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I’m your host AMBrewster, and today we’re going to learn some practical methods for determining if your child is forthright, fictionalizing, or falsifying.
Since 2006, my wife and I have opened our home to over 50 different children of various ages — boys and girls — nationals and visitors. I’ve also spent the majority of that time working with the tough cases — the rebels, the liars, the scorners. And I’ve become pretty good at spotting a liar.
Of course, my experiences since 2006 have definitely cemented my understanding of the process as well as given me lots of opportunities to practice and hone my skill. But my initial training in how to sniff out lies started much earlier.
I’m going to tell the story of how I became a human lie detector, and I’m going to share with you some of the principles I’ve learned and methods I’ve developed, but first we’re going to search the Scriptures for advice on discerning the truth.
It should be an interesting episode. Some of what I’m going to tell you today is the first time I’ve shared this with a large group all at once.
So be sure to download today’s free episode notes because all of the biblical and experiential resources I’ll share during the episode today will be in there. We also have a transcript of today’s show and other related resources.
Let’s dive in.
I want to start by acknowledging that the Bible really only gives us one super clear-cut lesson when it comes to spotting a liar. And it’s this — be omniscient. If you’re omniscient, you will always know.
That’s really it. We don’t have any examples in Scripture — that I know of — where we’re told “This is how to know if someone is lying” or where we can watch someone do it and then reverse engineer the process.
Basically, in the Scriptures we see people lie, and we see the consequences of those lies. Either God — Who knows everything — confronts the liar, or God gives special revelation to an Apostle who confronts the liar, or the individual being lied to has to figure it out just like everyone else.
For example, Eve failed at recognizing a liar. It may have had to do with the fact that she had never in her short life conceived of a falsehood. But, regardless, she was the first human to be lied to by someone, and she didn’t figure it out.
So, what help is there from the Bible when it comes to being able to tell if your kids are lying? Well, there are a couple very helpful concepts.
Now — full disclosure, important disclaimer here — I am not promising that if you perfectly put into practice everything I’m going to teach you today that you can know 100% beyond all shadow of a doubt every time that someone is lying or telling the truth.
You can’t. It won’t happen. It’s not healthy to believe you’ll be able to do that. It breeds pride and arrogance and self-reliance — which are all lethal in parenting. We see the outward appearance, but only God truly sees the transparent heart.
So, though I’m not sharing this so you can always know one way or the other, I’m sharing these truths because — as a biblical counselor — I have witnessed far too many situations where adults should have recognized that there was a problem with their child, but they didn’t.
Like we discussed last time, they were either too ignorant to realize the possibility they were being duped, or they were too lazy to want to really deal with the potential that the child was lying.
Either way, it’s never beneficial for the child (or your relationship with God) to immaturely throw your hands up and exclaim, “If I can’t know for sure, why bother trying?” We need to mature, and — if we love our kids — we need to recognize that keeping them accountable to truth is the singe most loving thing we can do.
Okay, so with that disclaimer, let’s start with . . .
1. The Person
You see, the Bible has a lot to say about inspecting a person’s character in order to relate to them correctly.
A. If the individual is spiritually dead or spiritually immature, they will lie to you.
I know that may sound like quite a blanket statement, but stick with me.
I John 2:4 teaches that self-deceived people are those who believe they have a relationship with God, but who do not obey Him. “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
In Luke 16:10 Jesus teaches the principle that, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” Someone who isn’t faithful to obey with any level of consistency cannot be blanketly trusted to be 100% trustworthy.
We read John 8:44 last time. “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Since what comes out of the mouth has its genesis in our spirits, liars lie out of the sinfulness of their hearts. Therefore, again, if a person is untrustworthy in other areas of spiritual maturity, we need to be wary of blindly accepting everything they have to say, especially if there’s a chance that the individual may view covering the truth as way to protect themselves.
Colossians 3:9 teaches, “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” This is the flip-side of the same truth. It’s the presence of maturing righteousness in me that keeps me from lying.
And Proverbs 6:16-19 is a really interesting passage. It reads, “There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, 19 A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.”
I’ve always thought this list of seven items which — incidentally — repeats one of those items was confusing at best. And though I don’t have time to unpack how this makes all the sense in the world within ancient Jewish figurative language, I do want to point out that each of these line items has more in common with the others than meets the eye.
At first, we could imagine that they all represent something God hates. And that’s true; they have that in common. But listen again: arrogance, malice, planning to do evil and hurrying to do it, and causing trouble. When you carefully consider those character traits or you investigate as many sins as I have, you will quickly notice that anywhere you find those 5 character traits, you will likely find the others. And liars (especially habitual liars) generally struggle in each of those other 5 areas.
