Time to Move on and look the other way? The psychodynamics of Lying, Denial and Disavowal in Political Culture

Authors: Yates, C.

Conference: Digital Mediation and Working Through in Times of Denial, Disavowal and Splitting: On the Un/Representable

Dates: 14 September-15 November 2022


The practice of lying has always been aligned with politics, and stretching the truth or breaking a promise have been viewed by some as almost a political necessity when setting out one’s stall as a politician and getting one’s message across to the electorate. However, at the other end of the spectrum, and in a more destructive vein, the danger of violent propaganda and the use of ‘The Big Lie’ are key components of totalitarian societies where the psychological mechanisms of splitting, projection and denial become embedded in the processes of political communication and in its affective appeal to followers. The latter, which was used to deadly effect in Nazi Germany, has resurfaced through the authoritarian populism of Donald Trump and his ongoing legacy. Today, it is commonplace to say that the practice of lying is an endemic feature of political leadership, where the blurring of lines between fact and fiction have become ever-more indistinct. Donald Trump, and in the UK, Boris Johnson, (and his potential successors for the job of PM) seemingly traverse the boundaries between wish and truth on a daily basis. I look at these themes by discussing the relationship between the culture of lying in politics and the psychosocial processes associated with the Manic Defence – an unconscious psychological defence mechanism that involves a swerving away from reality and truth and is used to manage feelings of loss and helplessness. I will unpack these ideas by focusing on the public response to the political leadership of Boris Johnson, whose Pinocchio proclivities were much in evidence throughout the Brexit campaign, during the Pandemic and more recently, ‘Partygate’.

Source: Manual