The 3 Tiers of Lying and How Well-Intentioned Lies Can Still Destroy Relationships

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How many times have you lied to people you genuinely love and respect in the past few days?

If someone asked me that, I’m pretty sure I’d say “Zero! I don’t lie to people, but especially not to those I care about most!”

And by doing so, I’d be telling another lie.

I don’t think of myself as a liar. I don’t think of myself as dishonest.

But maybe I am.

I used to think I was this really good and nice person just because I got along with people so well and had a bunch of friends. And you know what I found out later? That my behavior sometimes hurt people—friends and family. And you know what else I found out later? That my behavior often hurt my wife, and even though I thought of myself as a good husband, she thought and felt differently, and left anyway.

I’m pretty sure the fact that I was hurting my wife rules out the possibility that I was one.

So let’s get honest for a minute.

The uncomfortable kind.

The truth is that I probably lie all of the time and because I label it something else, I don’t feel like a liar.

I want to talk about why, because I think it’s probably significant as to how marriages, or relationships in general, deteriorate slowly through these tiny little breaches of trust that I think work a bit like a tree being chopped down.

Each swing of the axe affects the tree’s structural integrity just a little bit. If the trunk’s large enough, you can keep chopping away for the longest time, and everything seems fine. The tree remains standing.

And then, maybe on the fiftieth, or hundredth, or thousandth swing, it comes crashing down.

It wasn’t the last blow that caused the tree to fall. It was all of them before it. The cumulative effect.

The final blow wasn’t more damaging than the first or tenth. It was just the last one the tree could handle before giving way.

We talk a lot about these little moments that add up in relationships. These seemingly inconsequential little conversations or arguments where one person hurts the other, and some kind of fight ensues, before an eventual apology or mutual calm takes over and things seem to return to normal.

These are the tree-chopping moments. A little bit more damage was caused, but by all appearances, that tree stands tall and looks like it will remain so.

I think the person who felt pain (which is sometimes both of them) noticed the extra swing of the axe, and maybe the person who didn’t feel pain, and spent the fight defending their behavior and spinning the moment to accuse her or him of overreacting and misinterpreting the situation, forgets all about it.

So, what is a lie?

The 3 Tiers of Lying

I like to rank things. Sorry.

I think there are three tiers—three categories—of lies.

And in my opinion, one is very bad, the second can range from very bad to just kind-of bad, and the third doesn’t feel bad at all.

I think a lot of people categorize mistruths in their own minds, just like I do, and they can morally justify some of them because they don’t really feel like lies.

Tier 1 – Lying Evil Piece of Shit Lies

They’re the worst and most indefensible kind of falsehood. Lying Evil Piece of Shit Lies involve a person being intentionally deceptive for some nefarious purpose. To steal. To con someone into sleeping with them. Whatever.


Man meets Woman at business event. She’s single. He’s not wearing a wedding ring. He invites her to dinner. She likes him. They start seeing each other. Sleeping together.

And then one day, she’s out with friends at a random restaurant, and in walks the guy she’s seeing with another woman and three children.

All along, he’s been misrepresenting himself to both her and, presumably, his wife and family.

Fuck that guy.

Tier 2 – Cover Your Ass or Look More Awesome Lies

These are STILL indefensible in my estimation, but at least I GET why someone would do it.

Circumstances matter. Because a Cover Your Ass lie could certainly look and feel an awful lot like a Lying Evil Piece of Shit lie under the right circumstances, such as:

“Where were you last night?”

“I was playing cards with the guys. Just like I said.”

But she knows he wasn’t there because the actual person hosting the poker game texted her to ask where her husband was.

And the truth is, he was with a woman he’s having an affair with.


That identical scenario can happen, and it wouldn’t seem like an Evil Piece of Shit lie at all.

For example:

“Where were you last night?”

“I was playing cards with the guys. Just like I said.”

But she knows he wasn’t there because the actual person hosting the poker game texted her to ask where her husband was.

And the truth is, he was meeting their travel agent because he’s going to surprise his wife with an elaborate trip overseas to celebrate their upcoming wedding anniversary.

Our self-preservation instincts are strong. It’s how our ancestors survived lions and bears trying to eat them all the time. So when we’re afraid that telling the whole truth will HURT us, it’s not hard to resort to a lie that doesn’t feel ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ in order to avoid experiencing that hurt, or feeling what would seem to be unnecessary discomfort.

I tell self-preservation lies sometimes. I do.

I don’t think I tell them in my close personal relationships in a way that I perceive to be a breach of trust, but I also know better than to trust my own judgment anymore.