That list practically reads like the character manifest of the liar.
Remember, all sin is rooted in believing a lie. It’s only the truth that sets us free. Therefore, someone enslaved to sin or spiritually immature lives in lies. They decide in deception. They function in falsehood. I think you get my point. Their thinking and their speaking and acting are all informed by untruths.
So, if the individual doesn’t have spiritual life or maturity, they will lie to you at some point — deliberately or unintentionally.
Now, I’m not saying that sinners are incapable of speaking the truth. Unlike Satan, by the grace of God, humans are rarely as bad as they could be. God’s common grace allows for the unsaved to speak truth, and God’s sanctifying grace allows even the most spiritually immature to grow in their truth telling.
But I am saying that it amazes me how many parents engage in conversation with an individual who is 100% untrustworthy because their entire life choices up until this point have been nothing more than an orgy of self-worship, and the child swears “It’s not what it looks like,” and the adult says, “Okay, I believe you.”
Again, I’m not saying your disobedient children lie every time, but we absolutely must do our due diligence. If they have not proven themselves to be faithful in simple obedience, there’s a very good chance they won’t be faithful when they’re tempted to lie to cover their rear ends.
Now, some people may ask, “Yes, but what about young children? They haven’t had a chance to prove themselves. Does this principle apply to them?”
Of course it does. Young children are either unsaved or they’re spiritually immature. Those are the only options. They may be just as untrustworthy as an older teen who’s proven they don’t care about truth.
Too many Christian parents view their infants as coming into the world innocent. That’s not true. They are conceived in sin. They’re born sinners. That means that instead of seeing our kids as blank slates that need to be taught to sin, the reality is that they come into the world programmed and predisposed to sin. And because they don’t know God or His marvelous truth, much — if not most — of their conclusions are going to be inaccurate unless we help them know the truth.
So, first, an individual’s character needs to be considered when they communicate. And . . .
B. If the individual deceives themselves, they will deceive you.
We talked about this last time, and it grows from our previous point. A self-deceived person is going to try to convince you of their deception at some point or another. They may not be deliberately trying to lie to you, but it won’t change the fact that what they’re saying is untrue.
Another good indicator that a person may be untrustworthy is . . .
C. If the individual makes promises they don’t keep, they already have a habit of speaking falsehoods.
This one is pretty clear, and — it too — is a more specific application of the previous truths.
Whether they deliberately promise something they know they won’t fulfill or are too immature to realize that they won’t be able to keep their promise, this person is lying.
Someone who does this on a regular basis is someone who has practice in lying, and the more they do it, the less trustworthy they become.
Again, these are simply general principles we must consider when we’re communicating with anyone — our kids included.
How trustworthy is this person’s character? Someone who habitually sins (whether those sins include lying or not) are enslaved to lies. It’s second nature for them to be self-deceived and to deceive others . . . whether they know it or not. And the more they are in the habit of saying things that are untrue, the less trustworthy they become.
So, when learning to be a human lie-detector, it’s very helpful to consider the person. But it’s even more important to consider . . .
2. The Truth
A liar can tell the truth, so we never want to assume that someone’s lying simply because they’ve lied in the past. Therefore, the best way to determine is someone is telling the truth is to determine what the truth really is. Instead of staring at the counterfeit and making a decision based off how convincing it looks, we need to find the real-deal and compare the counterfeit to it.
“Well, duh, Aaron. Isn’t that the whole point? But how are we to know what the real deal is?”
There are three super-important steps that too often are ignored due to ignorance and laziness.
The first is . . .
Christian parents need to keep their kids accountable to truth, but God’s the One Who knows the heart, we don’t. So, we need to learn to be good investigators, researchers, and sleuths.
Romans 3:4 says, “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, ‘That You may be justified in Your words, And prevail when You are judged.’”
The job of a judge is to look at all the facts and come to a just conclusion. When God is judged, He will always be found to be true. But not always our kids.
Finding the Truth in Self-Deception
When it comes to self-deception, often times the deception will be revealed by comparing what they believe to Scripture. Self-deception is often theoretical, and I’ve found that the roots of our accepted falsehoods clearly contradict the Scriptures on multiple points.
But sometimes a person’s self-deception is more practical. They honestly believe their best friend hates them. Though often their conclusion is based on faulty logic, assumptions, and misinterpretations, it’s still so important to bring the Bible to bear on their delusion. For example, “What do you think would please the Lord in this situation? Do you think simply assuming they hate you is best? Don’t you think it would be good to find out for sure?”
