‘So, you lied.’ The accusation from my therapist rendered me speechless. I hadn’t lied! As I’d just explained, all I’d done was tell a friend I wasn’t upset with her for cancelling on me when, secretly, I was. But that didn’t make me a liar. I was just… tweaking the truth so I wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Everybody does that.

‘That is lying,’ he said, a bit more gently. ‘It’s dishonesty. You’re denying that person the truth — and yourself.’

His words shook me. I’d never thought of myself as dishonest. Yet I began to think of all those times when I hadn’t been truthful, big and small. In the past few days alone, I’d told a friend I loved her outfit when I didn’t, pretended I was busy with work when my parents rang and told a colleague how great their latest project was when I hadn’t actually read it.

In that moment, I realised I wasn’t the flawless friend, daughter and colleague I’d always thought I was; I was actually a prolific liar. I might have been doing it with the intention of not hurting others, but it didn’t matter. I was lying to my loved ones — and I’d been doing it my whole life.

After three decades of lying - and suffering from anxiety and stress because she wasn't being honest with herself - Radhika Sanghani embarked on an experiment to always tell the truth

After three decades of lying – and suffering from anxiety and stress because she wasn’t being honest with herself – Radhika Sanghani embarked on an experiment to always tell the truth

Sometimes it was natural and silly, like when I was younger and pretended I hadn’t eaten that slice of cake, when my mouth was covered in chocolate. But at other times, my lies came from a damaging desire to please others.

Like when I stayed far too long in a relationship that wasn’t meeting my needs. I didn’t want to tell him how I truly felt — frustrated, lonely and unseen — because I didn’t want to upset him. Yet my hidden feelings just turned into growing resentment and when he later ended our relationship, I realised the person I’d really been upsetting all that time was myself.

Many studies have shown how damaging such habits can be to our health, increasing our stress level and resulting in burnout. 

My lying started in primary school, as I tried to make my parents happy by being a ‘good girl’, putting on a big smile and hiding my true feelings. It’s not surprising; even the nursery rhymes I sang said girls were made of ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’. 

It’s an expectation that persists to this day. Women are told to be ‘sweet’, ‘cool’, ‘fun’ — to ‘just go with it’. In other words, to stay silent and smile nicely while we shove our true feelings deep down inside in order to make other people happy.

A 2022 YouGov poll found that 56 per cent of women say they are people-pleasers, compared with 42 per cent of men.

With hindsight, I could see that’s why I was such a worried teenager. I constantly hid my true thoughts and feelings from my family and friends — be it the stress I felt taking an 11+ exam, the intensity of my first crush aged 13 or the devastation I felt after my first break-up aged 15. It all came from a desire to not want to disappoint people or be deemed ‘too much’. I was scared that if I was my true self, people wouldn’t like me any more.

Those patterns continued into my adult years and, when I entered the workplace, led me to take on more than I could healthily manage. Often, not wanting to disappoint my editor, I’d take on work even though I was already backed up. To manage it, I had to cancel plans with my boyfriend, lying to him about why because he couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just tell my editor the truth — a rift that ultimately contributed to the end of our relationship.

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Dishonesty infiltrated every part of my life; like when I’d say I’d love to go to a friend’s hen do but couldn’t think of anything worse, or when I’d stay for four hours on a first date I absolutely hated. 

The result of all this lying was a lifetime of anxiety. It’s why I was in therapy. Now I realised that all this time I’d been blocking my loved ones from getting to know the real me and, even worse, I was stopping myself from knowing the real me.

So I decided to do something drastic. Aged 32, from then on I would never lie again, no matter what. Not even a tiny white lie. And especially not to myself.

It was a bold experiment, but I was interested to see what happened. Would it be excruciating? Would it make me lose friends and alienate family? Or would it make me feel more at ease with myself? Might it even inspire others to adopt the same approach?

Radhika - here aged 11 - says her lying started in primary school, as she tried to make her parents happy by being a ¿good girl¿, putting on a big smile and hiding her true feelings

Radhika – here aged 11 – says her lying started in primary school, as she tried to make her parents happy by being a ‘good girl’, putting on a big smile and hiding her true feelings

After all, I certainly wasn’t alone in lying. The average person lies about twice a day. Yet I began to regret my vow when I realised just how much I’d been lying. It wasn’t weekly or even daily. It was hourly. 

It meant that the first lie I didn’t tell wasn’t to a friend but a total stranger — an unfortunate Tesco cashier who happened to ask ‘How are you?’ Previously, I would plaster on a big smile and say I was fine. Now, I admitted: ‘Well, I’m pretty exhausted — I’ve not been sleeping well lately. I really can’t wait for it to be summer.’ She looked so taken aback that I quickly learnt I needed to rein in my honesty. A simple, ‘Oh, a bit tired’ is definitely more appropriate than revealing my life story in the supermarket.

Other seemingly simple tasks suddenly became agonising. It would take me hours to reply to basic messages, such as a friend asking if I was free for a coffee. Before, if I didn’t fancy it, I’d reply: ‘I’d love to, but I can’t.’

But that wasn’t the truth. It wasn’t that I couldn’t — I just didn’t want to. Now, banned from lying, I would agonise over every word, trying to work out the politest way to say, ‘No thanks’, eventually settling on ‘I’m not available’ — emotionally, I wasn’t.

When I told friends what I was doing, they were all shocked. Most couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t at least tell white lies and pretty much all of them told me they’d never do the same. Many warned it might do more harm than good.

But after three decades of lying, I felt I owed it to myself to be radically honest. I didn’t want to allow myself even the teeniest lie; I worried if I gave myself an inch, I’d take a mile.