Maybe I’m just embarrassed about something that someone else doesn’t really need to know, so I find some other way to say it that isn’t the most truth I could tell.

I don’t think it’s good.

I think it’s lying, and I think lying is almost universally frowned upon as a bad thing for good reason.

I understand why someone might make something sound cooler than it actually was to try to impress a date, or professional colleagues, or friends.

I understand why someone might omit a detail, or talk around some embarrassing thing when explaining a situation because they’re afraid of that person they’re crushing on, or their friend, or their co-worker thinking they’re a douchebag and not wanting to hang out with them anymore.

We are irrational creatures, us humans.

Tier 3 – Little White Lies

You already know about these. You probably tell one every day, and don’t think twice about the moral implications of doing so because they don’t FEEL wrong or bad. They just don’t.

If I think a meal tasted kind of shitty, and I say “Thank you so much for dinner. It was wonderful,” I’m not going to beat myself up about it.

I played along with stories about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy that today I actually have mixed emotions about, because I have legitimate concerns about the psychological effect it has on kids when they grow up and realize the ENTIRE WORLD, including the people they love the most had orchestrated a scheme to make them believe that something was real that actually wasn’t.

No one was trying to hurt anyone, and it’s all done in the spirit of childhood innocence and helping kids have a good time, so we all convince ourselves it’s fine. That it’s a good thing, even.

But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve begun to question how true that is.

If I don’t like someone’s shirt, or haircut, or new car, or whatever, and they ask me about it, I’m not going to tell them the whole truth if I believe doing so will offend them or hurt their feelings.

Maybe that makes me some kind of coward or weakling. I don’t know.

I just know I don’t like how it feels to say or do things that make people feel bad, and not ONCE in my life have I ever intentionally tried to do that.

So, sometimes, I won’t tell the whole truth because I perceive it to be the ‘right’ thing to do.

NOT hurting someone I care about > Being the most honest I can possibly be.

I think there’s a reasonable debate to be had about that little math equation, and I think how everyone feels about it will depend on a thousand unknown variables.

How Lies Destroy Marriages and Compromise Relationships

Here’s the part I didn’t get when I was married and was justifying the Little White Lies or Cover Your Ass lies I told.

Human beings have NEEDS. Not wants. Not nice-to-haves. NEEDS.

And the needs people have come with varying degrees of importance.

For example, we NEED a phone, right? And it’s a life emergency that yours just went over the side of the boat and sunk to the bottom of the lake or ocean.

But now, you get word that a tornado swept through your neighborhood, and your house is gone. You don’t have anywhere to live. How big of a deal is that lost phone feeling now?

You’re homeless, and you can’t even text your friends or put up a sad Instagram post about it. It feels like the sky’s falling at this point.

But suddenly, the sky IS falling. An asteroid falls down to Earth out of nowhere and it’s dark and scary, and it doesn’t take everyone long to figure out that the ash cloud from the asteroid impact is going to block out the sun for the next two years, and all plant and animal life on earth is going to die. How big of a deal is the tornado-hit home situation now?

It’s chaos. Scary. People are looting big-screen TVs they can’t watch because there’s no power or internet right now. Everything looks post-apocalyptic, like you’ve seen in the movies.

But suddenly you hear a gunshot, and the Jolly Rancher piece of candy in your mouth goes down the wrong pipe, and you can’t breathe. You’re choking. No matter what you do. Your body can’t get air. If you can’t unblock your air passage, you’re dead in 30 seconds…

How scary does that gunshot you heard feel now?

That’s probably excessively dark, and I’m sorry, but it amateurishly illustrates something in psychology called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, and it’s usually presented in pyramid form like this:

There are these things in life we all want and need. BUT, if you take away one of the foundational needs holding it up? None of that other shit matters. We’re stuck trying to regain that foundational need, and things can’t improve until we do.

If you look at Maslow’s pyramid, you’ll notice that after the most basic human needs like air, water and food, the next thing people need is Safety.

Some people only think of ‘safety’ in the context of physical safety. Like NOT getting murdered or kidnapped or burnt by fire or hit by a moving vehicle.

But there are other elements to safety, and I think it’s common for men—young and old—to have the wrong idea about safety and trust in their relationships that will inevitably lead to divorces that neither they nor their wives actually want.

People ALSO need to feel ‘safe’ financially. People need to feel ‘safe’ with good health. People need to feel ‘safe’ emotionally.

People need to be able to trust their romantic partners to not hurt them.

