About Randi

Randi Kreger has brought the concerns of people who have a family member with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) to an international forefront through her best-selling books, informative website, and popular online family support community Welcome to Oz.


Why Do Narcissists and Borderlines Lie So Much?

Many things can destroy trust and intimacy between partners when one is a high conflict person, often someone with borderline or narcissistic personality disorder. But one of the top ones is lying--especially when it is about extramarital contact. A disclaimer: not all people with BPD or knowingly NPD lie. It's just that those who do lie so thoroughly and often that they spoil it for those who do not.

Just What Is a Lie?

First, let's define what a lie is, because what constitutes a lie and the truth is a gray area. The book Lying, Cheating, and Carrying On (edited by Salman Akhtar and Henri Parens) contains several essays about lying. In the essay "Lies, Liars, and Lying: An Introductory Overview," Salman Akhtar, M.D. lists several types of lies that are conscious lies, i.e., those that Pinocchio knows are false.

Here are examples that a 17-year-old girl might tell to parents who went on an overnight trip and left her at home "alone."

1. Lies of omission: telling the truth but not the whole truth in a way designed to mislead ("While you were gone I watched a DVD"--not mentioning the five people who were also over and who drank beer).

2. Not speaking up when asked a direct question: (Silence when asked, "What did you do when we were gone?")

3. Making up facts that are not true: ("I did my homework while you were gone").

4. Embellishing the truth is a way that misleads: ("I took care of the cat"--meaning she petted it a few times but forgot to feed him on time or change the litter box).

5. Insisting that a truth known to someone is a falsehood: ("I did not have friends over!").

6. Gaslighting: an attempt to erode another's reality by denying their experience ("No, the house looks exactly like it did when you left. Is there something wrong with your vision?"). One woman in therapy once said that nearly all the quarrels in her family was about whose reality would be dubbed the "right" one.

7. Acknowledging the truth but assigning motives that were never there to make yourself look better: ("Yes, I had people here but only because I was so lonely without you that I was getting very depressed and started crying").

8. Keeping secrets for the wrong reasons: (One of the friends stole the mother's expensive earrings).

Unconscious Lies

Now let's look at unconscious lies, or untruths that the teller believes on a conscious level. Being truthful takes the ability to be honest with one's own self, because if you're not honest with yourself, you won't be honest with others. For example:

1) When a narcissist says that everyone loves and respects her when it's obvious to others it's not true, that's an unconscious lie. Les Carter explains this well in his book, Why Is It Always About You?: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism. He writes (p 17):

In a sense, narcissists are out of touch with reality. They are not mentally ill, like a psychotic; they are just unwilling to acknowledge truth that doesn't match their preferences. While normal people can weigh events rationally and draw fair conclusions about themselves, narcissists do not. They lack the objectivity to live with reasonable insight because their need for self exaltation does not allow them to accept that their perceptions might not be the ultimate truth. Their idealized view of themselves blinds them as they try to make sense of life, particularly the elements in themselves that might be imperfect or that might require adjustments (and they never want to make adjustments).

2) When a borderline's intense emotions lead him to use projection or emotional reasoning ("feelings equal facts"), that's an unconscious lie. When we are gripped by a strong emotion that doesn't fit the circumstances, we interpret what is happening in a way that fits with the emotions we are feeling instead of the facts presented to us. In other words, we seek to confirm what we already feel and ignore new evidence that does not fit, maintain or justify the emotion. We all do it, but people people with BPD (who see things in black and white and have unstable, intense emotions) do it to a greater degree.

And as if that weren't enough, lingering negative feelings about other issues make one more likely to see negative intent. People with BPD tend to remember every hurt "done to them" as though it happened yesterday. Their false conclusions lead to problematic decisions and behaviors since they're always assuming the worst. They also project their own feelings onto others, so their "You hate me," means "I hate myself." These are untruths, but not really overt lies (as damaging as they may be).

It's hard to tell the difference between a conscious lie and a conscious one. A man says, "It is like we both walk into the same movie theater. I thought that we entered into see the same movie. We sit together. We enter and leave at the same time. But afterwards, I learned that what she saw was entirely different from me, even though we sat and watched the same movie. Her version is no where even close to mine."

What Clinicians Say About Lying and BPD

In the essay "Lies and Their Deception" in the same book, Lying, Cheating, and Carrying On, Clarence Watson, JD, MD pulls no punches when he says, (p. 98):

Given that a BPD hallmark is interpersonal relationships that alternate between idealization and devaluation, the person with BPD may distort facts aimed at the person with whom they desire a personal relationship.

Whether through attempts to draw persons into [intense and rocky interpersonal] relationships or viscously attack another during episodes of the extreme rage associated with perceived abandonment-the borderline personality may use lies and deceitfulness to accomplish these objectives.

Impulsivity and poor impulse control, he writes, means they may not consider the impact of their words before they speak. "In the moment, their desired objective, whatever that may be, takes such precedence over speaking the truth or behaving honestly that the potential consequences of their conduct are reduced to shadowy details."

Other reasons for lack of truth-telling

Some statements may start out as deliberate lies; over time, they become real (the old saying, "Tell a lie often enough and it becomes the truth"). Some statements may be exaggerations, such as a woman accusing her husband of "strangling her" when he touched her neck. People with BPD--especially the conventional type--may judge themselves harshly and expect others to do the same. Lying serves to deflect shame when something might make them look bad, thereby maintaining whatever self-esteem they have on a temporary basis.

This backfires on those people with BPD who then feel worse for having lied (or at least being found out).We all have things about ourselves we would prefer others not know. But we see the good and the bad and hope others do, too. With their black and white world and rejection sensitivity, people with BPD believe that anything "bad" would make others reject them.

Lies may create drama and gain attention. One woman lied that she had been raped to get her boyfriend's attention when he had not been paying enough attention to her.Lies may mask real feelings and put up an impressive fa├žade; this is especially common with invisible BPs.Lies may help make sense of why things happen to them in their mixed-up identity.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Some lies maintain the facade of the False Self: the perfect, superior self the narcissist thinks she is or pretends to be. On a more conscious level, lies are central to:

* Staying in power and keeping things under control

* Keeping the flow of narcissistic supply (adulation by others, which are like ambrosia to the NP)

* Satisfying the grandiose, entitled self

* Avoiding any shame if their status is not as high in reality as they think it should be

* Minimizing the onerous possibility of having to concern himself with your needs.

A Few Examples from Partners

* "He lied consistently about his earnings even in the face of documentary evidence."

"* She told me she had cancer when she didn't."

* "He lied consistently for at least a decade regarding fidelity. He used gaslighting techniques to convince me that I was imagining 'missing' condoms from packs in our bedroom."

* "She denied verbal abuse, telling me that, 'I never called you names when anyone else was listening.'"

* "He refused to say where he was going, where he had been, or when he intended to return home--even when doing so was simply to facilitate normal family life-mealtimes, etc. His most oft-used sentence was 'That'll never be known.'"

* "He lied about his history of dyslexia, even when it would have helped our sons with the same problem."

* "She said she had a night class when she went to a hotel weekly with another man."

So how can someone consciously lie like this? NPs have no empathy. They require narcissistic supply--what's a little lie when your very survival, is at stake? And besides, they think, rules apply to other people. Under these circumstances, telling falsehoods is probably uncomplicated and effortless. Watson says, "Overall, their frank manipulation of others may be part of a 'by hook or by crook; mentality to accomplish their goals."

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