something important to our therapists are:
- We are confused and simply don’t know how we feel.
- We don’t admit the truth because don’t know what the truth is.
- We lack the experience and insight to know something is important.
4. We are afraid our therapist will judge us
We are afraid of being judged
We are used to judging others and are afraid of others judging us. But good therapists will try not to judge their patients. Therapists are human, too, and we expect them to judge us like others do. And there are therapists who judge their patients or dismiss their concerns or emotional responses. A patient will often clam up and stop being truthful when they sense or suspect that the therapist is judging them.
5. We think the therapist will report us or send us to the hospital
Many states require that therapists report certain actions or potential actions of their clients. These reports become part of a central database that can brand a person for life. Among the reasons we might fear that a therapist’s written record will haunt us for life are:
- We have had a suicide attempt.
- We are in danger of harming a child, family member or senior citizen.
- We fear that a mental health history will harm our career, making us unable to get or hold a job.
- Government security clearances require disclosure of all health records, including mental health.
6. We haven’t established trust and rapport with our therapist
Strong rapport and solid trust takes time
It takes time to establish a good working relationship with your therapist. When you have been to several therapists, you may not be sure the new one has the skills or experience to help you. Without a strong rapport and solid trust, we often feel defensive and on guard and may not share all we could. Some signals that we need to give the relationship with our therapist more time are when we:
- Want more than the therapist can give with the present information we have provided.
- Don’t like the way the therapist does things, but feel embarrassed about telling them.
- Our lack of candor is an excuse not to talk about an issue at the time.
- Give morsels of the truth and see if the therapist can guess the rest.
- Have difficulty communicating in general.
- Have issues around not being believed by others, and we don’t think your therapist believes us, either.
- Have learned to wear a mask, and it isn’t always easy to drop just because we want to.
7. Lying as a coping mechanism for us
Many of us learn to lie to avoid abuse, ridicule or trauma, whether in the past or in the present. It is a way of survival. Undoing the common use of that coping mechanism will take time, even with a skilled and trusted therapist.
8. We lie to maintain a positive self-image
We don’t see ourselves as others do
It’s hard to maintain our own sense of self or a positive self-image when we have to confront the more embarrassing or painful aspects of our lives. We may hide information from our therapist as an attempt — sometimes unconscious — to construct desirable images for her. We often don’t see ourselves as the people we really are, and may be shocked at behaviors we can’t acknowledge to the therapist because we can’t even acknowledge them to ourselves. Mistakes we often make are:
- We want our therapist to like us, but it is hard to think the therapist will have unconditional positive regard when we don’t have it for ourselves.
- We want to feel loved yet feel unlovable.
- We feel that if we reveal ourselves fully to the therapist and they don’t like me, then I will be lost with nothing more to give.
9. We lie due to transference
Transference occurs when we unconsciously redirect, or transfer, feelings we have toward one or more important figures in our lives onto our therapists. Those figures may include parents, family members or people at work. This leads to:
- We may lie to our therapist because he represents another important person to whom we also lie.
- We may seek approval from our therapist that we never got from our parents or others.
- We may feel compelled to protect ourselves from the therapist in what feels like a dangerous situation.
- We lie because we think the relationship might end otherwise.
10. We lie out of fear
Many of the reasons we lie to our therapists can be reduced to a single reason: fear. Fear is at the root of many mental disorders, and naturally comes to the fore in the therapist-patient relationship. Among these are the:
- Fear of admitting how bad things are, making the situation too real.
- Fear of how much our lives feels out of control. By not admitting these deep fears we maintain some semblance of control.
- Fear of feeling something is basically wrong with us when we feel emotional pain.
- Fear of losing control of our private thoughts. We feel fearful and violated if the therapist delves too deeply.
- Fear of how others will perceive us.
- Fear of what others will think of us.
- Fear of what will be done with the information we share, or how it might someday be used against us.
- Fear of what the therapist will think of us.
- Fear of how others will judge us.
- Fear of having our feelings or thoughts dismissed, of not being believed.
- Fear of being in therapy for the first time and not really knowing what to expect.
- Fear of being told we’re “crazy” or worthless, of being unloved and unlovable.
- Fear of rejection by others.
- Fear of the unknown.
- Fear of change.
What do you think?
While writing this article, I realized how much I had lied to my therapists over the years, mostly by omission. It’s embarrassing, and probably something I wouldn’t admit to if I were talking to you face to face!
- Have you ever lied to your therapist, either overtly or by omission?
- Have you ever had a therapist you felt you didn’t have to lie to?
- How long do you think that it takes to build a therapist-patient relationship of trust and rapport?
- Can you add any more reasons why we lie to our therapists?
As always, your comments are welcome!
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Resources used in this post:
Grohol, John M. (2008, February 6). 10 Common Reasons to Lie to Your Therapist. Retrieved August 18, 2008 from Psych Central Web site: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2008/02/06/10-common-reasons-to-lie-to-your-therapist/
Grohol, John M. (2008, January 9). Why Would You Lie to Your Therapist? Retrieved August 18, 2008 from Psych Central Web site: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2008/01/09/why-would-you-lie-to-your-therapist/