Sometimes a husband leaving a pair of dirty socks on the bedroom floor HURTS his wife.

Sometimes a wife not demonstrating faith in her husband’s ability to succeed at something HURTS her husband.

And sometimes, being lied to hurts.

Sometimes—even if the lies told were designed to preserve someone’s feelings or simply cover your ass—the experience of being lied to by the person you love and trust the most HURTS.

So maybe several years ago, your girlfriend found out you were going to strip clubs all the time and getting lap dances, and maybe that really hurt her feelings.

And maybe you promised to never do that again.

Then, maybe a couple of years after that, during your engagement, your fiancée figured out that you were looking at porn, and it made her feel bad in the same way you going to those strip clubs made her feel bad.

Maybe when she asked you about it, you lied. And she knew you lied. And maybe because you don’t think looking at pornography is a big deal, you don’t think she should make a big deal out of it.

It’s not like I’m cheating, or even looking at a real-live person!

You just want to protect her feelings.

So you don’t tell the truth. For HER, you tell yourself. But really you just don’t want to feel uncomfortable, but it’s easy enough to justify.

And maybe this keeps happening off and on through the months and years.

And then maybe one day you’re married and on a bachelor party golfing trip with your buddies out of town, and one of the guys hires a stripper to the vacation house you guys are staying in. You’re all drinking and having a good time, but everything’s on the up and up, behaviorally.

Then maybe your wife asks you on the phone what you guys are doing, and you say you’re playing cards and having drinks, and it’s actually true.

But she also knows that your buddy hired a stripper because she’s friends with one of the other wives, who casually mentioned it with an eye roll: Our big, silly, idiot husbands, amirite?

Strippers and pornography were never a marriage problem or breach of trust in her house, so she didn’t realize the trigger she just caused your wife.

Suddenly, she’s the young woman crying about your strip club appetites back when you were in your early twenties again.

Suddenly, she wonders: Why would he lie to me about that? What ELSE does he lie to me about?

There’s no answer he could ever give to convince her that he actually respects his wife.

There’s no answer he could ever give that would make that feeling go away. Those nagging questions: Who is this guy? Do I really KNOW my husband? If I don’t even know who this guy is, how can I trust myself to know who I can feel safe with, and who I can’t? If I can’t trust my husband anymore, maybe we shouldn’t be married. Oh my God. I’m so afraid of what might happen to us and our kids.

I don’t trust my husband.

I don’t trust myself.

I don’t feel safe in my life.

And maybe that’s the end. Maybe that’s the moment the marriage ended and a family broke apart, whether anyone realized it as it was happening.

We All Wear Masks But Must Take Them Off With Our Forever Person

We all do in some form or fashion.

But the people who MUST always have behind-the-mask access is our spouses or long-term committed romantic partners.

That’s the only way it works.

We hide parts of ourselves because we fear rejection.

It’s difficult and scary to take off the armor for someone not knowing whether they’ll choose to stab us in the heart.

But the couples that make it to forever?

They’re the ones who were brave enough to.

We tell lies sometimes and they don’t even feel bad or wrong.

But, just maybe, even when we’re not telling Evil Piece of Shit Lies, and the people who love and trust us most find out that we were dishonest with them, maybe the PAIN is the same as an Evil Piece of Shit Lie.

And then.

Maybe even less-severe Cover Your Ass Lies and totally innocent Little White Lies begin to cause that SAME amount of pain.

That same feeling of betrayal and mistrust.

That loss of safety.

I can’t even breathe.

And then it’s over.

But with the slightest adjustment; just a little bit more courageous honesty and trust-building, maybe that tree remains.

In the most tumultuous and violent storms.






42 thoughts on “The 3 Tiers of Lying and How Well-Intentioned Lies Can Still Destroy Relationships”

  1. leslidoares645321177

    Thanks again for a thought provoking post.

    The best approach is radical honesty. This isn’t about being blunt or cruel but being kindly and gently honest. In your example of a less than tasty dinner, the response could be “Thank you for dinner. I appreciate the time and energy it took.” This is honest without being hurtful. Same with someone who asks if you like their new haircut. A gently honest response could be, “I liked the old style better.”

    As you point out, not being completely honest about something, like a stripper being present, is harmful. It’s a lie of avoidance that frequently blows up. Even if it doesn’t, it still does harm because it makes the next one easier. And each lie puts distance between the two of you.

    How you tell the truth matters but telling it is important. So is hearing it. The best way to get someone to lie to you is to react poorly when they tell the truth. Both sides of the truth-telling matter. It’s why I hold that marriage is for adults.

