When you believe someone has lied to you, it’s natural to feel hurt or betrayed. But before you accuse someone of lying or confront them with your proof, here are a few steps that therapists recommend taking first.
1. Consider the Source
When we hear facts that don’t add up, our first instinct may be to assume someone is lying to hurt us and approach them from that energy, says Jordan A. Conrad, PhD, LCSW, a therapist based in New York City. Before you react, ask yourself who this person is to you. “Anchor your response to the type of person they are — a close friend who is typically supportive of you merits a different kind of response than a colleague who is constantly putting you down,” he says.
2. Look Inward
As hard as it can be, it’s worth asking yourself how you would’ve reacted to the truth upfront, says Dr. Conrad, whether it was a simple lie about liking your haircut or something more serious, like a friend going along with your idea for a bold career move, even if they thought it was a bad idea.
“If every time a friend tells you something you don’t want to hear you get angry, you should expect people to start omitting details or even lying to you. It’s important to be honest with yourself about the standard you’re holding them to.”
3. Document the Evidence
If someone is gaslighting you — that is making you feel crazy for questioning things — it can help to journal about your perspective and document the evidence. “Some people who lie are skilled in dismantling your sense of reality, so documentation is an excellent tool to stay grounded in your own perspective,” says Sgro.
4. Think Before You Confront Someone
Before confronting someone, identify the main points you’d like to get across. Next, practice saying them out loud. “When emotions are heightened, it’s easy to lose focus and get sidetracked. Rehearsing beforehand helps you stay anchored,” says Sgro.
5. Practice Compassion
Remember, this could all just be a misunderstanding. If you decide to confront someone about a lie, lead with good will and give the other person a chance to explain. “Share how you found out about the lie and ask for their take on it. Accusing someone of something big requires big evidence,” says Conrad.
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6. Stay Levelheaded
Even if it’s a significant lie, try to remain calm. You don’t want to walk away from a conversation about someone lying to you feeling like you became a version of yourself that you don’t respect. “Your emotions are valid and you deserve an outlet for them, but if you’re breaking down and behaving in a way you will regret, it doesn’t help,” says Conrad.
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7. Discuss Your Boundaries With the Person Who Lied
Setting boundaries is important in any relationship, but especially one that’s been fractured by lying. Boundaries aren’t about you telling someone else what to do, says Sygo, as we can’t change another person’s behavior. “It’s about you setting clear expectations about what will happen if someone doesn’t respect your boundaries.”
8. Carve Out Time for Recovery
From white lies to big omissions, lying covers a broad swath of mistruths — and the reactions to those lies can be just as varied. You may feel annoyed or hurt to downright shaken. Take a second to feel your feelings, so they don’t come out sideways later on. You could journal it out or share what happened with a trusted confidant.
For a big lie, like an affair, you’re likely going to need to take some time to collect your thoughts. “When it feels like your reality has been shaken, doing things that you enjoy is a great way to stay connected to yourself,” says Sgro. Try grounding exercises like deep breathing to soothe your nervous system, she adds.
9. Talk With a Therapist
A therapist can be a great short-term tool or an ongoing resource. You don’t have to wait until things feel unmanageable or view therapy as a last resort. Therapy can be situation-specific and cease when the issue feels resolved.
If lying has caused a wedge between you and your partner, a neutral third party can help you process difficult emotions and explore where you want the relationship to go from here. “I recommend couples therapy to examine each person’s feelings, underlying needs, and expectations of one another with someone who can help mediate communication and help guide you toward potential reconciliation,” says Sgro.
10. Give the Other Person an Opportunity to Rebuild Trust
Being lied to can initiate a grief process, which isn’t something that can be unraveled quickly, says Sgro. But if the other person demonstrates accountability and understands how the lie hurt you, that’s a good sign. “If not, it may be difficult to move forward in the relationship. Sometimes the most helpful solution is to distance yourself,” she adds. Either way, take your time with it.
11. Set Realistic Expectations
The reality is that some people may continue to lie to you. Being realistic about what you can count on them for — and what you can’t — will save you future heartache, says Conrad. “You can keep the person in your life in a role that doesn’t require that you rely on them to tell the truth.”