Last Updated on July 4, 2022 by Alexander Burgemeester
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 2019Mercedes, a narcissist will claim (s)he has a 2020 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.
The Narcissist and Lying
There’s a difference between lying, and being a liar. Most people tell small lies at some point.
We do this for many different reasons, for example:
- For our own benefit: “The fish I caught was three feet long!” (it wasn’t)
- To get out of trouble: “No officer I have no idea why you pulled me over” (you do)
- To make others feel good “I love your new haircut!” (you don’t)
These are the classic “little white lies” that people tell. They are seen as harmless, for the most part, and a natural part of navigating the social landscape.
But then there are the bigger lies, those that give us an unfair advantage, often at the expense of someone else. Some researchers call these “black lies”.
These are less accepted as part of normal human life.
One study in 2014 found that narcissistic traits predicted the use of both white and black lies – but was more successful in predicting black lies.
So while narcissists may absolutely engage in the same white lies that everyone else does, there’s another layer of lies on top of that, the black lies, that they are also prone to.
It’s these black lies that separate a liar from someone who lies.
And it’s the type of black lies, and the motivations behind them, that separate a liar from a narcissistic liar.
Narcissists lie for specific reasons related to the condition of NPD. So to really understand what a narcissistic liar is, we need to delve into their motivations for lying in the first place.
Why Do Narcissists Lie?
From one perspective, a narcissist’s whole life is a lie. Their huge ego and apparent high self-esteem hides a weaker, fragile self underneath.
Their actions are designed to be consistent with this projected self, and to protect it at all costs.
And because narcissists have difficulty generating self-worth from within, they need to get it from the reactions of other people. So they lie.
They lie about their skills, their abilities, and their accomplishments.
Their goal is to receive flattery, praise, attention and adoration from other people to prop up their self-esteem (this is known as “narcissistic supply”).
A number of studies have confirmed this. In one study from 2014, the researchers looked into the motivations for lying among people who possess one of the “dark triad” of personality traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.
They found that narcissists lied for the purposes of self-gain. Specifically, their lies revolved around themes of popularity, dominance, and appearance.
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In another study, 100 Facebook users were given tests of narcissistic personality traits, and also self-esteem.
Then, their Facebook pages were independently analysed to see how much “self-promotional content” they contained (that is, content aimed at presenting themselves in a positive way to others).
They found that higher levels of narcissism, and lower levels of self-esteem, predicted more self-promotional content.
These studies demonstrate the general pattern behind narcissists’ lies – the goal here is to get that adoration, that narcissistic supply, from other people, to build up their self-esteem.
However, as many victims of narcissistic abuse will attest, this is not the only type of lie that comes out of a narcissist’s mouth.
The Narcissist Lies to Control You
Control is very important to the narcissistic liar. Again, this comes from the need for narcissistic supply.
They need to be in control in order to put themselves at the top of the social totem poll.
Lies help them control what people think about them and how people act around them.
Once they’ve achieved this sort of control, the narcissist has the upper hand, and they have free reign to please themselves. They can indulge in their own desires at will.
For example, a narcissistic husband may engage in adultery, and then lie about who they have been with
“I was with Bob from work, why are you accusing me? I was only at the bar!”
If you start to press the matter, the lies may evolve to gaslighting.
This is where the narcissist makes you question your own perceptions, your own memories of what has happened
“I told you last week that I would be meeting Bob. Don’t you remember? Your memory is so bad!”
At this point, your questioning your own sanity.
“Did he say that? He seems so sure about it. Maybe I did just forget…”.
Now you’re in a bad position – once you’ve been gaslit, you rely on the narcissist to sort the supposed truth from the lies – and they are the one delivering both.
This sort of deliberate, calculated lying is more common in people with malignant narcissism, which is sort of a cross between narcissism and psychopathy.
Malignant narcissists display little to no empathy, and they often lie and abuse not just to gain control, but because they enjoy it.
Does a Narcissist Believe Their Own Lies?
This really depends on the type of lie that they tell.
In July 2020, Donald Trump bragged in a Fox News interview about a “very hard” cognitive test that he apparently “aced.”
The test, it turned out, was the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, a test of cognitive decline.
A high score doesn’t mean you’re mentally superior, it just means you don’t suffer from a major dysfunction in faculties like memory and attention.
It’s the sort of test where, if you don’t get 100%, they take away your driving license.