Self-deception is often the result of ignorance of the truth, so discovering it is the important first step to breaking the delusion.
Finding the Truth in Deliberate Deception
I know that it can seem daunting when you believe your kid is lying to you, but you don’t have any information about the situation. Just remember this, liars never have the upper hand when they go toe-to-toe with truth. You might not have the truth in front of you right now, but the more information, the more facts, the more evidence you can get collect, the better.
I used to work at Panera Bread, and we frequently had issues with employees stealing from the cash registers. It was almost a full time job studying how it was done, watching carefully, and discovering the facts after the fact. But I remember an incident where we actually had video footage of the person stealing money from the register. And — believe it or not — they still tried to deny it. But they couldn’t stand before the evidence, and they were arrested.
But what if I hadn’t thought to check the cameras? What if I hadn’t talked with their fellow cashiers to see if they had spotted any questionable behavior?
This is why the Jewish law system puts so much emphasis on multiple witnesses. Oh, the stories I could tell of carefully cross-examining various people about a single incident. The biggest issue wasn’t so much instantly knowing that someone was lying, but discovering that multiple people were lying about the situation and having a hard time telling who was the only one speaking truth!
All of this to say, collect information. Ask questions. Take the time to talk to other people who were involved or supposedly involved. Don’t shy away from the task of correctly learning the truth.
Now, before I move on to our second biblical truth that can help us spot a liar, I want you to know that I’m not a fatalistic, jaded individual who sees liars in every bush. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
We’re talking about facts, truth, and reality. If I don’t know it, I would be a fool to assume one way or another. Just recently my son questioned me about a decision I had made. He told me it wasn’t a good decision, but a little digging revealed he was working off a faulty premise. When he understood the reality about the situation, he thought my decision was just right.
We’re arrogant fools if we believe we know everything about everything. We need to be humble. But humility is never going to roll over and play dead. Humility is going to acknowledge that truth glorifies God, I don’t have the truth, therefore, I need to do my best to make sure my kids and I know the truth.
So, none of what I’m saying should suggest to you that you must trust no one until proven innocent in a court of law. I often take people at their word with no thought to the veracity of the statement. I do this because sometimes I’m not in a place to collect the facts, sometimes it’s not my responsibility, and sometimes the person has already proven themselves to be trustworthy.
As we’ve learned in our Family Love Series, love gives the benefit of the doubt, and I have no problem doing so when the situation calls for it.
But we’re talking specifically about instances where there may be reasons for someone to lie or where there’s clear self-deception. We’re talking about keeping our kids accountable to the truth when we have reason to believe they may not be.
And this is why as we investigate the facts, we must use . . .
In I John 4:1, we’re told that even when it comes to spiritual beings we are not to blithely believe everything we hear. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Hebrews 5:14 admonishes us that, “Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”
The word translated “senses” is only used once in the New Testament and refers to an organ of perception. Whichever organ of perception we’re discussing, it needs to be trained. The word “trained” is the same word used to describe the training of an Olympic athlete.
Now, the average human is far too deluded. We don’t like to admit that few people truly do anything worthwhile without proper training. Just like we need to be taught to cook and play the piano and drive, we need to be taught to think and observe and love and obey and be discerning.
Specifically, in Hebrews 5:14, we need to be trained to discern good and evil. The word “discern” refers to passing judgement on something as in a court of law. No good judge is going to pass judgement without sufficient research and evidence, and no good judge is going to pass judgement without applying careful logic to the case.
For the Christian parent, we need to utilize Theo-logic to rightly discern a matter — whether it’s truth or lies.
Speaking of our own spiritual maturity, Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” We absolutely cannot afford to be undiscerning.
And there is soooo much more that could be said on this topic, but allow me to summarize as so:
1. A person’s character must be taken into account when we’re trying to determine the validity of their words.
This is not to say that criminals always lie, but we definitely mustn’t swing to the other extreme that “good people” never lie.
We must wisely remember that sin is lurking at the door of all of our hearts, and we should never let down our guard.
This is why we need to make it a point to investigate when truth is in question — or should be in question.
And then we need be biblically discerning as we pursue the truth in any given situation.
And — of course . . .
Trust whom? Trust the potential liar? Trust ourselves? No.