    1. Oh! That’s strong, Lesli. The idea that people must react in healthy ways to being told the truth, even if it’s difficult.

      I’m not sure I’ve ever had that concept presented to me before. I love it.

      Yes. Maybe if we weren’t fearful of a negative reaction, we wouldn’t hesitate to be say exactly what we think and feel.

      Always appreciate you reading and chiming in here. Thank you so much.

      1. I must politely disagree. If someone tells you they had a lap dance and it makes you feel bad, your sadness or anger should not be their grounds for covering up the truth in the future. They (or we) should be responsible for our own actions and for being truthful about them, regardless of what the reaction will be. The person were hurt should not feel responsible for determining our future actions by modifying their level of hurt.

        1. Facts. I agree that we are not responsible for lies being told.

          I try not to get in the blaming or Who Was More Wrong? business. That got me divorced.

          But a human being — totally independent of anything else should develop the life skill of reacting effectively to honesty, even if it’s uncomfortable honesty.

          It’s not about right and wrong. It’s about their own personal responsibility. It’s about taking practical, steps to effective communication and trust-building with someone you might want to spend the rest of your life and procreate with.

          A person doesn’t deserve to be lied to or misled just because they react unpleasantly or dramatically to things they don’t want to hear even those things are true.

          But it still sounds like an awesome life skill to develop to me. A way to make a relationship stronger.

          I think — right or wrong — freaking out, or retreating into a heavy pout, or any emotional reaction to someone telling you a true thing that you didn’t like would discourage them from telling the whole truth in the future. As a general rule.

          So why not always make it okay for people to share uncomfortable honesty. Maybe that is a real thing we can all do to give us a better chance in our relationships.

          1. Speaking from my own experience where evasion of truth, hidden secrets and outright lies were our downfall. I couldn’t change that or the underlying causes of his shame and fear of being open with me. The only thing I could control were some lifelong patterns of response and work on MY issues around secrets (that were well founded it turned out).

            Once we were able to meet in the middle ground of both of our shit we could go forward with new ways of communicating and set reasonable boundaries. Talk calmly about privacy vs secrecy. How to be open with our flaws and mistakes and not try to hide them to avoid judgement.

            As I commented below, there are still echoes from the past that ring each other’s bells. But we notice, stop and explore better (not perfectly) and have faith. That was the hardest thing to get back.

            Rebuilding faith and trust is the biggest challenge as there’s no way to live without damaging it in some way. That, Matt, is another whole book for you ?

          2. Something important to remember when expressing honesty that may be painful is also letting them know they are still safe , maybe even the safest place they can be to confront themselves, in the relationship (if that is also true.)
            STH, from what I can gather you really seeem to demonstrate this part very well ( Good on you!).
            It gets missed a lot, and when issues need to be addressed it can feel like family/friends are against
            the person instead of trying to help them.
            I’m on this big kick about “The power of ‘and’”.
            It’s “I love you AND you have this problem.”
            instead of “I love you BUT you have this problem”…

          3. I “practice” this part because I’m learning it – AND thank you :))
            Yesterday with the help of the internet and examples I was able to compose and send a boundary setting loving email to my alcoholic sibling. Not abandoning but loving from a distance for now. It took years to get the nerve. Did my practice in my home help me do this – absolutely.

            It’s a background story no one could ever imagine me having. Even my husband is astounded by the current and past events. We reference it now in terms of MY current actions and reactions to things. Each of these challenges is teaching me to deal with the other and adapt what I bring to the table – both positive and negative.

            Still trying hard ?

          4. This is so good to hear!
            In reference to “not abandoning, but loving from afar”…
            Yeah, I’ve always had this thought that we all have a relationship with whatever higher being exists, just like we really all do have a relationship with each other. It’s the quality and type of the relationship that varies, and you’re right- we can only be responsible for how we respond, what we give, etc.
            You’re a good example to us all, even if it’s practice and not perfection ;).

          5. personInProcess:
            “Something important to remember when expressing honesty that may be painful is also letting them know they are still safe”

            And another way of saying what Lesli said above: When asking for honesty, it’s also important to let the other person know that expressing that honesty is safe.

            I know that a lapdance is not comparable to a haircut, but getting into a rant about “You don’t love me anymore!” because I liked your old haircut or the other blouse better, or blaming ME for the café we both agreed going to doesn’t run your favorite brand of coffee, doesn’t build trust and intimacy either.