So Trump’s brag was a clear lie. But his thought process probably wasn’t “I will lie about the test and make people believe I am superior.”
Most likely, the thought process was something like “Since I am such a stable genius, the test must have been a very hard test.”
When it comes to self-aggrandising lies – the sort of lie that lines up with how narcissists like to see themselves – they probably do believe them.
It would be very hard for them to believe otherwise, because that would mean catching a glimpse of their true self-worth – something narcissists strive to avoid.
But it’s a different story when it comes to the more deliberately manipulative kind of lies we just discussed.
In these cases, the narcissist likely knows they are lying and is doing so consciously.
A 2018 study at Ariel University in Israel found a connection between narcissistic personality traits and how people say they lie.
They also found that, not only do narcissists admit to lying more, they believe they are better at lying than other people (and there may be some truth to that – practice makes perfect after all).
So this study suggests that narcissists do tell some lies that they know to be lies – lies that they don’t actually believe themselves.
Is the Narcissist a Pathological Liar?
If you have a narcissist in your life who is constantly lying, whether to boost their own ego or to manipulate you, you might wonder, do narcissists lie all the time?
Is the narcissist a pathological liar?
The answer, is probably not. Pathological liars, generally speaking, lie compulsively.
When they see an opportunity to tell a lie, they are powerless to resist it.
There’s some evidence suggesting this comes down to abnormalities in the brain, perhaps liked to certain personality disorders, head injuries, or hormone imbalances.
Think of it like this – in any conversation, the brain is churning away in the background, coming up with things you might say next.
Many of these possible responses will be lies, but in most people, there is a filter blocking the lies – except in certain circumstances (the white lies we talked about earlier, or perhaps black lies on occasion, in moments of weakness, or to avoid shame or punishment).
Pathological liars lack this filter, so the lies just come pouring out.
There’s no strategy, no rhyme, and no reason. They just can’t stop them.
With narcissists, as we’ve seen, there is usually a reason for the lies – and sometimes even a deliberate manipulative strategy.
So while narcissists lie frequently, the narcissistic liar is not a pathological liar, in the strictest sense.
But if that is indeed the case – if there is a reason for the lies, do narcissists ever feel bad about lying?
Can a Narcissist Feel Remorse About Their Lies?
The boring answer here is, “it depends.”
Think of remorse as like social glue, something that helps keep people together.
When you start doing something negative towards someone else, remorse kicks in, you feel bad, and this discourages you from doing something like that in the future.
This helps you avoid alienating people so that you’ll enjoy better relationships with the people around you.
So, in order to feel remorseful about something you did, you have to be able to understand your action’s consequences on other people.
That requires empathy – the ability to feel what other people feel in a given situation.
Unfortunately, many narcissists display low levels of empathy. In these cases, they simply don’t feel bad for hurting other people.
The remorse “circuitry” might well be present in the narcissist’s brain, but without empathy, it doesn’t get triggered.
Now, not all narcissists are low in empathy, and even in those that are, “low” does not mean “zero.”
So it’s likely that narcissists do feel some remorse at some times. B
ut this may not be enough to trigger a shift in how they behave towards you. For more information on this topic, see my related article: Can a Narcissist Truly Apologise.
How to Deal With a Narcissist Who Lies?
So we’ve gone over the “what” and the “why” of narcissistic lies, now let’s talk about how you can deal with them.
The first and perhaps most important step, is to get a good picture of the relationship with the narcissist.
As we’ve talked about, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction when dealing with narcissists, especially the high-functioning variety.
Do you find yourself questioning your own senses, memories, and perceptions?
Do you have an underlying feeling that something isn’t “right” in the relationship, feelings that they are able to talk you out of?
If so, you may be deep into a web of lies at this point. It can really help to get a second opinion, from someone who doesn’t know the narcissist or a counselor who specializes in NPD.
This can give you a grounding in reality, as someone looking in from the outside may see things very clearly that you can’t.
Even if you’re already sure you’re being lied to, it can still help to seek outside support, as this can give you a little more emotional strength.
Next, try to evaluate the situation carefully. Lies and manipulation are a form of emotional abuse, and they are not something you should feel you need to accept.
If you are being abused in this way, it is time to think about leaving the narcissist.
Wait a second, just leave? Shouldn’t you consider confronting them about their behavior?
Should You Confront a Narcissist About Their Lying?