We need to trust God to do what we can’t do, know what we can’t know, and help us as we cannot help ourselves.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to look at someone and say, “Listen, I don’t know whether you’re telling the truth or not. I’ve looked at all the information I have, and I’m split. There’s no clear answer. But I’m not Go, and I don’t know what to think. So, I’m not going to give you consequences for something I don’t know you did. I’ll leave that up to God. He knows exactly what happened. Of course, if you actually are lying, please don’t think you got away with anything. Be sure your sin will find you out. But until that time, I’ll continue relating to you as if you didn’t lie. But I will say this, please don’t forget that your life choices up until now are part of what has made it so incredibly difficult for me to take you at your word. Even if you did tell the truth, I hope you can see that there is still a lot of growing you need to do.”
Sometimes we just need to let it go. If we can’t prove there’s a lie, it would be unwise to give a consequence for lying. We can trust God that we will know everything we need to know, and we don’t have to be afraid if we’ve done our due diligence.
Okay, so those were the biblical principles on which we need to rely when it comes to determining the truth. Now on to Part 2 of today’s discussion.
How I Became a Human Lie Detector
The short story comes in three phases: The first phase is that I was quite an accomplished liar growing up. Of course, I do not say this with any joy or sense of pride. It was one of the very wicked habits I had. Everything I said earlier about the Proverbs 6 passage was definitely true about me.
Now, my parents often doubted my stories because I didn’t have the character to be considered trustworthy, and there were times I was caught in a lie, but I don’t think they knew a quarter of the deception in which I lived. Even now, while reminiscing with my parents, they will often say, “I had no idea that had happened!”
The point is, I was one of those people who had what it took to completely deceive most people in my life — parents, bosses, youth pastors, kids my age, their parents, everyone. I was sneaky, conniving, and usually 10 or more steps ahead of everyone else. And I was rarely caught in a lie.
Enter the second phase. All of that was compounded by the fact that I fell in with a very bad lot while in college, and — without diving into the unnecessary details — I basically received a CIA level training in lying and detection. Unfortunately, it wasn’t because I was working for the CIA. I was being trained by people who wanted me to take what I learned and use it in illegal ways.
Praise God I never completely threw in my lot with them, and by the time I had learned everything I wanted to learn from them, I had enough dirt on them to know they would let me go without giving me any trouble. That and their organization wasn’t about to do what it would take to keep me from leaving . . . so, but the grace of God, I was able to walk away. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I had significantly strengthened my ability to lie and detect lies.
Of course, it also didn’t help that during this time my minor in college was acting. Yeah, that’s a significant help to would-be liars. Acting is all about persuasively pretending to be someone you’re not.
And then there’s the fact that I was working as a part time street magician during this time. I had been doing illusions since I was very young, but it was during this time that I was beefing up my mind-reading repertoire. I really like the definition of mentalism as provided in the movie Now You See Me. When asked what mentalism was, the character of Merritt McKinney said, “Tricks mostly, some science. Targeted guessing might be a most apt description, along with some intuition and the occasional voices in my head.”
Believe it or not, a lot of the tells and cues I’m going to share with you in a moment are utilized by mentalists in order to convince everyone they’re mindreaders.
Now, I recognize that in saying all of this about myself (half a lifetime of lying, criminal influences, acting, and sideshow mentalism) there may be some of you who will no longer view me the same way you did about 15 minutes ago.
I believe that would be a little unfair, but I recognize that it may well be a consequences of my past sinful choices. I do hope, though, that I have proven myself trustworthy to you at some point or another, but — if you’re new to the show — I can respect if you’re a little uncertain about me after hearing all of that.
All I can say is that by the 100% complete grace of God, I am not who I used to be. God had a plan to use the sins of my past for His glory, and I praise Him that He broke my heart of stone and drew me to Him.
And that’s phase 3 of my story. Since I had been one of the best liars I knew, and since I had lots of practice and some high level training, as I started to submit my life to God, though I personally stopped lying, I was still quite able to recognize it in others.
And as God put me into positions of authority in schools and boys homes and in counseling and as a parent, I have had so many opportunities to continue to research lying and refine my skills.
Again, I’m not proud of how this all came to be, but I am pleased that the Lord can redeem my past and use it to help people change.
Because of my experiences, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started a conversation by saying, “I know that what we’re about to talk about may scare you. You’re probably going to be tempted to lie to me in order to protect yourself. But I just want you to know that the human body hates when someone forces it to lie. The body actually revolts against the lie, and I have a lot of experience listening to what the body is saying while the person tries to lie. I’m not saying this to threaten you, I’m saying this because I care about you glorifying God. Therefore, let’s not get sidetracked by fear and lies. Let’s talk about the truth together.”
