It’s a common misconception that autistic individuals cannot lie.
While there are some autistics who cannot master the body language or facial expressions to pull off a lie, some can.
There are also some autistics who only want to tell the truth and cannot mentally fabricate a lie.
And then there are those of us who can.
I’ve lied. Many times.
I’m not here to proclaim it like it’s something I’m proud of. However, I am here to bring it into the light to dispel a common autistic myth.
So why would an autistic lie?
Turns out, for many reasons that others lie - to try and get our needs met.
Let me explain with a not-so-flattering look at some of my past lies.
I would accept an invitation to a social gathering. When the event neared, I made up some excuse as to why I couldn’t go.
I exaggerated elements of my personal stories so that individuals felt the intensity of how I felt at that moment.
If someone asked my opinion on a sensitive subject, I lied to try to keep all parties involved happy.
I lied about how I was feeling when asked, so no one would get overly concerned about me.
If I didn’t want to do something, I made up lies to not have to do the thing.
The common thread in my lies was that I was afraid that my truth would not be sufficient. I wanted to belong and connect with others. I wanted to be accepted. I feared I would lose those things if I was fully myself.
What I didn’t know then is that I’m autistic. I knew I felt and acted differently than most people, but I didn’t know why. I felt like I was broken and was in a continual cycle of trying to change myself, coupled with shame about how I felt.
For example, I wanted to go to parties. I wanted to make friends. I wanted to have a circle of people I felt comfortable around. However, whenever I went to social events, I felt overwhelmed and extremely uncomfortable. I didn’t have the knowledge or the language to articulate that my sensory system was overloaded. How could I explain to someone else what I could not understand myself?
I would tell people I’d go to their party with the best of intentions, but then the feelings of dread would hit me and I would cancel. Instead of telling them the truth, I made up a lie. I usually said I had some deadline or other conflicting event I forgot about. I was too uncomfortable to say, “Social environments overwhelm me.”
Now that I know I’m autistic, I can understand why social environments overwhelm me. I can also tell my friend, “Hey Laura, I know I said I would come to your party this Saturday, but I realized that the environment would be too overwhelming for my sensory system. I would still love to see you though and would love to meet up with you next week at our favorite coffee shop.”
I now feel far more comfortable sharing my truth.
Before, I was afraid I would lose friends. I now know that if a friend cannot accept and understand me as I am, they are not a friend worth having.
I was also afraid that people would not believe or understand me. Since I typically had a stronger emotional response to things than others, I was used to being gaslit or typecast as the “dramatic” or “over-emotional” one. I learned that I needed to tone myself down to fit in with others. I lied to do that.
There were also times that I wanted people to FEEL as I felt. I would exaggerate my stories so they would have the same emotional response I did.
I did this out of a desire to connect. I wanted to be seen, heard, and understood. I wanted to be validated.
Trouble is, lying doesn’t bring us that true connection. While it may give us what we want at that moment (“Oh my God Jackie, that’s horrible! I’m so sorry that happened!”), it is not a true connection because it is based on something false. Yes, I had a temporary connection with someone, but it was predicated through a false version of myself. That wasn’t the kind of belonging I was really after. It wasn’t meeting my actual need to be heard, seen, understood, and validated.
In addition, after I would lie, I would feel guilty about it. I prefer to be honest and truthful, and it didn’t sit well with me. Other times, I would spiral into shame about how I wasn’t a “good” person and no one knew the true me.
ABSOLUTELY. No one knew the true me because I didn’t fully know the true me and I was terrified to share myself.
Luckily, these things have changed with time, the natural process of maturing, and my diagnosis of autism. I gradually stopped lying because I realized it wasn’t getting me the things I wanted. I also saw how it hurt people.
When I learned I was autistic, I could finally understand WHY I lied all of those times. It also helps me understand why I am still tempted to lie sometimes
There are times that I don’t want to do something, and a lie would be the easiest way to get myself out. However, these are moments to practice sharing my full self. For example, if someone invites me to dinner and I don’t have the energy for it, I can say, “You know what, I don’t have the energy after seeing clients.”
Each moment I am honest about how I feel is an educational moment about who I am and what it means to be autistic. People get to slowly understand me better and how autism impacts me. I get to share more and more of who I am - which is what I wanted in the first place.