Narcissistic Truth Distortion
Narcissists engage in truth distortion a lot. And they do so in many different ways. Sometimes, they exaggerate the truth. Other times, they minimize the seriousness of their missteps. Still other times, they twist the truth to serve their agendas. The only constant with Narcissists is their disregard for the actual truth. As I’ve written about before, truth is the ultimate “higher power.” It’s what holds us accountable. But there are those among us who don’t feel accountable to anything or anyone but themselves. They consider themselves above the need for any governing higher power or principle.
Truth distortion is lying, plain and simple. But narcissists and other disturbed characters raise lying nearly to an art form. They do it in so varied and deviant ways. Narcissists lie to others, of course. They lie to themselves, too. And when they do, it’s not a case of what professionals call denial. True denial is an unconscious, primitive, but powerful defense against overwhelming pain. Sadly, professionals unskilled in dealing with character dysfunction often erroneously equate lying with unconscious denial. And this can cause some big and unnecessary problems in treatment.
Why They Do It
Truth distortion is almost a lifestyle for many narcissists. And distorting the truth can become so habitual and automatic that a person does it without thinking. That doesn’t mean the lying is unconscious. Narcissists know what they’re doing, even when they don’t give pause. And because they don’t give pause, they can easily end up lying when the truth might actually serve them better. They just don’t think about it. They don’t have enough conscience for that.
Why do they distort the truth so much? Tradtionalists would tell you they don’t really realize what they’re doing. They don’t understand the folly of it all, they say. Others say it’s because they’re inwardly afraid or insecure. Now, these notions can be valid to some extent when it comes to a certain type of narcissist. But in our character disturbed times, that type of narcissist is increasingly rare. (See also: Character Disturbance, In Sheep’s Clothing.)
Therefore, the real reason most narcissists lie is that they have no regard for any kind higher power. They neither recognize one nor have any inclination to answer to one. The see themselves as the superior one. They set the rules. They also know what they want. And they lie to you as a tactical way to secure their ends.
Narcissists want to look great without doing the work it takes to merit being rightfully regarded as great. It’s part of the never-ending game of impression-management. And some are very skilled at this game (e.g., “charmers). Others, are not. The truly great among us both recognize and find it in their hearts to serve something bigger than themselves.
Deluding Others, and Deluding Oneself
Narcissists can get to almost believing their own lies. They engage in so much truth distortion that it can become hard for them to tell what’s true and what isn’t. But at some level, most narcissists know the truth. But they lie because it’s so easy, even despite negative consequences that can occur. It’s a cheap way of shirking the inherent burden (i.e. “labor of love”) that comes with a grateful self-subordination to something greater and more important than themselves. Conning takes little effort if you have the skill. And it works sometimes, which reinforces you doing it. Serving something bigger than yourself takes more effort. It’s what defines real love. And you have to have the heart for it. Most narcissists do not. They simply don’t care about anything or anyone but themselves.
I use a rhyming phrase in my professional trainings. “It’s not that they don’t see, it’s that they disagree.” Similarly, I say: “It’s not that they’re unaware, they just don’t care.” And recently a famous person wondered out loud why they couldn’t get the adulation they felt they deserved when their subordinates easily did. “Must be my personality,” the person said. The person “sees” the dilemma just fine. It’s the way they style themselves that bugs people. Will they change it? They would have to care. Do they care? No. It’s as simple as that.