Sometimes that helps, and sometimes that only serves to convince them to try even harder. But I also can’t tell you how many times, I’ve had to say, “So, I hear what you’re telling me, but remember what I said about being a lie detector. We both know what you’re saying isn’t true. Let’s try that again.”
And — when that time comes — I always get a different story.
So, that’s how I want to end today’s discussion. I want to share with you how to spot potential cues that the person with whom you’re talking isn’t telling the truth.
Now, we obviously don’t have the time to be all-inclusive or in-depth with this, but I hope that as you start to look for these cues in your children (even if they’re very young), you’ll grow in your ability to keep your kids accountable to the truth.
But — once again — it’s disclaimer time. This is not fool-proof. Yes, it’s a science, but science isn’t infallible. We’re not God. These are merely cues that there is a potential that the person you’re talking to make be fictionalizing or falsifying.
By the way, I use those two terms to clarify the difference between a 100% lie — falsifying — and a mix of truth and lies — fictionalizing.
And — interestingly enough — it’s the fictionalizing that’s harder to identify because there really are elements of truth in the story.
Alright, our final point for today . . .
3. Potential Cues
Do you remember before when I said that the body doesn’t like to lie? Well, that’s true — more or less. We’ll talk later about habitual liars who — over time — have become much more comfortable with lying. But, for the most part, the difficulty of lying, the stress of the situation, the conviction in the spirit, all of that leaks out of the body.
But absolutely none of these indicators will tell you anything by themselves. In fact, each of them may be completely normal in different situations. Therefore, it’s absolutely essential that you must have a baseline for determining if the cues should be there or not.
None of this is going to help detect lying if you don’t know the person with whom you’re speaking and have an idea of how they communicate. But since we’re primarily talking about you and your kids, I really pray that you already have a significant baseline for your children’s verbal and physical traits we’re going to discuss.
Unfortunately, not all parents do. In general, humans are far too unobservant. So, if nothing else, if you start paying attention to these categories, at least you’ll get to know your kids better.
A. Potential Verbal Cues
Let’s talk first about . . .
The easiest verbal content cue that someone is lying is when they say something that you know for certain is not true. That’s the easy one.
By the way, if you can collect information about the situation before you speak to the child, it makes this eventuality far more likely. For example, the child thinks you know nothing about what happened at school, but you’ve already spoken with the teacher. You know, that kind of thing.
But there are other potential content cues. For example, if a person is answering a question with a question, that’s always a red flag. Most people don’t do that in normal conversation. This also includes when someone has to repeat every question you ask them before giving an answer.
The presence of a lot of otherwise irregular vocal clutter like “um, uh, ah, er” is often the result of the mouth trying to keep moving even though the brain hasn’t figured out what it’s going to say yet.
It’s also generally true that people don’t think to tell you they’re telling the truth unless they’re not.
There’s also the liar’s tendency to answer a question without answering it. A silly example of this is when I once judged a speech tournament. The category was extemporaneous speech, which meant the competitors were presented with a topic, given research materials and 20 minutes to jot down their notes, and then had to present their speech before the judges. Well, there was this one guy who started into his speech pretty well, but I quickly noted that the remaining 75% of the speech was not only really polished, but had practically nothing to do with the original topic. It was obvious to me that he had written and memorized a speech before he came, and the 20 minutes he had to prepare his extemporaneous speech was actually just him trying to figure out how he could segue from the given topic to the content of his pre-planned speech.
Liars do that all of the time. The most immature variations of this is simply turning the focus of the conversation back on you. “You never believe me. It doesn’t matter if I’m telling the truth or not, you always think I’m lying. What kind of a parent would do that?”
But it also can be quite smooth as they appear to quite candidly give you the information for which you asked, but by the time they’re done talking, neither of you actually remember what you asked them, so the content of their answer actually usurped the initial question.
When I recognize this is happening, I will say, “That’s all very interesting, but what I asked you was ___________.”
But it’s not just the content of their communication.You also need to watch the . . .
Certain people’s voices will raise in pitch when they lie, other’s will lower. The key is to know your child and be paying attention to unexplained changes.
Volume is also part of this. Yes, in uncomfortable situations, there’s always a tendency to raise one’s voice. Sometimes it can actually be helpful to raise one’s voice, and it has nothing to do with lying, but often — especially when it’s coming from the child — raising the volume isn’t a good sign. It’s very easy to get louder when the child is becoming defensive because it’s clear you’re not buying their story.