          6. Agreed that reacting without freaking out as you say, is a good life skill to have, and I’m sure that’s what the OP meant as well. I just think there’s a line to be careful not to cross there, which is to think anyone else should bear any responsibility whatsoever for our honesty with how they react.

            Rule or not, part of being honest is knowing it might not go down well, and doing it anyway. To be discouraged from being honest because you’re afraid of the reaction is a coward’s excuse. 100 percent.

            To expect that anyone should take any responsibility for your honesty, and for them to accept it, is classic codependency.

            And if someone does react badly well, I will go out on a limb and say I don’t blame them and give them a pass because they aren’t the one who f*cked up. If the confession comes with a sincere apology and promise not to repeat the offense, then it can/should warrant some understanding and forgiveness, but may be preceded by some hard feelings, and that’s both okay and expected. So let’s let the responsibility for being honest about messing up lay where it belongs – squarely with the person who has something to share.

          7. Calijones,
            I get where your coming from. I tend to think there is very little in the world that is black and white- a hard yes or no…
            Many, many times people who “mess up”, say with pornography, or gambling, or over spending even so want to do better but often feel doomed to repeat their mistakes.
            Addiction is basically our brain chemistry lying to us. It draws us to act telling us “this is good- this is reward”, even while it causes pain in your relationship, or threatens your job or financial security.
            It often feels out of control for the person.
            So just “not doing it”, feels like failure even before it begins.
            I kind of wish I could change my original comment just a little to say “I love you AND *we have a problem.”
            The whole context of my comment was to provide assurance of a safe place.
            Sometimes the relationship is at a point that isn’t true, and in that case it is the individuals problem to work on alone.
            But if the relationship is salvageable addressing the issue as not one persons problem, but an issue that effects the relationship can promote a unified front, of sorts.
            But, I would have to know it’s ok for me to tell you I screwed up.
            That doesn’t mean your not allowed to be hurt, but if the issue is being addressed together it takes on new meaning.
            It’s no longer an issue against the partner, it’s an issue that two are working together in a partnership to overcome.
            Your not mad at the child for getting stung by bees, your made at the bees for stinging your child.
            There IS a matter of personal responsibility ,for sure- on both sides.
            If one isn’t willing to take that responsibility then the relationship is in danger no matter what.

          8. Personinprocess, thanks for your comment, my reply was actually supposed to be a response to Matt’s comment, but the WordPress comment format can get messy, sorry if I confused things. But as to what you mention with regard to addiction, I think that’s a whole other ballgame that could fill its own book!

          9. Yeah, I was kind of focusing on addiction, and lies come in all sorts of flavors.
            But ultimately- if they are that profound or frequent that usually indicates an addiction of sorts.
            If they’re more vanilla, like- It grosses me out when you pick your teeth after dinner, then I still think there’s an appropriate ways to express it that takes the other persons feelings into account AND the other person should take responsibility for receiving feedback that effects other people.
            That’s just general living in society stuff.

          10. Again. Totally agree with you. I think you and I might be imagining different scenarios.

            I think you are imagining someone hiding a betrayal. And I couldn’t agree where you more.

            And I’m thinking about incidents that probably carry less weight, but are still very much part of this conversation?

            “So what did you think of my painting?”

            “Did you like meeting my parents?”

            “How do you like my new haircut?”


            Everyone has a different mental and emotional makeup. And then, every possible couple will have different reactions to the way that other unique person responds. So these are difficult waters.

            But if we just keep it surface-level and general, I think a person asking for honest feedback, getting it, and then having a negative emotional response to it, bears some responsibility for making it okay for the other person to give them an answer they don’t like or want to hear IF the end goal of that relationship is one intended to contain a bunch of trust and intimacy and connectedness.

          11. Yeah, we are on the same page. I was talking about a larger betrayal, e.g. when I mentioned strippers as an example. In everyday incidents however, and especially where someone has asked for an opinion, then having a negative reaction is not productive. For sure.

    2. I think I like my radical candour to be delivered even more gently than that, but I definitely agree that the reaction is as important as the delivery moving forward!

  2. Excellent post, man. The whole section on Maslow really gets to the heart of the lies/trust issues. Lori will probably think you have been reading her mind.

    I also liked the part about cutting down the tree, you can take it down with a bulldozer or a thousand little cuts. Either way the damage is done and the relationship is in crisis.

    1. Really appreciate that, Jay.

      It was my intention to link back to your rebuilding trust post as well, because it’s hyper-relevant. I’ll do that as soon as I’m able.

