Why Narcissists Lie
Narcissists lie. And they lie a lot. They lie to others. And perhaps worse, they lie to themselves. Why? Because objective truth represents a “higher power” of sorts. And narcissists refuse to recognize, let alone respect, any higher power. (See also: Narcissists Can’t Recognize a Higher Power.)
For the narcissist, truth is what they say it is. That’s why they claim they’re always right. As a preeminent psychologist once asserted, for them, “thinking makes it so.” What they believe is real, is real. And what they say is so, is so. Objective reality holds no sway with them. They simply have no respect for it. They’re like a spoiled, entitled child insisting on their way. And, of course, their twisted way of thinking borders on the delusional.
Sometimes, the conviction narcissists display shakes your own sense of reality. They can act so sure of themselves that you begin to doubt. You doubt the validity of your position. And you can even doubt your sense of reality. Their apparent certainty produces what has been called the “gaslighting” effect. (See also: Gaslighting Victims Question Their Sanity.)
How They Lie
Narcissists distort the truth in several characteristic ways:
- Hyperbole and exaggeration. Narcissists play fast and loose with the truth. But they’re particularly fond of superlatives. They always have the “best” ideas. And they’ve accomplished “great” things. Just ask them! Sometimes, they actually have a history to brag about. However, they can also have little to show for themselves. Still, they can’t help embellishing. They can’t be satisfied being an average success. They want to be seen as “special” and superior.
- Distorting the facts. Narcissists will “twist” the facts to fit their narrative. They go beyond putting their own “spin” on things. They actually try to manipulate reality. And their purpose is clear. They want to manipulate you, too. They care nothing for the real truth. It matters only that you revere them. And if you accept they’re always right, you may actually buy into their vision of greatness.
How They Lie to Themselves
It’s bad enough that narcissists lie to others. It’s worse that they lie so liberally to themselves. And they and do so so egregiously they start believing their lies. That’s when they can become truly delusional. Some mental habits reinforce their self-dishonesty:
- Unbridled fantasy and imagination: There’s nothing inherently wrong with an active imagination. But narcissists carry things too far. They just know they can be anything or do anything. They place no limits on their imagination. Moreover, they see no limit to their power. Of course, that’s because, to them, no higher power exists.
- Denial: When something challenges their fictions, narcissists simply deny it’s true. We used to think they did this completely unconsciously. And we used to think it was to assuage anxiety and pain. But narcissists can’t tolerate challenges to their perceptions. That only puts them in the one-down position they detest. So, they’d just as soon pretend it isn’t so. Remember, for the narcissist, reality is what they say it is!
- Projection: Sometimes, reality becomes virtually undeniable. And sometimes, circumstances expose not only the truth but also a person’s nature and character. That’s when narcissists need a scapegoat the most. We used to think they unconsciously attributed to others what was too painful for them to accept in themselves. But that would assume they actually care. And we now know well that their problems stem from their lack of caring. Narcissists simply refuse to allow anyone or anything else to diminish their inflated opinion of themselves. And that’s why they readily blame any personal failures on others.
A person can become delusional when their brain chemistry simply goes awry. But this is rare. More often, narcissists become delusional when their lying gets out of hand. By their very nature, narcissists are dangerous enough. But delusional narcissists are extremely dangerous. There’s no telling what they’re capable of in the face of irrefutable failure. (Some folks term these failures a “narcissistic insult.”) Sometimes you just can’t deny anymore. Reality becomes too clear, present, and obvious. And sometimes you also run out of people, places, and things to blame. Things can get very dicey then.
Narcissists are at risk for self-harm when their world of fantasy crumbles and they can’t blame anyone but themselves. And others face harm when they’re determined to have a scapegoat to save their own necks. That’s why it’s so important to confront narcissistic behavior before things get out of hand.
I’ll have more to say on how narcissists respond to various “insults” next week.
The second pilot episode for the new Character Matters program will be recorded next week. I’ll likely include a link to the podcast in next week’s post.