Not lying wasn’t just confined to answering questions. It also meant opening up to friends about things I’d been hiding from them — like my anxiety, or the fact I was in therapy. 

Those conversations surprised me in ways I hadn’t expected. My friends didn’t just meet me with compassion; they shared their own struggles. It made me realise I’d previously misjudged people, assuming their lives were great because they didn’t tell me otherwise. Actually, they were just like me, hiding the worst from others.

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That said, there were still situations that left me paralysed with panic. Like when a friend sent me a photo of her new outfit — which she loved — and asked for my opinion.

There wasn’t a single thing I liked about it and I had no idea what to reply. In the past, I would have simply said, ‘Looks great!’ But now, my every attempt to tell the truth —‘it’s not my style but it suits you!’ or ‘the colour looks amazing’ — was still a semi-lie. In the end, I took a deep breath and said: ‘I’m not the biggest fan, but if you like it, you should still wear it.’

It was the first time I’d ever given someone my honest, negative opinion and I was terrified of her response. When it came, it was an anti-climax. ‘OK thanks. Might wear something else.’

I assumed she was lying and was secretly upset with me, but when I later worked up the courage to ask her, she stared at me like I was crazy. ‘I asked for your opinion because I wanted it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have asked.’

Slowly, I started to trust that people wanted to hear the truth when they asked me for my thoughts. Of course, it didn’t always go well — like when I went to a friend’s dinner party and she asked me if I liked the vegan dessert she’d specially made for me.

I admitted it wasn’t to my taste; though I told her how much I appreciated the effort, I know she was still offended.

There was also a particularly tough moment with a friend who wanted to hear what I thought of her new boyfriend. I knew the truth could damage our friendship — nobody wants to hear that the love of their life is a potential narcissist. So instead, I opted out of answering, simply telling her my opinion was irrelevant because all that mattered was how she felt with him. It wasn’t what she wanted to hear, but I learnt that honesty doesn’t mean I have to say everything I think.

While my vow has seen me grow much closer to some friends, who say my honesty means they feel really safe in our friendship because they can trust me, it has seen me growing apart from others — mainly because it’s meant I’ve had to stop lying to myself.

I was forced to confront the fact I didn’t enjoy spending time with some friends any more. We’d continued these friendships out of a sense of nostalgia and shared history, but the truth was we’d grown apart and it was starting to feel more like a duty than a joy to spend time with them. It wasn’t easy to admit this to myself, but once I did, I found myself doing something I’d never foreseen — saying it out loud.

I’d known one particular friend since my teens and we’d had periods of being really close. But in recent years, our dinners together had started to feel forced, filled with awkward silences. We’d still meet up several times a year, but one day, when she got in touch again, I told her how I really felt.

It ended up being one of the most honest conversations we’d ever had, as she admitted she felt the same way and had been struggling for as long as I had. We decided to stop trying so hard to keep things afloat, instead choosing to let go. Though it was sad, it was freeing for both of us.

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I’m also starting to share with people I never used to. Like my former colleague, who invited me to his wedding not long after I’d been through a break-up.

I didn’t want to go, but wasn’t ready to say that aloud, so instead I asked him for more time to RSVP. He asked why.

I tried to think of a way out of admitting the truth — we just didn’t have that kind of relationship. But in the end, I decided to be brave and say: ‘Honestly? I’m scared I’ll feel sad and lonely.’ His response was so kind, even offering me support on his wedding day, that I cried. In that moment, I knew I’d go.

Telling the truth has also changed my life romantically. I was dating during my first year of no lies and my honesty very quickly got rid of anyone who wasn’t right for me. Asked what I was looking for, I’d say: ‘True love, you?’ If they weren’t on the same page, they’d disappear pretty fast.

It meant that when I met my partner at a yoga class last year, we instantly knew where we both stood. And when I told him I never lie, he was so inspired he suggested we create a policy of radical honesty in our relationship, where we never lie to each other, no matter what. It means I’m very aware of just how annoying he finds me when I’m ‘hangry’ (angry due to being hungry).

Two years on from her decision to stop lying, Radhika says her life has improved, bringing her closer to the people she loves and meaning that she now knows herself on a deeper level

Two years on from her decision to stop lying, Radhika says her life has improved, bringing her closer to the people she loves and meaning that she now knows herself on a deeper level

You may think such a policy would spell disaster — surely some things are better left unsaid for the sake of romantic harmony? But I feel safer with him than anyone I’ve ever been with because our relationship is founded on total trust.

Two years on from that therapy session, my decision to stop lying has improved my life in so many ways. It has brought me closer to the people I love, whilst making space for new connections by encouraging me to let go of relationships that weren’t working for me. But most importantly, it has completely overhauled my relationship with myself. I now know myself on a deeper level — what I like, what I don’t and what feels good for me. And I finally have the courage to say those things out loud.

It also sparked the birth of my debut children’s novel, The Girl Who Couldn’t Lie. It’s about 12-year-old Priya Shah, a straight-A student, elite gymnast and major people-pleaser, who gets stuck in her grandma’s magic bangle and suddenly finds she can’t tell a single lie. Instead, she has to be honest with everybody.

I’ve dedicated the book to my younger self, because Priya reminds me of who I used to be (minus the elite gymnastics).

I do feel sad that it has taken me 34 years to get to a place where I can embrace my authentic self and tell the truth. But I hope my experiences will encourage a new generation of girls to stop pleasing others and start focusing on themselves instead.

It’s something I am fully committed to. I never want to go back to lying and I don’t see the need to. Without it, I’ve found more connection, joy and love than I could have ever foreseen.

While radical honesty isn’t always easy, it has led to a life that is truly, honestly, mine.

  • The Girl Who Couldn’t Lie by Radhika Sanghani (Usborne, £7.99) is out now.
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