What’s the biggest lie of 2022?
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
Back on December 2, 2022, this daily column was “Shining Light on Gaslighting.” Gaslighting was chosen as the 2022 Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year.1 Nowadays often used in business settings, one of its main characteristics is using lies to manipulate a person to such an extent that they begin to question reality and themselves.
The more personal process of gaslighting writ socially large is what PolitiFact calls the “Lie of the Year.” For example, the 2020 winner was “Coronavirus downplay and denial,”2 while in 2021 it was “Campaign to whitewash the history of the January 6 insurrection of the US Capitol.”3
This past Wednesday was the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook school mass shooting. I suppose the winner for 2022 could have been the disinformation spread by Alex Jones, as I discussed in the October 22, 2022, column “The Psychological Heroism of the Sandy Hook Families.”
Alternatively, on the same Wednesday morning, the top frontpage headline of our local daily. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was “Putin’s ‘special operation’ is Lie of the Year.”4
Another candidate could have been from the just released “The biggest Pinocchios of 2022” in The Washington Post.5 They coincide with the release of the new del Toro Pinocchio movie, which is set against a backdrop of fascism. The Washington Post Pinocchios are mainly politicians, including my own state’s Senator Ron Johnson, who was quoted as saying, “I mean, all these athletes dropping dead on the field” from the coronavirus vaccines.5
All these public lies and others have inevitably caused—and are causing—psychological harm, especially psychological trauma.
The truth is important in psychiatric practice. Knowing the true conscious and unconscious thoughts and symptoms helps to choose the appropriate treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy tries to reframe our lies to ourselves to a more positive truthfulness. False memories of trauma, on the other hand, can result in inappropriate blame of loved ones. Psychiatrists have been accused of distorting the truth in the claim that antidepressants correct a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Nevertheless, in life generally, lies are not always more harmful than helpful. That depends on the reason for lying, whether it is to help the target, say in a “little white lie” to protect self-esteem, or whether it is to the advantage of the perpetrator who lies and the ensuing harm to the victim.
The truth has long been the rallying cry of activists, as in “Speaking truth to power” and “The truth shall set you free.” In contrast, politicians are not known for speaking the truth and sometimes spin “alternative facts” in justification. Social media can exponentially amplify cultish and conflictual thought patterns.
Psychiatrists should be known for speaking the truth to patients and the public, although psychologically it must expertly be tailored to the situation and the perceived ability of the other to accept the truth.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.
1. Gaslighting. Word of the Year 2022. Merriam-Webster. November 28, 2022. Accessed December 16, 2022. https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/word-of-the-year
2. A look back at PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year, 2009 to 2020. PolitiFact. December 15, 2021. Accessed December 16, 2022. https://www.politifact.com/article/2021/dec/15/look-back-politifacts-lie-year-2009-2020/
3. Holan AD, McCarthy B, Sherman A. The 2021 Lie of the Year: Lies about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and its significance. PolitiFact. December 15, 2021. Accessed December 16, 2022. https://www.politifact.com/article/2021/dec/15/2021-lie-year-lies-about-jan-6-capitol-attack-and-
4. Catalanello R, Jacobson L. Lie of the Year 2022: Putin’s lies to wage war and conceal horror in Ukraine. PolitiFact Wisconsin. December 13, 2022. Accessed December 16, 2022. https://www.politifact.com/article/2022/dec/13/lie-of-the-year-2022-putins-lies-to-wage-war-and-o/
5. Kessler G. The biggest Pinocchios of 2022. The Washington Post. December 16, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/12/16/biggest-pinocchios-2022/