Learning the Skill of Lie Detection

By Rachel Puryear

Let’s be honest here – none of us can truthfully say that we’ve never lied, nor that no one has ever lied to us. That’s the painful truth.

The good news is that most of us don’t lie often, and at least not without a pretty good motivation to do so. There are those among us, however, who lie constantly. It’s an important skill in life to learn how to detect lies and recognize manipulation.

Here are some tips on lie detection:

A computer screen with a form on it titled “Lie Detector Test”, and various questions, with a black fountain pen laid over it. By Ashkan Forouzani.

Don’t Stop Them – Yet

If you think someone is lying, don’t interrupt – let them keep going for a while. Act interested, and ask them questions – in a curious way, rather than interrogation-style. You don’t want them to get defensive too soon. They are likely to trip themselves up if you let them go on long enough.

As they keep going, you will notice holes and inconsistencies in their story. People can only keep track of their own lies for so long. Eventually, you will catch them saying something that cannot be true.

How to handle a situation where you know someone is lying to you depends, of course, on who the person is, and the situation. If it’s your 5-year-old relative who lied about eating the last cookie, you will of course address that differently than a scenario where a supposed friend lied about you behind your back and betrayed you.

Lying Strategies

Chronic liars use various strategies for their deception. The following is not exhaustive, but these are some of the most common and effective manipulation styles and tells.

Intimidation and Aggression

People who use this strategy will suddenly get angry and defensive when they feel that you are getting too close to their lies. They hope to scare you into dropping the matter, and are working to push you off course, emotionally speaking. They go on the offense as their defense, in an effort to keep you distracted from their lies.

Avoidance

Ever brought up an uncomfortable subject with someone, and then been ghosted? Did you start a line of questioning about a subject you were suspicious about, to have them quickly be like, “oops, gotta go!”, and then they don’t pick up their phone or text back for a while? At least, not until you’ve let the matter go. That was likely intentional, and they quickly shut down and stopped talking to you, as a means to avoid getting into what they view as dangerous territory.

Love Bombing

Love bombing feels wonderful – initially. It’s a sneaky form of manipulation, because it works by stoking your natural desire to be loved and appreciated. Love bombing can consist of showering you with affection and compliments, maybe even gifts, and all kinds of lovey-dovey behavior to massage your ego.

So what’s wrong with love bombing? Well, it’s a form of manipulation, even if it’s a subtle one. A favorite tactic of con artists and cults, love bombing is designed to make you drop your guard, and become blinded by strong emotions and a desire for the feeling to be real. Love bombing effectively discourages you from suspecting someone of malfeasance, or “ruining the moment” by questioning their intentions. It’s hard to think someone is dishonest when they are telling you how amazing you are.

Playing on Your Sympathies, Playing the Victim, and Guilt Tripping

This is a particularly insidious one. Compassion and empathy are some of the most prosocial proclivities in existence, and this manipulation tactic is about exploiting those and using them against you. Empathic people are prime targets for this brand of deviousness – unless they can learn to detect, and push back, against it.

This type of liar plays the victim. They are full of sob stories, harrowing tales of other people’s cruelty, yet they themselves are never responsible or at fault for anything. They discourage you from asking hard questions, and hope you’ll feel too sorry for them to push further for the truth – even if what they claim sounds suspect. If you give in, they will tell you how special you are, and how you were the only one who believed/helped/gave them anything (to perhaps tie in a bit of love bombing).

If you dare call them out on their nonsense, they will often become indignant – telling you how horrible you are for treating them this way, in their time of need (and their “time of need” never seems to end). They may say they thought you were different, but now you’re being just like “all the others” (a sharp turnaround from when you gave in before). They may tell you that you could never possibly understand them, because (according to them) you never suffered like they did, your life is so easy, you are so much more privileged than them; so how could you possibly know what their suffering and pain is like. (It’s possible that you may, in fact, be quite fortunate relative to them. But even if that’s true, that’s not a reason to let them bullshit you. They would never see it that way if you were down on your own luck compared with them.)

If you give in to this type of manipulator, they will again tell you how great you are – for a little while. Your sacrifice (of ignoring the truth and giving in to their undeserved demands) buys you a bit of minimally good behavior from them. But soon, they will start whining again, and the cycle will repeat. If you are on this kind of a cycle, STOP! Get out. You cannot fix or save them, they are a sinking ship that will only drag you down, and you owe them absolutely nothing. Don’t let them spread their misery to you.

Getting Out from Under Liars and Other Toxic People

Sometimes, if you spend enough time around someone who lies often, you might feel fine or even great while you’re with them – but then you feel tired and crappy afterwards. This is especially common where someone seems quite charming, but is actually deceitful. The tiredness is perhaps because your brain is trying to catch up with all the cognitive dissonance from being around the toxic person. Do not ignore consistently feeling this way after seeing a particular person.

The best way to protect yourself against liars and toxic people is, of course, to stay as far away from them as possible. If you’re realizing that you’re already enmeshed with one, get out – quickly. They will say anything, but it doesn’t make it true. Listen to your gut about people you meet. Toxic people also push people quickly into relationships – this is because they want to hook people before others catch on to what they are. If someone who makes you feel bad and guilty for not wanting to rush things, that is a big red flag.

In time, you can develop an intuition about others. In the meantime, take care of yourself.


Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to the truth, to finding the truth, and to not letting various manipulative strategies get in the way of uncovering the truth. If you enjoyed this content and want to see more of it, please hit “like” and subscribe, if you do not do so already. xoxo

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