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The Receiver is as responsible as the Giver: A Tale of Lies

Lying. It is the sin which bothers most people. We take it as a crime against our character. How could someone do this to us?! First, I want to unpack the foundational psychological thought concerning lying from the modern "pioneers of psychology". Jung would credit our need for lying with his Persona and Shadow archetype. To delineate these briefly, according to Carl Jung, a persona is the "mask" representation of ourselves to the world. Operating very similar to the Ego of Freud's analysis theory, the persona is the outer presentation of what we of a desired self. Jung would argue this is part of the collective unconscious, a system of beliefs, behaviors, thoughts, and actions influenced through biology, culture, society, and psychology of all people. The Shadow, in turn, is the repressed self covered with shame. These archetypes are integral in the role lying plays in our relationships.

Lying affects multiple parties. Lying can permeate a single relationship, or it can have secondary and tertiary ramifications. Regardless of the numerical value of affected participants, there is always at least one Receiver (the one being lied to or about) and one Giver (the one lying). Both the Receiver and Giver have personas and shadows affected and permeated with lying. Lying attacks the very foundation of both parties, including the true self. It is an assault on our understanding of reality. Lying also is a coping skill and defense mechanism used to deny said reality and reduce immediate anxiety. There are several possible motivations for lying which we will cover: to avoid shame (the Shadow), to deceive and cause harm (malevolence), and to protect others from shame and hurt. This is not an exhaustive list, but a list comprised of the most common motivations I have seen in counseling youth, friends, and clients. We are going to discuss each one as it relates to how the Bible views lying which I will then connect to modern psychological approaches and understandings. We will also discuss the roles of both parties in lying, motivations and reactions from each one, and how we can biblically confront lying the way Christ Jesus would have us do.

Let's begin by discussing the first motivation: to avoid shame. The Bible, and psychology, speak a great deal on the concept of shame. Shame, as we'll describe it here, is the emotional, physical, and spiritual response to avoid an act or thought which is dissonant from personal or cultural beliefs. According to the Word of God, shame is experienced when we knowingly deviate from God's commands. In the book of Genesis, the first example we see is Adam and Eve clothing themselves to hide the shame they felt from sinning. There is psychological significance here, as the clothing of Adam and Even can also spiritually represent people trying to hide their true self from the world (naked being the representation of the true self). I mean neither of these concepts as hypothetical, but as actual representations of both the physical and spiritual reality we live in. So, when people feel shame, the natural response is to "cover" ourselves; to hide our true self from the world. This is a violation to the beauty of your creation from the Lord. Jesus Christ sees us as we are, "clothed" or not.

The next motivation to address is the motivation to deceive and harm (malevolence). This motivation is discussed at length in the Bible as originating from the devil's personality for his disgust of everything related to God's character: hate. Some psychopathy and narcissistic tendencies manifest in this way. Some behavior start out innocent enough, as a projection of our persona. However, due to disgust or pride, some lying takes place to elevate one's stature in contrast to others. This can be personal or universal. Freud would contend this behavior is rooted in shame and natural aggression stemming from id impulses. Jung describes this behavior as part of his Shadow archetype. The Bible describes this behavior as being carnal and natural for humans to engage in, attributing prideful and narcissistic behavior as manifestations of our soul's desire to "be like God."

The last motivation we'll cover is protecting others from shame and harm. This is represented by withholding the truth in order to lessen the anxiety of the receiving party, or to offer hope. This is the most well-intentioned of all motivations. Psychology would describe this behavior as also a coping mechanism to decrease the anxiety we feel by avoiding negatively perceived reactions from the receiving party. I personally like a more altruistic motivation as sparing others from harm (which may also be an avoidant coping mechanism as well). However well-intentioned it may be, it is still often a false hope that's given, denying reality and causing more harm to the receiver. The Bible also condemns this action because it belittles the love and provision of God for others.

Now that we've given some background to lying and the motivations therein, let's address the pragmatic issue at hand: what is the biblical and psychologically healthy response from the Receiver? The solution is quite simple: we as receivers must position ourselves to not provoke shame in the giver, but instead allow for the communication to be "naked" between each other. Jung describes this epiphany as showcasing the "true self," where shame and reality meet in truth. The Bible describes this as being a forgiving person. In order for the giver to be truthful, one of several things must be present: either the giver must hold to a personal standard that compels honesty, or the giver must perceive the receiver to withhold shame-provoking behavior and thoughts and be willing to forgive and listen. As the receiver, if we want to encourage honesty amongst others, we must be willing to suspend judgment, anger, and personal retribution, and seek the good of the "giving" party. People long for acceptance. Psychologically speaking, this stems from a need for personal and social safety. Emotionally and spiritually, it is our need to be loved and accepted; to share "naked" relationships with one another.

If we desire good relationships, the receiver must be willing to be a "welcoming" party, not a retributive party. We must remember our own shortcomings in order to understand others'. Our Lord Jesus has called us to "forgive others as your Father in heaven has forgiven you" (see Ephesians 4:32). If you want people to stop lying to you, be someone they can be honest with. Let go of our personas, and let's be "true selves" with one another.

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