  3. Yeah, I’m with Lesli on this….if there is reason to fear being truthful with someone, you have a big problem. I would never voluntarily be in a relationship with such a person (I say voluntarily because spouses and romantic relationships are voluntary, but family relationships for instance, are not). Still, anyone who throws a fit because they don’t like a truthful answer has a big problem with trying to control other people.

  4. And to expand a bit …. when you’ve faced the lies or omissions of truth and worked them out they still ripple in your partner’s head. So when your partner admits to you that a benign little inconsistency or act triggered the emotion from the old stories – don’t get angry or defensive. Accept it. Understand why and say so and thank her for explaining that thing you saw go across her face. And understand that it’s NOT an accusation – it’s an expression of HER feelings. Getting angry or defensive just makes HER think you’ve got something to hide.
    AGAIN. ?.
    ps – feel free to insert whichever pronoun applies in your own case – I just used MY example.

    1. I tell the guys I work with to listen for the “invitation behind the accusation”. When people feel unsafe or “triggered”, they may sound accusatory but they are really making a request to be reassured.

  5. Excellent post Matt! We humans are poorly adapted when it comes to bottom line needs (as those in Maslow’s Hierarchy). What I mean by that, is that every slight to our needs is accumulative (much like your tree chopping analogy) as they stack up, individuals become more and more neurologically alert to danger meaning our blood gets pumped with cortisol and adrenaline preparing us to fight or flee the lion that no longer exists because the lion is in human form now. This complicates human’s modern existence. We can’t actually think rationally when we are pumped up on all those neurotransmitters that are trying to serve us by keeping us safe. That can be why someone responds in what appears to be an irrational way to us… that can be what happens when someone is lied to repeatedly, their sense of awareness that they are being lied to triggers something in their brain, it gets worse each time and one’s own sanity can start to be questioned; ‘they say they are not lying to me but I sense that they are, am I going nuts?’ Over time, mental health issues can develop, what appear to be maladaptive responses can develop, and relationships certainly cannot thrive under these conditions.

  6. Pingback: The 3 Tiers of Lying and How Well-Intentioned Lies Can Still Destroy Relationships — Must Be This Tall To Ride – Tracey in Maine

  7. Matt,

    The Lies. (The Lies!!!) It’s the second worse thing I deal with in my line of work.

    I like your tree analogy (in fact, your final lines spoke to me personally, as the tree has been a symbol of our marriage since we were engaged. You know a bit of our story, so you know our ‘tree’ has grown strong, but we’ll have to share with you the story of when that symbol entered our lives.)

    I like how you symbolized lies as cutting down a tree. Great visual. I’ve used,
    “Death by a million cuts” to symbolize the dynamic of what happens to a woman whose trust is betrayed.

    I love the equation you added:
    “NOT hurting someone I care about > Being the most honest I can possibly be.”

    I’ve heard it this way:

    “Honesty without compassion is brutality.”

    (And my husband, Jay Pyatt, was right, I do feel like you’ve been reading my mind. I’ve been looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs when talking to betrayed women and their partners.)

    I’ve been learning that the bottom two sections of Maslow’s Hierarchy is when we start operating out of our Autonomic (or “involuntary”) Nervous System…

    Have been doing more research on what exactly causes the trauma of betrayal and lies to go from feeling unsafe to becoming PTSD, and what is required for us to come out of PTSD. (It’s amazing how our bodies are wired!!!)

    Anyway, yes, I do feel you were reading my mind.

    Great post, Matt!!!

    Jay and I look forward to your podcasts!!!

    1. Thank you! I think I’m more looking forward to you being on them. 🙂

      In fact, we should schedule a time in the next week or two. I don’t know how to feel less nervous or more prepared, so we should just go for it. 🙂

      1. Sounds good. I’ll have Jay contact you to find a time we’re all available.

        And I agree. Our clients keep us hopping, and it’s probably not going to slow down anytime soon, so we should just ‘go for it,’ like you said. Looking forward to talking with you again.

        See you then.

    2. Lori,
      Please pardon if I butt in, I wanted to ask if you’ve read “The Body Keeps the Score” or “Walking the Tiger”-
      They are both books about PTSD and overcoming it.
      The thing I like about “The Body Keeps the Score” is the concept of the out physical/biological responses to “triggers”…
      Our intuitive mind picks up hints of previous threats, whether the current situation is an actual threat or not, and can very much put us in a place of fight or flight.
      Becoming aware of the physical responses to the threat – your heart rate speeding up, your chest tightening, muscles tensing up – whatever it may be
      And initiating some calming techniques – like deep breathing, or mantras or affirmations can calm your brains so we can assess and respond to the situation better.
      This response can become as automatic as fighting or flighting..
      This all may be old news and rudimentary to you knowledge base, but I wanted to mention it if you haven’t read these.
      Trauma can happen in one big instance, but it can happen over repeated exposure to these kinds of emotional stressers, too.
      Our brain responds the same, and it doesn’t have to be debilitating to have it alter some very important aspects of our lives. …any and everyone can benefit from understanding how we process and overcome the fight or flight (or freeze) beast.