And there’s the vocal . . .
Irregular speech is often a dead giveaway that the person is trying to fictionalize or falsify something. You talk with your kids all the time about lots of things. You have so much knowledge about how they communicate — their rhythms, their structures — it’s actually pretty easy to tell when they start using vocab and idioms and sentence structure they don’t normally use. What you’re witnessing is their mind grabbing for things that other people said or things they’ve seen because they’re trying to sound believable and they know they can’t do that on their own. So, watch out when the speech patterns don’t sound natural on their lips.
Some speech pattern-changes involve taking too long to answer questions, but other people might stop using contractions. Others will start using big words. Some people will stop using full sentences and use only fragments.
Again, having a baseline is so important. You will never notice something being out of place if you don’t know what it is to be in place.
And then there’s a question of . . .
Some people talk way too much when they’re lying, and others say very little. And different people do these for different reasons, but — again — the key is to notice the change from the norm. If someone communicates at a 50 when they’re talking about anything in life, but they raise to a 60 or fall to a 40 only during those time when their honesty is in question, you need to pay attention to that.
Okay, so those are some potential verbal cues for which to listen. But there are also . . .
B. Potential Physical Cues
You’re going to need to watch carefully for these. Some of them are very subtle.
Let’s start from the bottom up.
If the person is sitting, bouncing legs and tapping feet are a sure sign of nerves. What’s really interesting is that an honest child with loving parents have no good reason to be nervous.
The same is true for standing. A lot of shuffling or pacing is a way that the body works out excess adrenaline.
So, if your child — even in stressful situations — remains relatively calm — doesn’t pace, doesn’t bounce their leg — but they can’t seem to stop as you ask them about where the last cookie went . . . you might have a liar on your hands.
What we’re looking for is irregularity and signs of discomfort. This may involve rocking back and forth, turning their body away to the left or right, or hugging themselves with their arms.
Another one people don’t often associate with the torso is breathing changes. For example, ventilating while a question is asked or as they answer can be a cue.
The torso as a whole can be harder in which to identify aberrant behavior because it’s so central in the body. There generally has to be significant amounts of physical stress for it to be identified in the torso. However, if there are other cues, and then the torso gets in on the anomalous movement, that’s the icing on the cake.
Okay, this next one can be a big category. But, again, it takes being observant.
The easier hand incongruities to notice involve the individual covering their eyes or their mouth or touching their neck, excessive fidgeting, and/or a lot of scratching, rubbing, and playing with hair.
The next two are a little harder because they’re less intuitive. Did you know that most people will casually gesture with one hand at a time. Yes, we often use two-handed gestures when it’s appropriate, but unless the person is one of those individuals who can’t stop their hands during normal conversation, two-handed gestures tend to be more purposeful than single-hand gestures. When lying, if a person is trying to be persuasive and really considering how they’re communicating, you tend to get far more two-handed gestures than normal.
Finger pointing is also something for which to watch. Finger-pointing is a lot like answering a question without answering it. It distracts. It consciously or unconsciously is an attempt to focus attention somewhere else.
But the hardest one for most untrained people to recognized is something called non-congruent gesturing. This involves gestures (and body language in general) that doesn’t match the words. But it also applies to gestures that are timed poorly. Many of our gestures land in time with our words, but when lying, gestures don’t hit the way they should. Most of the time they land later than they normally would.
Alright, let’s continue our travel up the body.
Excessive sweating, most noticeable on the face, but also observable on the arms and underarms, is a very strong indicator that something is wrong. You probably won’t encounter this one too often.
But one’s complexion on their face or arms is easier to see. Blanching, flushing, and the like are the result of physiological processes in the body reacting to surprise and discomfort.
When it comes to the head, most of our attention needs to be concentrated on the face, but abnormally cocking one’s head to the side while communicating can be a potential cue that the person isn’t being forthright.
There’s also the occasional possibility that the head will actually nod in the direction of something about which the lips are lying. For example, you ask the child where their phone is, but while they say, “I don’t know,” their head inclines or subtly turns in the direction of the phone.
Hands may do this from time to time as well.
Then there’s . . .
. . . as a whole.
The key thing for which to watch is microexpressions. The face has so many muscles in it, and since it’s common in human language to utilize facial expressions, the face is already used to aligning itself to our words. However, since lies often happen in the moment, anomalous expressions easily creep up.
Sometimes the expressions don’t even require them to speak. Often times, as I’m telling the individual what I believe really happened, the face reacts with the slightest movements that betray their surprise that I figured it out so well.
