Sooner or Later, Half-Truths Become Lies

Sooner or Later, Half-Truths Become Lies
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

There is no worse coward than one who constantly tells half-truths. Because he who combines truth with falsehood will sooner or later reveal the whole lie. Deceit disguised by good manners are harmful and corrosive. They tend to come to the surface, just like lies.

Unamuno said in his writings that there are no good fools. They all know, in their own way, how to conspire and play effective tricks to catch us by surprise. Now then, if there is anything that our society has in excess it is not exactly fools nor geniuses. Half-truths or partial truths are a more familiar strategy. We see them in every context, especially in the political world.

“You told a half-truth? They will say that you lie twice if you tell the other half.”

Antonio Machado

The person who tells partial truths or little white lies feels like she isn’t doing anything wrong. She feels immune from the responsibility she has to the other person. It would seem that omitting information in order to be “merciful” unloads you of all responsibility. It’s like when someone tells you “I love you very much, but I need space” or “I appreciate your work and we value your effort, but we will have to get by without you for a few months”. 

As much as it might hurt, the truth is what we all prefer and what we need. It is the only way that we can make progress. Truth gives us the strength to use proper psychological strategies to turn to the next page. Truth helps leave behind our insecurities and emotional instability and unmasks our delusions.

half truths apple

The bitter taste of half-truths

As strange as it might seem, psychological analysis of lies is relatively new. Freud barely touched on the subject. In his time, it was a matter for ethicists and even theologians, who studied it relation to morals. Nevertheless, in the eighties, social psychologists became interested and started studying deceit and all of the interesting phenomena associated with the subject. They confirmed something that Nietzsche said during his time: “The lie is a condition of life”.

We know that this can seem distressing. In spite of the fact that we are socialized from a very young age to always tell the truth, starting at the age of four we start realizing that lying has certain benefits. That said, something that is also very clear to us from a young age is that a bald-faced lie is almost never viable in the long-term.

half truths mask

On the other hand, as Robert Feldman from the Psychology Department at the University of Massachusetts has shown, many of our daily conversations are riddled with partial truths. 98% of them are inoffensive, harmless, and even functional (for example, telling someone we don’t know that well “I’m fine, you know, dealing with this and that” when in reality we are struggling through a difficult time).

However, the other 2% represents half-truths, this perverse strategy in which the partial truth carries out deceit by omission. In this situation, the perpetrator tries to justify himself and avoid blame. After all, if it’s not a complete lie, no wrong has been done. 

Lies vs. honesty

Perhaps many of us have been fed these half-truths for a time, which, at the end of the day, are complete lies. Maybe someone told us little white lies out of pity, or repeated the same lie again and again, hoping that eventually, we’d believe it. But like a cork submerged in water, the truth will always come to the surface.

“The man who fears no TRUTH has nothing to fear from lies”

-Thomas Jefferson-

There are a variety of explanations: everything is relative, or “no one can go around telling the truth all the time”. Still, looking past all of that, it is best to practice and demand HONESTY from others. While sincerity and frankness are associated with the absolute obligation not to lie, honesty has a much more intimate, useful, and effective relationship with ourselves and with others.

half-truths hands

Above all, we are talking about respect, integrity and being genuine and consistent.  The important takeaway is to avoiding cowardly and passive-aggressive schemes.  In conclusion, there is no worse lie than a disguised truth. In order to live in harmony and respect, nothing is better than honesty. Honesty, in turn, requires another indisputable value: responsibility.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Fernández, M. C. F., & Halty, L. (2018). La intención es lo que cuenta. Una revisión sobre la detección del engaño en intenciones. Papeles del Psicólogo39(1), 51-59.
  • Gitlin, I. B., López, R. M., Pallejá, J. M., & Fenn, E. (2017). Cognición, emoción y mentira: implicaciones para detectar el engaño. Anuario de psicología jurídica, (27), 95-106.
  • Lind, G. (2019, September). Psicología de la Moral y Democracia, y Educación. In Workshop Discussion Theater/KMDD in Concepción.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.