      1. Hello PersonInProgress,

        Thanks for your question. My answer is “Yes and No,” meaning I’ve read the first one you listed, but hadn’t heard of the second one (which I will add to my list of ones to read).

        And yes, you’re correct in all you said. They’ve also found there is a difference in post traumatic stress disorders: you have your general “PTSD”, and your “Complex PTSD.” Complex PTSD involves being traumatized by people we are in relationship with.

        And I agree with you… it doesn’t have to be debilitating to have it alter us.

        But there’s something, within the very nature of the threat being non-debilitating that can take it from being a scary event that we get over all the way into PTSD: that something is that those around us don’t listen, don’t let us use our voices, don’t let us flee the situation–they say, “It’s non-debilitating! What are you making such a big deal about it for?”

        It’s not us being over-sensitive that causes us to develop PTSD; it’s when we’re stopped from fighting or fleeing (or using our voices, which is our nervous system’s precursor to the fight/flight response).

        So we freeze.

        And if we don’t feel safe in that freeze response, it can develop into PTSD.

        Isn’t that wild?!

        Anyway, I wish you all the best in your research (and in your own healing, if you’ve suffered from this.)

        1. Thanks Lori, yes I’ve suffered and mostly recovered from PTSD. I work with people who are on the debilitated side of the spectrum.

          I’d have to say that I’m not sure if I understand what you mean by “using our voices is a precursor to the fight or flight response.” At least not in a rational coherent way.
          I mean, we can say “no” or scream, or the like.
          But the emotional response is so much faster than any rational thought that the adrenaline is flowing way before the first word is formed.

          That’s why learning our physical responses can clue us into what’s going on and allow us to counteract it.

          Some Trauma can be so profound that it is hard (understatement) to enter into the discomfort of it in order to “come down” from it in a moment of being “triggered.”

          The issue can be worse when people take the name of it: “PTSD” and attach their identity to it.
          Having PTSD can feel like you caught a virus that will never go away…so many people just stop there and stay in a state of ongoing trauma.
          I don’t want to minimize its effects- hardly, but over and over again I want people to know its treatable.
          One of the thing trauma does is stop the person from experiencing their life in the present – the memory of the trauma (s) exists every day, so new memories, new experiences can’t really have the meaning and affect as they would pre- trauma (s). Any new experience is filtered through the trauma (s) (As The Body Keeps the Score explains very well). … People get stuck.

          So what I’m trying to say is, while having the name “PTSD” (and I prefer PTSS- Post Taumatic Stress Syndrome in cases where people aren’t to the point of debility) can help a lot in understanding what is going on, it is super important to give hope that it can be helped.

          And I do absolutely validate that emotional neglect from a partner, invalidation, gas lighting, verbal abuses and disrespect all count as micro- traumas. And yes, experiencing these traumas for an extended period of time can cause “complex PTSD.”

          My complex PTSD actually occurred outside of relationship- like any relationship (lol- that was kind of part of the traumatic stress 😉 )and was often met with a lot of invalidation and expectations that I just could not meet.

          So anyway- all of this is hard. I’m glad you and your husband are in the trenches with folks.

          That in itself can produce some weird effects, but the rewards can be sweet and certainly life affirming.

          Keep up the good work!

          1. Hello again, PersonInProcess,

            (I apologize for my oversight in getting your screen name wrong last time I wrote. I didn’t mean to miss you like that.)

            You wrote: “I’d have to say that I’m not sure if I understand what you mean by “using our voices is a precursor to the fight or flight response.” At least not in a rational coherent way.
            I mean, we can say “no” or scream, or the like.
            But the emotional response is so much faster than any rational thought that the adrenaline is flowing way before the first word is formed.”

            You’re correct. I didn’t finish my thought before I hit enter and haven’t figured out how to edit comments yet (if that’s even possible.)

            What I meant to say was when the threat isn’t quite so threatening, our ANS uses it’s Social Engagement System, where we make eye contact or try to turn away the wrath with our words. When that doesn’t suffice, and the threat increases, then we hit the Fight/Flight response.

