When You Are Constantly Being Lied To, How Can You Hold Onto Your Reality?

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It was Mark Twain who said: "If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything." Well, regardless of whether you’re lying or not, if you have a decent memory, living in Britain right now is bewildering. Who can keep up with the mind-bending required to continually separate fact from fiction, right from wrong?
Are we getting £350 million back from the European Union each week now that we’ve left to give to the NHS or what? No, that was actually, as the UK Statistics Authority has said, "a clear misuse of official statistics''. Did Downing Street staff break the rules with parties while the rest of us did what we were told or not? Or, as the prime minister initially said, were they just "talking about work" over a cheeseboard? If no rules were broken at any of the now infamous government lockdown parties, why are the police investigating them? Why did the prime minister have to apologise to the queen? If it’s an untrue, far-right conspiracy that Labour leader Keir Starmer "failed to prosecute sex offender Jimmy Savile" when he was the director of public prosecutions, why did the prime minister say it was true and refuse to take it back?
The average person lies at least once a day and there is, of course, a sliding scale of deceit. Nonetheless, lies are corrosive. They alter our reality, reframing it through the agenda of the person who doesn’t want the truth to come out. Being lied to makes you feel insecure – your version of the truth is discredited. It also makes you feel unimportant – the person lying to you didn’t value you enough to tell the truth. 
Dishonesty is the erosion of all that is solid. I have a very good friend who was once in a relationship with a man who was also engaged to someone else. She found out when her ex’s fiancée got in touch to tell her. Her reality unravelled and in the months and years that followed she truly believed that she might be mad. She had lived a lie. The lie, of course, was not hers but, still, the ground shifted underneath her feet and it took her a long time to trust herself (let alone others) again.
Linda Blair is a chartered clinical psychologist and an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. "Lying is particularly destabilising because you have to reconstruct the past and rewrite your memories," she explains. "That’s really hard work for the person who has been lied to."
"You look back and you realise that you assumed a certain storyline when something was happening to you," she continues. "You probably thought that the person who was cheating on you loved you and considered your needs. Once the lie is uncovered, you look back and see the signs that you missed."  
We live in an age of misinformation so this is as true in politics as it is in our personal lives. "Whether we’re talking about lies within a community or in a relationship," says Blair, "it’s scary to realise that somebody has not been prioritising your needs at least as much as their own, it is scary at the most basic level. We feel it in our amygdala (the part of the brain which is associated with emotional processes). In an emotional sense, being lied to makes us feel threatened, unsafe and upset."
Politicians probably lie no more or less than the average person but when they do, it matters. We – quite rightly – hold those in public office to a higher standard because everything they say and do sets the tone for our collective shared reality. If the prime minister – the man responsible for steering us through the worst public health crisis in generations – can’t be trusted, who can? If our government isn’t transparent, why should anyone else be? If those in charge keep telling you that the sky isn’t blue, how can you be sure that it is?
Surveys have found that people – even those who are traditional Conservative supporters – are angry with the government. 
"Anger is an appropriate reaction to what we perceive as lies," says Blair. "Anger is an emotion which covers up fear. When we are angry we are defensive because we feel that we have not been protected as we ought to have been."
This was certainly true for my friend after her partner’s fiancée’s big reveal. First came shock, then anger and, ultimately, sadness. She was angry that her feelings had been so casually disregarded. Whether it is personal or political, corruption degrades everything around it. Duplicity debases relationships and institutions alike. When trust in the government is broken, it’s understandable that we might feel anxious and angry all at once. 

Anger is an emotion which covers up fear. When we are angry we are defensive because we feel that we have not been protected as we ought to have been.

Linda Blair
At the beginning of the pandemic the government passed the Coronavirus Act, which allows it to introduce new regulations without parliamentary scrutiny. It was through these powers that new public structures were set up – including the test-and-trace system, which has now devoured an eye-watering £37 billion of public money. 
It is anger-inducing to think that this – an initiative which has been deemed by parliament’s independent spending watchdog to have failed – was ever allowed to happen. That something so important could have been handed over to private companies without any public say. It is, to echo Blair, scary. 
Human beings are hard-wired to make connections. We need to trust those around us and, as studies have shown, a psychological sense of safety is vital for us to take important risks, voice our opinions, be creative and speak out when we feel something is wrong. Put simply, without it, it’s very hard to get anything done at all. 
It is galling to think that anyone you have ever shared a bed with has actively misled you to further their own needs. And it is vexatious to think that back in those early COVID days, when we were all shocked, when people stood on their doorsteps and clapped for the NHS, when hundreds of people died a day, those who were supposed to be looking after us in Westminster were in fact partying. 
However, Blair says that we cannot dwell too long in anger in the face of lies. "You have to stay active in your emotions," she says. "You cannot just accept lies and think, Oh, well, what’s the point? You have to do exactly what people are doing right now, which is to say, 'No. This is not the way to live. You do not live lying.'"
"If you do find out that someone has lied to you," she concludes, "I recommend using what I call the 'best friend test'. What would you tell your best friend if they had just found out that their partner had betrayed them? If they had lost a loved one during a lockdown and the leader of the country had potentially told them lies? What would you tell them to do about it?"
When everything feels futile, hope can move us forwards. "You can do simple things," says Blair. "Write to your MP. Express your concern and anger. Refuse to accept the lies that you have been told. Hold onto your reality. Whatever it is, do not sit there and think you are worthless or not deserving of the truth. That’s what you would say to your best friend, that’s what you would tell them to do."

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