Liar Liar Pants on Fire! The Logic and Effects of Lying


Liar Liar Pants on Fire!

The origin of this phrase cannot be found. It is usually attributed (inconclusively and without evidence) to an over-200-year-old poem apparently by William Blake, which is itself ironically suspected of being a fake.

I always remembered the second line of the phrase as “Caught your nose in a telephone wire.”

However, a friend recently insisted it’s “Nose as long as telephone wire.”  I looked it up and she was right.  Which is interesting considering one thing is true about lies, you won’t remember them correctly.  Truth you never forget.


There are types and levels of lying, differentiated by the motive behind them. Two most common types of lying are white lies and strategic lies.

White lies don’t have root. 

These are often told without much thought, and are usually told in passing or to protect another’s feelings such as “It’s great running into you!” when you don’t truly think that.

Other times white lies are told to keep from divulging too much information, like saying “We’re all doing great!” When in reality, your world is falling apart.

Strategic lies go a bit deeper with their agenda. 

These are lies that have a scheme to them and tend to occur when one manipulates information and people in order to cover a secret, mask a hidden shame or to further a selfish cause.

These lies do the most damage.

I believe the Latin phrase “Citius venir malum quam revertur” is true regarding habitual lies; the translation:

“Evil arrives faster than it departs.”

The damage some deceptions cause in a short span of time, can take a lifetime to eradicate.


When we have lied

When I research behavior, I first examine my own.  I have to be honest, there have been times in my life when lying was a reflex.  A very ineffective, extremely defensive reflex.

I lied to protect myself from being hurt in the emotionally chaotic environment I grew up in (highlighted in my book “Unhooked“).  I didn’t feel safe enough to be open and honest.

But incidents of lying didn’t work often and they didn’t work long. Lying may temporarily get us out of a pinch, but it eventually comes back around to bite.

In keeping with my determination to be genuine, real and transparent, I own up to the fact that I did it. I’m at peace with my past dysfunctions, I learned a lot from them.

Regardless of the reasons, lying was always the wrong choice.  It took time to come out of the habit, and develop better ways of handling frightening, intimidating situations.

I learned in the process, it’s so much easier to face life head on and just tell the truth.


We have all lied at some point. And that’s just the truth.

Sometimes we lie because we have deep shame about our identity. Which was true for me in years past. I hated who I believed myself to be.

Once lying on a grandiose scale in my early teen years, I went to a new church summer camp once and spun myself into a huge web.  I did it because I was shy, insecure and afraid.  Knowing I would be meeting all new people who knew nothing about my unhappy life, I decided to create a new identity.  I began telling everyone I was a millionaire.  I gave examples of having a Butler and a limo, based on the television show Silver Spoons.

I didn’t get far on that one.

While my family and I have a good laugh about it now, it was one of the most painful, embarrassing lessons that life served me well to learn. The experience taught me that you can’t bury lies or run from them, they always come full circle.   Truth without exception comes out in the long run.  It doesn’t have to be a huge tale told either.

Somehow, some way lies will always catch you in the end.

“When you tell the truth it’s in the past, but a lie becomes part of your future” ~Rick Pitino


Have you ever lied to try to prove someone else’s lies?  I have. Which makes no sane sense whatsoever.

I’ve pretended to know more than I did about a situation to find out the truth of it.  I also lied about who gave me information in order to force truth forward.  My motive was to get to the bottom of a situation in order to resolve it, but wrong was still wrong.

And the results? Let’s just say lying never works out, at least not for me.  It was a relief to come clean and go about things honestly.

These days, I go ahead tell it like it is and how it is – even if it’s not flattering.  It’s easier for everyone.


When we are lied to

It feels like a shock of evil when lying is done to us.

It seems personal, intentional, insulting. We are less likely to understand that someone even felt they had to lie to us, for whatever reason.

Those thoughts and feelings are where healing is needed.

When it comes to tracking down truth, particularly when you are lied to by someone struggling with an addiction, excessive alcoholic behavior or substance use disorder (SUD), I believe we can only hunt so long.  Eventually it’s healthier to pull our hands off and let go of the detective work.


“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” ~Walter Scott

A few years ago I asked a friend who is a family counselor “Whyyyyy” someone who was greatly affecting me would constantly lie when the very provable truth would serve us all better?

She replied with something simple, yet profound:  “Because she has to.  She believes she has to. When someone is that deep in, they think they have to keep it going. What a fearful way to live.”

With compassion (but not without boundaries) I had to agree, that’s a miserable mindset to be caught in. I stopped judging her so harshly.

There is no victory in squeezing the truth out of someone’s lies.

Sometimes it’s clear we are just not going to get to the bottom of it.  At least not right now.  The truth will eventually come out.  If the forensics we’re doing are getting no where, there is peace in knowing we will find out things when we’re meant to.

My focus then becomes about making decisions, setting boundaries and borders and laying down the stress.  And then protecting whatever was violated by deception and dishonesty.


Our Internal lies

Internal lies can include our exaggerated fears, along with feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness.

Maybe we are believing that our current difficulties won’t work out well, or that they’re permanent.  No matter how impossible something looks, we don’t know that the outcome won’t be much better than our worst case scenario.

Believing that we are the only one “going through something like this,” thinking it’s weak and embarrassing to reach out and tell someone what is going on, are also false thoughts we get stuck on.

When we think that no one would care, or that if they knew what’s going on they might respond with ridicule and rejection, we limit our options for support and hope.

There are safe people, places and groups who will absolutely not respond with rejection or condemnation. You just have to set your mind on finding them.

Internal lies will isolate us and keep us from moving forward.  They block connection with others and keep us from finding our way toward a breakthrough.  Which will keep us alone in our struggle, which can eventually lead to despair.


How do we deal?

“The truth is what works.” ~William James

I believe it’s first a matter of minding the self. Remaining courageously honest and accountable ourselves. Being open, honest and real makes life so much easier.

  • When I make a mistake, I come clean, make it right, make amends, do the next right thing and move on with life.
  • If I’m lied to, I don’t have to force the truth once I see I’m not getting to the bottom of it.  If my gut tells me I’m onto something, I probably am.


Helpful hint: take care of the volatile emotions that being lied to causes, tend to the effects and damage.  Dialectical or Cognitive Therapy are both tremendously helpful.  There are many therapists, books and resources that take you through these methods, which are great for soothing hostile energy created by dysfunction and conflict.

These methods saved me when my whole world felt like a disaster and it seemed like everyone around me was either not to be trusted, or losing their mind.

When possible, be at peace with everyone.  Their behavior is on them. Forgiveness leads to peace and releases us from the damage, leaving it with them.  Forgiveness also opens us up to hope that better days are ahead. Honesty keeps the path clear and peace; like an internal GPS, leads us forward.

Still learning,


Author of Unhooked


End note: You are not the only one dealing with your type of circumstances I can promise you that.  There are others who walk the same road, who care and would love to give comfort and support. Maybe give someone new a try.  Sometimes all it takes is just one person saying something in the right moment that will launch your life forward to a breakthrough.

For support:

The Addicts Parents United

Allies in Recovery

Nar Anon

Al Anon

And you can always message me: