October 21, 2021 Is Lying the New Normal?
Dear Vicki: My 12-year-old son has always been a funny, outgoing, and expressive guy, but lately I’ve caught him lying to me. It’s not about big stuff, but it’s still very concerning. For example, when Todd spent the weekend with his father recently (we had an amicable divorce five years ago), Todd reported that he and his dad had lunch with the mayor of the town. When I checked, it turns out that the assistant mayor is an old high school friend of my ex-husband and that’s who they lunched with. When I challenge Todd on this, he just laughed and said it’s a better story to have lunch with a mayor than an assistant mayor. Another time Todd complained that his history teacher assigned them 100 pages to read over the weekend. Once again, when I checked, it turned out that the assignment was more like 50 pages, but they could do more for extra credit. His response to my query was to cop a dramatic attitude and laugh. Lying is completely unacceptable behavior as far as I’m concerned, yet whenever I try to impress rules and regulations on him, he just laughs and teases me about being a “fuddy-duddy.” Is lying suddenly okay these days? Or does this have to do with his personality? Is there a way to impress on him the paramount importance of honesty, ethics, and things like that? He feels out of control to me. Signed: Disturbed Outside Denver
Dear Disturbed: Teaching children that honesty matters is an important part of parenting. In spite of current public affairs, our culture is built on an understanding that truth matters. Because of that, the norm for our culture has been that lying is wrong, even though “stretching the truth” now and then (especially for dramatic affect) seems to be acceptable to some.
That said, I think the core of the problem you’re having with your son has to do with the relationship between your primary elemental personalities. I suspect that you are a primary Metal personality. I say that because Metal people are our cultural guides for determining right from wrong. In truth, you are probably very upset that your son isn’t getting with the “honesty as the best policy” program because his lying strikes at the core of your values. I suspect there’s another issue that’s also upsetting you and we’ll cover that, too. But first, the lying.
It’s interesting that you suspect his lying could be tied to his element personality. The short answer is yes, it can. But not because one of the elemental personalities is more prone to lying. All of the elemental personalities are capable of lying, but the reasons they lie will be different.
- When the Fire personality lies, it’s usually for a sense of drama. Todd’s correct, it’s a more dramatic story to say one has lunched with the mayor than the assistant mayor. Fire people enjoy the attention of being the entertainer, so will exaggerate a story for the effect.
- When the Earth personality lies, it’s usually to protect someone’s feelings. Earth people don’t like to hurt others or cause them to feel left out. They will deny attending a party to which you weren’t invited or tell you that the painting you made for them is beautiful, even if it isn’t. Earth people care and don’t want to hurt anyone.
- When the Metal personality lies – which isn’t very often – it’s usually to discredit something that would negatively impact something they know to be true. It’s much more compelling to say that the committee unanimously agrees with a specific course of action even if, in truth, there were a few dissenters. Metal people will also lie if their secondary element kicks in for a sense of drama, to protect feelings, etc.
- When the Water personality lies, it usually to avoid something. Water people like to keep their own counsel and spend quiet time alone, so will say they’re busy to skip an event they’d rather not attend. They’ll also distort reality to avoid a truth they’d rather not embrace, which is an interesting way to lie to themselves.
- When the Wood personality lies, it’s usually to make themselves appear more impressive. Personal accomplishment matters a whole lot to Wood people and any way they can make themselves appear more important is usually worth a “little white lie.” Exaggerating the turnout at an event one hosts is a good example. Wood people will also be tempted to lie about anything that could reflect poorly on them.
As you can see, all of the element personalities can and will be tempted to lie. Yet as a Metal personality, you will find Todd’s lying most egregious. In your eyes, it is simply the wrong thing to do. However, I do believe that issues around control are another reason you’re upset, so we need to look at that, as well.
First and foremost, parents expect to “control” their children via guidelines and teachings that keep them safe and encourage them to grow into wise, responsible adults. This will especially matter to a Metal parent. Second, your Metal personality values the ability to control situations so that the “right” outcomes are achieved. For a balanced Metal person, this isn’t haughtiness or ego, it’s based on the fact that Metal people are masters of the past and know what has worked and what has not. Why repeat the mistakes of history when we already know how they’ll turn out? You know that lying leads to trouble.
Finally, I suspect that Todd is a primary Fire personality based on his desire to exaggerate a story for the effect (Fire people love drama), his tendency to laugh things off (very Fire), and the fact that he teases you about being a “fuddy-duddy” (Fire people don’t like boundaries). If I am correct, this means that the two of you relate on the Controlling Cycle of the Five Elements model (the big star in the model below), with his Fire energy controlling your Metal energy.
For all the reasons listed above, especially that you are a primary Metal personality, feeling like your son is controlling you just won’t go over well. But remember, a Controlling Cycle relationship doesn’t have to feel controlling if both parties are balanced. Fire energy can help prevent a Metal person from becoming too rigid or stuck in their ways. Fire energy can also bring fun and spontaneity to Metal people. However, you do suggest that Todd is “out of control,” by which I think you mean too much Fire energy. You not liking this is understandable because too much Fire can threaten a Metal person’s orderly, process-driven ways. And I suspect that’s what’s happening for you.
If you think Todd has too much Fire energy, remember that it’s the Water element that controls the Fire element via the big star in the model. If you can get more Water energy in Todd’s life, that will help tame his Fire. Encourage him to join a swim team at school, paint his room blue, or just ask that he drink more water. The goal is to gently help him manage his Fire energy as he grows into the ethical, heart-warming, fun Fire person we know he can be. Blessings to you!