Thank you for your patience. Moving right along . . .
Since we were just talking about anomalous expressions, watch out for fake smiles. Fake smiles are mouth smiles. One person I can’t remember once said, “Crow’s feet indicate honesty.” The idea is that if the eyes are part of the smile, the smile is far more sincere.
A dry mouth is often a potential cue, and it’s often accompanied by a lot of licking of the lips.
But people have also been known to bite their lips, roll their lips back to expose their teeth, and purse their lips as if they don’t want the truth to get out.
The key — as always — is to compare the current behavior to the baseline you’ve already established.
And finally . . .
Many have said that the eyes are the window to the soul, and I do believe that — biblically speaking — the eyes betray more about us than we realize.
For example, a person who excessively blinks or squints more than usual, may be fictionalizing. Whereas someone’s eyes that can’t stay still may be falsifying.
In the same way the hands or the head may gesture toward the truth, the eyes may do the same. Sometimes you’ll see it in a movie, where a con artist, magician, or detective will ask a question and the person’s eyes will flutter just for a moment in the direction of the MacGuffin. This is more real than you realize.
But the age-old question about eye contact is a divisive one. Some people will lie while staring intently at your face, and others will look away at crucial points. Again, the real question is the character and behavior of the individual who’s telling the story.
And, lastly, the most contentious and debated topic of whether or not eyes betray a liar is the claim that eye direction while speaking can give a cue as to whether the information is being falsified or fictionalized.
There are those who say it’s bogus, and that the science doesn’t back it up, and there are those who swear by it. I’m in the second category.
For over 20 years I have researched and conducted my own experiments concerning this question on myself, volunteers, and unsuspecting individuals, and I believe I can say with great confidence that what I’m about to share with you does consistently work.
I know we’re going long today, but this will be worth the time. Also, don’t forget that I want to touch on how each of the things I’ve just shared factor in when you’re talking about habitual liars. And then we’ll be done.
Okay, so the eye direction thing basically boils down to the fact that our eyes tend to move when we’re accessing information in our brains — this is called simply LEM (Lateral Eye Movement). It has a lot to do with the hemisphereal makeup of our brains.
Research has revealed that when people look straight ahead but seem to dilate or unfocus, they’re quickly accessing sensory information.
When the eyes drift to their left, they are remembering something. Up and left is usually remembering something visual, straight left tends to be remembering sounds, whereas down and left reflects inner dialogue.
On the other hand, drifting right accompanies fictionalized, falsified, or — some people say — constructed ideas. Up and right is constructed imagery, straight to the right identifies constructed sounds, whereas down and right is usually constructed tactile or visceral feelings.
Again, this is generally true, and there is some question as to whether or not right and left handed individuals access information differently. In my research, their dominate handedness does have a significant effect.
Now, if you’re overwhelmed by all the directions, all you have to do is this. If you are facing your child, you ask them a question, and their eyes drift to your left, then just remember “Left is Lying” — LL, okay?
Now, again, this is an overgeneralization, and I’m not saying that it’s 100% percent foolproof, but I have used this in parenting, school contexts while working through group issues where many people were lying and were facing expulsion, in professional mentalism, in unplanned every day life, and in counseling . . . and I have used it with a significant accuracy.
So, I would suggest that you conduct your own experiments with your children. Pay attention to them. Be observant. When you’re talking about your trip to the zoo, watch which ways their eyes drift when they’re remembering the experience.
When they come home from school, pay close attention. If they consistently experience Lateral Eye Movement while accessing honest information, and they just so happen to start looking the other direction while trying to answer a question in a situation where they may receive consequences, then you have something to add to your considerations.
Again, I’m not promising you can know the heart for sure, but it will help you keep your kids accountable to God’s truth.
Now, let’s finish up today by asking the question . . .
C. What about Habitual Liars?
I was a habitual conscious liar, and I’ve worked with people who were habitual unconscious liars. The unconscious ones tend to lie more often and about things that don’t matter. I once was counseling a young lady who lied as often as she breathed. One day on a whim I asked her what her favorite color was, and she said, “Green.” And after a second she said, “Actually. It’s blue.”
When I asked her why the change, she said that she realized she had lied. When I asked her why she lied in the first place, she legitimately didn’t know.
I conjectured that she knew that my favorite color was green and that perhaps it was a subconscious desire to be understood and liked by someone.
That conversation unlocked a window into her own heart, and on subsequent sessions, she recognized more and more when she would do just that.