Because some narcissists have a way of getting you “under their spell”, so to speak, you may hold strong, and genuine affection towards them, even despite their abusive behaviour.
So you might hold out hope,
“If I confront him, maybe he’ll see the error of his ways. Maybe he’ll change.”
Unfortunately, this outcome is quite unlikely. Confronting a narcissist will often lead to more of the same behavior that you’re trying to avoid.
Remember, narcissists, are good at lying, and probably very good at lying to you. Once you start a confrontation, you’re in their world.
This will not be the first time they’ve been caught lying, and, quite possibly, they’ve had some practice at getting out of this situation.
Rebecca Zung has a nice post breaking down what often happens when a narcissist gets caught lying, which she breaks into the Four D’s:
- Denial: they may simply deny that they lied, or deny that your version of events is the truth (potentially leading to gaslighting).
- Deflection: with narcissists, there’s always someone else to blame, and they may even see their actions as justified – “I only do it because I love you!”.
- Devalue: in a fight-fire-with-fire tactic, they might even shift the blame onto you, using criticisms and put downs to lower your self-esteem, making it harder for you to continue the confrontation.
- Dismissal: They might try to just shift gears, change the topic, and find excuses not to talk about it.
The bottom line is, confrontations probably won’t go as you hope.
A better approach is to set boundaries of what behavior you won’t accept “If you continue to lie to me, I will end the conversation.”
This way, you’re standing up for yourself without being pulled into their world.
And it’s worth repeating, find some support, and then think seriously about ending the relationship, and how you would do that.
5 thoughts on “Why Do Narcissists Lie So Much?”
This situation can be very hard to deal with even more so as a man. Then the addition of a child that just hit his teenage years, 13 to be exact. My best addition to this most educational blog, in which it is, that the one thing that is lacking. I really don’t advise this nor condone.
But helped me to open my eyes and not question the facts and most importantly the feelings that derive from dealing with a person of this caliber. And that’s to turn the tables on that person and do what they will probably do to you in order to keep the secrets of their behavior kept secret. To me, I call it the “Parot Effect”.
Maybe be specific to my situation, and maybe not. But the person in my world just kept mimicking and copying everything I say or do just to keep the game going and me under control, or her spell if you will. So I reversed the way it was perceived, let her see only what I wanted, and said only what I wanted to here back, until I had it cornered, the lie to say the least….But so much more comes thru when a person opens up that door to see for themselves… Something’s are better left alone, like a don’t touch sign on a wall in an office, but we still just put a finger on it…leave a print forever on that wall.
Imagine if there was a 100 people put their finger on that wall. It would become ruined and need a new layer. Narcissists are actually very poor minded weak individuals who do have the wrong perceptions in life, very deep-rooted bad feelings towards themselves. If this is delt with first, I mean in my case it would have to go back 45 years and deal with the original problem, which is impossible, or is it?
Well knowing is a very good tool to help leave someone who is a narcissist but it’s not the answer to anything, reason being is the hurt and pain remain, the mark left from a lying person scars so deep that truly as person feels worse than when they didn’t know, but in my case it was so bad, that I believe this truth may change events for the future for people that have a chance still to see before the pain or problems that come with such a person, if only we paid attention and listened to our own selves from with I. A real person with real love has the advantage at all times. And that’s because we that have and contain real love do not need to hide or run from anything.
I really needed this,after being abuse by my brother for 50 years.I apologize to myself for just now knowing what a narcissists is.So Wonder why I had a bad marriage and relationships because I keep attracting them to me.Thank you.Im 63 now and hope I can meet someone that doesn’t have this problem.
My parents and older brother are narcissists. My brother was also the ‘Golden Child’ and so got away with sexually abusing me and my sister just by paying them off.
I am now dealing with it in therapy.
I also have a 13 year old know she’s a narcissistic maniac and I cant leave because my son will be the one who pays the price. I suffer and have suffered for decades now to get my kids grown but now these lies are resulting in dangerous circumstances. How do I save my son from this. Do we have a way out?
Recently experienced an acquaintance with a full-blown narcissist. It’s all true.
Run! Chase and recover the self-esteem lost and wear the scars of abuse with well-deserved pride. The damage sustained from the unbelievable behavior of these oblivious lost souls leave a deep wound that you can heal. These souvenirs are tattoos to remind you that you are again a complete whole human being as they could never be.