Why do narcissists lie? “Because they can”…as the cliché goes. Seriously, many narcissists do lie and they lie constantly. They lie about their education, they lie about their achievements, and they lie about extramarital affairs or what they had for dinner. If someone else is boasting about their 2012 Mercedes, a narcissist will claim (s)he has a 2013 Mercedes just to make her/himself appear more superior.
Narcissists may lie for a variety of reasons which include seeking admiration or to hide their flaws or mistakes. They commonly lie to seek attention. In some cases, a person with this type of personality disorder will lie in order to make the person (s)he is lying to question their own sense of reality.
Narcissists use lying and deception as handy tools to get whatever they want. A narcissist will look you right in the eyes, without blinking, and lie right to your face. Narcissists become so skilled at lying that many of them believe that they are telling the truth. Others use constant lying as a way of controlling the people around them.
Probably the most common lie is due to the unusually strong need a narcissistic person has for people to admire him or her. In an effort to make her/himself feel more important, or more talented, or powerful than(s) he is, an individual with a narcissistic personality may grossly exaggerate when he tells of his or her accomplishments. It is not beneath him or her to tell lies about another person in an effort to diminish the other person’s accomplishments. By doing so, a narcissistic person believes he will make himself or herself seem better in the eyes of those around him.
Another very common reason for lying is evident in the narcissist’s need to gain attention. It is not unusual for them to make up stories about themselves in an effort to make others view them as more interesting. Narcissists may also tell lies in order to make people feel sorry for them in an effort to seek attention as a victim. They have been known to tell people they have cancer or some other disease when, in fact, they don’t.
Types of Lies
What types of lies do they tell? The following examples of “conscious” lies are what a narcissistic 16 year old might say to her parents when they left her home “alone” for a night:
- 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).
- Not speaking up when asked a direct question: (Silence when asked, “What did you do when we were gone?”)
- Making up facts that are not true: (“I did my homework while you were gone”).
- 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).
- Insisting that a truth is a falsehood: (“I did not have friends over!”).
- “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?”).
- 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”).
- Keeping secrets for the wrong reasons: (One of the friends stole the mother’s expensive earrings).
There are also unconscious lies that the narcissist believes on a conscious level. Being truthful takes the ability to be honest with yourself, because if you’re not honest with yourself- you won’t be honest with others. For example:
- 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.
- They project their own feelings onto others. For instance, their “You hate me,” means “I hate myself” (or “I hate you”). These tend to be more “untruths” rather than overt lies.
Attitude toward Lying
If you have to deal with a narcissist, you face a major problem; it is the narcissist’s attitude towards lying.
Most adults have learned that lying tends to be destructive in the end and that it ultimately leads to isolation and loneliness. It hinders any sincere communication and hence the narcissist will find her/himself increasingly on the outside and eventually excluded.
However, as much as the narcissist notices this isolation and may react with increasing panic, it does not bring about a modification of the narcissist’s lying, which is one of their major coping strategies.
The attitude of the narcissist towards lying is immature and simple: If the narcissist lies and gets away with it, (s)he interprets this as being clever and superior to others. The narcissist views lying as an excellent tool to obtain what (s)he wants; it is also a means to demonstrate how stupid others are. A person who wishes to engage in real communication, or shows openness, will be viewed by the narcissist as an utter fool who deserves to be exploited. Willingness to communicate and to show openness will be viewed by the narcissist as weakness or stupidity.
The Effect of Lies
Whether conscious or unconscious lies, the results are the same for the people involved in narcissistic peoples’ lives:
- Lies erode trust and intimacy. One man said,” I learned never to really trust her. It leaves me feeling very alone in the relationship. I don’t trust her about our finances. I don’t trust her regarding the parenting of our children. I don’t trust her with my heart anymore. I simply don’t trust her.”
- Some people come to believe the lies that the narcissist tells about them. A man went to therapy for years to “fix himself” until a therapist indicated his wife might have NPD.
- Narcissists confuse and paralyze others around them—especially when they use gaslighting which drives others to question their own sanity.
- It is an understatement to say that the people around them feel betrayed and hurt. Betrayal leads to a lack of trust, which reduces intimacy, which destroys relationships.