But whether they may occasionally lie unconsciously or not, it’s the habit of consciously lying that is the hardest to catch.
What I’m about to share is from my own experience, and — I know for a fact — is the experience of many others.
As a conscious deceiver, there were two key things that made my lying hard to detect.
1. I rehearsed the lies.
The more you rehearse the lies, the easier they are to say comfortably. Not only are you more practiced, but the Lateral Eye Movement doesn’t betray you. My eyes would naturally drift to my left because I was actually remembering myself concocting the lie. Though the lie was falsified or fictionalized, my accessing that memory was tied to my rehearsal . . . a legitimate experience I actually had.
Since I rehearsed the lies, they were more natural, so the vocal cues were generally nonexistent.
But I didn’t just rehearse lies to cover something I actually had done and for which I may actually get caught, I rehearsed lies for things I might do in the future.
It was very hard to catch me off guard or find me ill-prepared because of the mental games I would play.
But as I became better and better — especially after I started to learn about the vocal and physical cues . . .
2. I consciously practiced overcoming the verbal and physical cues.
I would lie to random people all the while making sure my eyes went the right direction and my gestures were well-timed and I was comfortable in the process so the stress-indicators didn’t even come out.
Now, again, I’m sharing this with you not because I’m proud of any of this, but because some of you have kids like my former self, and others of you have never considered for a minute that a young person would work that hard to lie.
I simply want you to be informed about the possibilities and the ways of detecting the possibilities.
So, let me share with you some ways of disrupting even the most habitual liars.
When I say disrupting, I’m talking about messing up their patter — throwing them off. The physical and vocal cues aren’t presenting because they’re polished and practiced. But — if they’re lying and are disrupted — the cues may come rushing in.
First, consider asking them feelings-related questions.
For example, if the child found their siblings fish dead in the tank, their emotions will likely come out. They may tell their sibling they’re so sorry or get teary.
But if the fish died as a result of being overfed by the other sibling, and the fish is found dead, and you talk to the sibling, the most potent emotion they’re experiencing is the fear of receiving consequences.
So, even if they may weave a convincing story about how they were just about to feed the fish when cat jumped onto the fish tank and knocked over the open bottle of fish food, if asked “How did you feel when you found out the fish was dead?” That’s likely not something they fictionalized or falsified in advance.
Second, it can be helpful to ask the child to tell you the events of the situation in reverse order. It’s not the they can’t do it, but since it’s incredibly more difficult, the cues become more obvious as they focus their effort on trying to tell the falsified story backwards. It’s a huge disruption.
Someone telling the truth would struggle to do this as well, but none of the verbal or physical cues will likely slip out because they’re not in trouble, and they’re telling the truth.
Third, another way to disrupt is to drill down to more and more specific detail. “Was the cat in the room when you started feeding the fish? On which side of the tank was the food sitting? On which side of the tank did the cat jump? What did you do when you saw the cat knocked over the food?”
And on and on.
If the story is true, the answers will be accessible. It’s very likely that if the story isn’t true, the child didn’t think that deeply about their lie, and even if they’re really good improvisationalists, the added stress will allow the cues to slip through.
And fourth, don’t give the liar any more information than what they need. This often frustrates the conscious liars because they really want to know that you’re believing them. They also really want as much information as possible so they can jive that with their story.
Before they answer your question about what happened to the fish, they may want to know if the cat was left outside or inside when you left the house earlier. When you’re asking them more and more detailed questions, they may ask things like, “You believe me don’t you?”
The key is not to satiate their curiosity. It doesn’t matter what you did with the cat. If the truth is that the cat caused the problem, then the cat caused the problem. But if the cat were outside the whole time this supposed incident happened, there’s an issue.
The need to be believed rarely occurs when someone is comfortable in the truth. Generally speaking, they’re not even considering the fact that they won’t be believed.
Now, I’ve thrown so much information at you today, I don’t even want to take the time to do a review.
Let me just say that there is so much more information we could discuss — like the differences between pathological and compulsive liars, and so many more ways you need to learn to be observant when dealing with them — and maybe one day we will talk about them. But I believe you have plenty of info to go on for now. And today’s show notes will be very robust, so they should help you remember everything about which we talked.
As always, please share this series with your parent friends, and if you need help because someone in your life is a liar, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Counselor@TruthLoveParent.com or call (828) 423-0894.
Catching a liar is one thing, but there is something so much more important. So, please join us next time as we once again open God’s Word to discover how to best worship God with our parenting.
To that end, we’ll be discussing how to help a liar.
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