Why now, Lance? That’s the question that popped into my head—I’m sure I wasn’t alone—when I read the news that cyclist Lance Armstrong was finally ‘fessing up to using performance enhancing drugs.
I’m sure his lawyers warned him about the costs of coming clean: lawsuits from his old sponsors, lawsuits from federal whistleblowers for defrauding the agency that sponsored his team, lawsuits from those he previously sued for defamation, and the possibility of perjury charges for lying under oath.
The Wall Street Journal speculated that Armstrong has multiple goals in confessing to doping including trying to repair the reputation of the Livestrong Foundation, a cancer charity that he founded, and trying to get the lifetime ban lifted from the US Anti-Doping Agency that’s preventing him from competing in elite triathalons.
“You don’t hold the keys to my redemption,” he purportedly told the head of the US Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart, in a meeting last month, according to the WSJ article. “There’s one person who holds the keys to my redemption, and that’s me.”
Hopefully, Armstrong will reveal the reasons for his decision to confess now in his interview with Oprah Winfrey, set to air on Thursday night. But I think the lies and coverup are universal to human nature, even if Armstrong’s were on a grander scale.
Sharon-based therapist Karen Ruskin told me there are common reasons people choose to unburden themselves and confess to their deception. “Usually, there’s a selfish motivation,” she said. “Lying is selfish but acknowledging the truth is usually selfish too—whether it’s because you want others to forgive you, want to become a better person, or even improve your charity efforts or teach a lesson to kids.”
Here are five common reasons she hears from her clients about why they finally decided to tell a hurtful truth.
1. Feeling threatened. Liars tend to confess when they’re worried that they’ll lose something if they don’t. “A wife may say she’ll leave if her husband doesn’t admit to cheating,” Ruskin said. People may also be loathe to lie under oath, if they’re subpoenaed, say, during a divorce proceeding or civil lawsuit.
2. Confronting their own mortality. When people are sick or dying, they often want to clear their conscience or make amends. In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean waits until he’s on his deathbed before confessing to his daughter that he was an ex-convict. “It’s the life-is-too-short trigger,” Ruskin said.
3. Becoming a parent. Having a child often makes people want to act more responsibly, leading them to quit risky behaviors, Ruskin said. If they’re addicted to drugs or alcohol, they have to first admit that addiction to themselves and their loved ones before they can take steps to overcome it.
4. Wanting self actualization. Some people, possibly Armstrong, choose to tell the truth in order to move forward and reinvent themselves. “They want to make a change but can’t do that until they self-confront,” Ruskin said. “Admitting the truth to others is really about confronting ourselves.”
5. Seeking relief of a burden. Lies press a lot of weight onto the shoulders of the person who must carry and perpetuate them. But people need to realize that when they first unburden themselves, it’s probably going to get much worse before it gets better.
“People sometimes regret initially revealing their lies,” Ruskin said, due to the anger and disappointment they must face from their friends, loved ones, and peers, or financial or criminal punishments. But she added that those who work through the hard times with support from a therapist or a loved one are usually happy that they told the truth in the end.
“It really can take a long time to get to that point,” she added. “Hopefully, Lance Armstrong has the emotional stamina to cope with it.”