Sooner or later everyone tells a lie. In fact, over a lifetime, we all tell many lies. The narcissist, however, is a liar. It isn’t just what they do, it is who they are.
In my work with daughters of narcissistic mothers, daughters frequently can’t wrap their heads around why their mother would lie. Perhaps this will shed some light.
What’s the difference between a person who tells a lie and a liar?
When confronted with the opportunity, to tell the truth, or tell a lie, most of us check in with our inner-selves to see if our answer feels right. This gut check is a calculation that happens automatically mostly at the unconscious level.
This is true even for liars.
Thus, we all act in accordance with our sense of… who we know ourselves to be.
The three-year-old, mouth rimmed with chocolate, who declares with impunity she was NOT the one who ate the half-eaten candy bar, is given a pass because we all know intuitively she doesn’t have a fully formed sense of self.
Narcissism is a disorder of the self. It isn’t so much an undeveloped sense of self as it is an impaired/fragmented sense of self. A self-based on opportunism instead of values. Life is a game and they play to win.
What happens when otherwise good people tell a lie?
Somewhere, somehow most people will lie. Given enough reason, fear or perceived gain, most of us will violate our sense of integrity, our internalized values. We make the calculation that an untruth is worth telling. If we aren’t a liar we feel bad, sometimes really bad.
We feel bad because who we know ourselves to be and our values don’t match up. This incongruence makes us uncomfortable. It costs us to lie.
What happens when a narcissist tells a lie?
The narcissistic calculation is a different algebraic equation.
A narcissist’s lie also comes from his or her sense of self. The difference is that their life has become a lie.
When their life becomes a lie, their lying is different. Different because their sense of self is different. The lie is not inconsistent with their sense of self. For them, the lie is a necessity to preserve what they regard as a self.
That self, however, is a set of defenses, not internalized values. That set of defenses stand as armed guards against a horrible cauldron of self-loathing of which they are mostly unaware. And, the defenses keep them unaware of the emotional pain that would otherwise swallow them up, or so they believe.
The secrets, the layers of lies, become a fragile house of cards. The self they have built from those lies can easily cave in on itself under the weight of truth.
The narcissist is operating from a place of defense all of the time. The lie is more a PR stunt, a marketing ploy rather than a cohesive integrated set of values. The narcissistic personality is more of a storefront designed to hide that there isn’t any there, there. They can’t ever let down their guard and let anyone in.
There is no true capacity for intimacy. They can’t invite you into the store because the store is full of empty discarded garbage. They want you to buy the fiction that the storefront is so dazzling you wouldn’t need to come inside. “Nothing to see here…move along”. They may have tons of friends, be the life of the party but no one knows the whole story. There will be gaps in their stories and in their lives.
They are marketing a self they want you to believe. They need you to believe the storefront is the store. These days that can manifest as a carefully curated Facebook page or Instagram Feed. If they are convincing enough to others then maybe, just maybe they can believe it too. They don’t experience it as manipulation or lying, not exactly… they feel it is necessary for survival, psychological survival.
Intimacy is too threatening because you would want to come inside and have a look around. They can’t afford that risk.
What you don’t see – true humility and remorse for mistakes made. That takes self-reflection and honesty. If they have a public downfall that they can’t totally deny they will simply be the after in a before and after study. Voila’ transformation! Look more closely and you will see they take no ownership in their struggle because there is none.
What they say about their lies.
“I had to lie. You see circumstances were such it only made sense for me to lie. External conditions forced me to lie- I would be stupid not to.” What they are not saying is that their lie is an outgrowth of internal conditions or that it violated their values. There is no accountability for lying. Because they aren’t taking accountability they are telling you they will find a rationale to lie in the future. And, they will lie to you.
“The other person is so ridiculous/stupid/unreasonable they left me with no other choice. “ They put the responsibility for lying on the other person. “They made me do it.” Again you see the lack of accountability coupled with the denigration of the other.
“I am protecting someone by lying to them.” If they knew the truth it would hurt them. Not that everyone needs to know every thought or fact about our lives. However, the narcissist will mislead, omit or outright lie about huge aspects of their lives and tell themselves they are protecting people, not hurting them.
All of these excuses reflect an impoverished and distorted sense of self. Paradoxically they aren’t lying… not exactly, they are speaking the truth of who they are.
- It bears saying that the fractured abusive childhoods that create the need for this level of narcissistic defense imprison their victims in lives that are hard if not near impossible to heal from. When a person lies as a manner, of course, they not only do relational violence to others, tragically, they do it to themselves.
Wondering if you are in the role of the Good Daughter of a narcissistic mother? Take the quiz – it’s free.