            You Also wrote: My complex PTSD actually occurred outside of relationship- like any relationship (lol- that was kind of part of the traumatic stress 😉 )and was often met with a lot of invalidation and expectations that I just could not meet.

            I see this in a lot (a LOT) of women who contact me… where they’re given advice that actually does more harm than good. Most of the time the people dispensing the advice mean well, and other times it’s meant to keep the woman quiet.

            And you’re right, it can cause part of the PTS…

            In the Betrayal Trauma Training I took, they called it “Treatment Induced Trauma” when it came at the hands of someone in the helping community.

            If that’s what you were referring to, I am sorry you had to go through that. I’ve seen that sort of thing keep women stuck for years!

            So, I’m very glad you’re healing : )

          2. Lori,
            No problem with the name. You can call me PIP for short (I live in a world of acronyms..Lol 😉 ).

            Yep, there’s no way to edit- once it’s posted it’s there for posterity, unless you get the meister to show his kindness and delete it (which Matt has shown he is very kind in this regard 🙂 ).

            Thank you for clarifying- and yeah, I can see how the social engagement part would attempt to reduce or nullify the threat. That makes a lot of sense, and even though I can’t cite any specific examples, I’m sure there’s other mammals that use similar means.

            To answer your question about being retraumatized through the helping community…
            No, it was mostly just regular society where I was frequently retraumatized.
            It’s a long story, but your comment reminded me- no, I was never in the mental health system.
            I really felt overwhelmed, had no money and the thought of navigating a healthcare system felt like too much- and anytime I tried to tell my story it felt like my words weren’t adequate to express what happened to me inside.
            I still find it hard to give an adequate narrative of that time. Perhaps I should try interpretive dance? Mime? …Lol ;).
            So I never really got “help” that way. The greatest help I got was from J.C. If you catch my drift.
            And my life is completely different now.
            That time has been a huge part of my history of course, and the reason I decided to work in the helping profession (I like how you phrased that),
            However your comment really brought something else to mind as well…
            I got into this profession because I thought I had something to offer from my own experience. “ I can help because I’ve been there and overcome most of it…”
            I’m a year in and I really have to come up with another reason to be doing this.
            Because I am becoming acutely aware that I don’t really have any answers… and answers aren’t what most people need.
            So anyway, your comment about the helping profession re-traumatizing folks – it kind of hits me as a hard truth that I need to be mindful of. (Luckily my job is about 10% “therapy”, and the rest
            is other stuff…Im a little hesitant to say this, but I’m going to count on most people glazing over this comment.. but, I prescribe meds so that’s the focus of their visit with me. ) …I’m trying really hard to figure out how to really help the people that come to me- and I’m coming to the conclusion that listening is way more powerful than anything I have to say. Even if it’s attempt at encouragement.

          3. Yes!


            That’s a truly effective way to help. Science has shown that sharing our stories in a safe place can begin healing the brain.

            And YOU can be that safe place for people!

            Plus, I’m sure JC will give you some words to say in individual moments.

            That’s the thing I love about what I do; allowing JC and his sidekick HS to give me the words to say (or speak through me… whichever), and the words are so unique-to-that-person.

            I’m sure you see that as well.

            So glad to know there’s someone who’s made it to the other side and is now giving back!

            Take care of yourself, PIP! You’re needed in your corner of the world : )

          4. Thank you, Lori.
            I feel like I should clarify- I was never in the mental health system as an adult.
            Although, I had an inpatient room reserved throughout my adolescence ?. Lol .
            But again – thank you for the encouragement!

          5. Oh no. That never crossed my mind. When I said, “So glad to know there’s someone who’s made it to the other side and is now giving back!” I mean ‘the other side of trauma’. I apologize if I came across like i was digging. That never crossed my mind.

            Thanks for clarifying though. All the best to you.

  8. You and I go back a ways. Been sending your articles to my husband of 42 years who is still working to get it right. Let me verify 2 things. I can verify that your perspective is perfect and I feel you read my mind! The second thing is: Karma is a bitch. The husband now dealing with a vesticular shwannoma. Good thing Ivdecided to stay!

  9. This was amazing. Loved it. I wish you would write another one focusing more on the 4th type of lie….the lie by omission. So many people feel like they aren’t lying unless their lips move, and by keeping secrets they’re still being honest because TECHNICALLY they never said such and such. That’s done the most heartbreaking damage to me and my marriage.

    1. This is an important idea. I’m so sorry it took me so long to make this comment live. Thank you so much for sharing this year. You’re right. This is a thing. And it matters.

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