the complexity of lying

cw: childhood abuse, discussion of lying, abusive relationships

As a survivor, lying can be a huge trigger for me. Lying has been weaponized to keep me silent, deny my experiences and isolate me. And, in year where I am surrounded by lies about who I am and what I have done, I have chosen to try and hold complexity about why people lie, including myself.

We all lie. 

To  be clear, I am not saying that we lie about having experienced harm. I am in full support of unconditional belief of survivors. The harm is always real and true. These thoughts are not a way to dismiss the actions of those who have caused harm. We all should be accountable in real and meaningful ways for the harm we do to others. And, I think this becomes more possible when we do the reflexive work to think about how we survive, and the ways that the system can infiltrate our survival in ways that do harm.

And sometimes, lying is a harm-reduction strategy, a way of coping and surviving. Sometimes, I need to lie to myself. I survived my childhood by blocking out the violence and abuse I was experiencing: lying to myself that everything was okay. Short-term this was a brilliant survival strategy that protected me from emotions and truths I had no skills or support to deal with.

And sometimes, lying is a way to get your needs met. And your needs are super legitimate. For me, I lied a lot as a kid about being sick. This meant that I didn’t have to go to school, a place where I was bullied and ostracized and felt very unsafe. Lying and saying I was sick meant I could stay home, a place where my need for safety was better met. And being sick meant it was more likely my parents would engage with me, meeting another important need, the need for attention.

And sometimes, lying is a way to establish boundaries. For many of us surviving violence from people who were supposed to love and care for us, it is incredibly difficult to establish boundaries with people we are connected to. Wonky attachment means we often stay connected to people in unhealthy ways, no matter the harm they are doing to us. Lying can make it easier to disconnect. We don’t lie about the person harming us; we create fictions about that person in order to support ourselves ending that relationship. We reduce people down to only their bad behaviors, denying ways they may be kind, or reasons that they perpetuate harm. This is lying, and it can be what makes it possible for us to justify protecting ourselves.

And sometimes, lying is a way to get your truths recognized. In our culture that systemically doubts and isolates survivors, we are conditioned to believe that our experiences of harm are not enough to be recognized. Especially for folks who experienced childhood abuse, we expect that we are not worthy enough to not be harmed and/or that our traumas are not bad enough to be recognized. Myself, I carry so much hurt, intense sadness and shame around the abuse I experienced that has not been recognized. And I know that I have projected this pain on to other situations. These situations were harmful. And their impact was directly related to triggering the truths of my childhood abuse I have never had recognized. I have lied and blamed the person involved with the smaller harm for all the pain because I needed it recognized. People can be accountable for the harm they have done, for the actions that trigger me; I don’t think they can be held accountable for all the hurt and anguish that comes up when I get triggered. But sometimes I want them to be.

I am sure that so many more reasons that we lie; legitimate reasons that allow us to survive in a world that is set up to erase us, harm us and delegitimize our identities and experiences. I think it is important to acknowledge the value of lying as as survival strategy while simultaneously beginning to reflect on the impact of these lies. Personally, I know I have done great harm to myself and others. And I have been greatly harmed by the lies of others. Beginning to think through the complexity of lying is an act of self-love and cultivating compassion for others. My goal is to hold more space for myself and others to be able to reflect on our actions as survivors, our actions as communities, and hopefully transform our ways of being to reduce the harm we do and expand our access to healing. 

the complexity of lying

I haven’t written anything is a long time. Haven’t been well enough to wade into it. And then today, while feeling a wave of mania this spilled out


You left
And I ignited
After months of holding in
Compressing it all
Channelling carbon
Destined for diamond

No spark
Just air
Expanding my lungs
I ignited
Full flame

You left
And I ignited
Torched everything
Every we
Every us
Every memory
Every wound

Let it be over
Let you be gone

a diversion into a crappy relationship and what it taught me about surviving grief

It’s hard to articulate how someone who was “helping” was actually hurting you. She didn’t ask me what I needed, she just did everything for me. I didn’t consent to her care, and I had no ability to resist it either.

Being with her was like I didn’t have to remember how to tread water, how to keep my head above water. She would just do it for me. Initially, that was helpful on some level, as I am sure there were days that I would have sunk if she wasn’t there to swim for me. And maybe I needed to sink and not swim. Maybe I needed to go into the deep depths of grief. Maybe I needed to take the space to explore those depths so that I could develop some kind of comfort in it rather than constantly trying to escape from it.

She wasn’t okay with my sinking. She stopped me sinking in some way. In part I wanted to avoid the intense pain of grief and in part she was terrified of it. She judged me for wanting to sink. And I know she got something out of keeping my head above water beyond my survival. There was something selfish in her behaviour.

Maybe I didn’t need air; maybe I needed water. Maybe I needed my hurting heart to be held by the oceans of sadness and darkness that surrounded me. Maybe I needed to just be in it, not trying to get out, not trying to make it go away, not trying to heal it. But to just honour it by being IN IT, by being overwhelmed by it.

That relationship made me fear my darkness again. To watch someone who claims to love you, all of you, avoid a huge part of you, deny something so central to your self, and  judge and shame for you its existence, is devastating.

I came to doubt that I knew how to swim, that I could keep my own head above water. Even more than that, I learned to doubt my ability to know what I needed; if I needed air or water, if I need to sink or swim in that moment. I internalized their fear and judgement: shaming myself, undoing myself. Their control, their fear of my pain and the pain in themselves that it pointed to, their need to feel like everything was getting better kept me from myself.

She came to resent me. She resented me for all the work it took to keep me going in the ways she wanted me to be going. She resented me for work that she took on without my consent, without space for my desires, my wants and my definitions of survival. She defined me as the “bad one” in the relationship; the fucked up one. The one who cannot be trusted and doesn’t know how to be okay. And I believed her.

There was no room for me in all of this. There was no room for my needs, my own definitions of what it means to be okay. I am sure she feels like there was no room for her in all of this, that everything revolved around me. And that was in part because she used me simultaneously as a distraction from all her shit and a person to project her pain onto. She made it all about me so she wouldn’t be implicated, she wouldn’t need to responsible for her feelings. She used me to avoid herself. She used my grief to avoid her own pain. And to cover over this, she demonized me.

That partner was controlling and abusive and used my grief and pain as an excuse to be that way. She was dishonest about her own actions and relied on the fact I was honest about my fuck ups and feelings to define everything as my problem or as originating with me. To this day, almost three years since we broke up, when I ask to sit and talk through some things, to have space to both be accountable to each other she argues that  “All my bad behaviours came from you. Now that I am not with you I don’t do them”.  That’s so fucked up.

So what would I say about to grief to others? Grieving people aren’t your free projection screen or scapegoat. Just cause we are hurting openly doesn’t mean that you get to use us to avoid your own hurts. We are not some foil that exists to help you grow or cope or feel good. Even when we are falling apart we need you to respect our autonomy,  our need to have agency in our lives. Even if it looks like we just need help getting through we still need reciprocity, communication, honesty and respect.

a diversion into a crappy relationship and what it taught me about surviving grief