Some would argue that lying is simply part of human nature – that we’re all less than truthful at one time or another. And sometimes our lies are relatively inconsequential, not really hurting anyone to any significant degree. But lying can be a real problem at times, bringing unnecessary pain and suffering into the lives of others and poisoning our relationships. And there are those truly disturbed characters among us who appear to lie repeatedly, even about little things, and often for no apparent rational reason. Such folks simply can’t seem to tell the truth – even to themselves, let alone others, and more importantly, even when the truth would appear to do just fine. Sometimes we’ve called thes kinds of foks “pathological” liars because their behavior seems to make no sense. But there’s actually method to the pathological liar’s apparent madness, and once you understand why some people simply prefer to lie – even when the truth would do just as well, you’ll have a better idea of what goes on in the mind of life’s most manipulative and seriously disturbed characters.
Myra never really understood James (as always, key facts and details in the vignette that follows have been altered to ensure anonymity). Even during the time they were dating there would be times when things he said just didn’t add up. She’e hear different versions of things from family members, and sometimes the facts as he told them just didn’t check out. But she’d never caught him being untruthful about anyting big, so she dismissed her concern. She also speculated that he might have “trust issues” and believed that as extent of her loyalty and trustworthiness became apparent to him, he’d drop his “defenses” and be more open and vulnerable. Moreover, many of the little things she had reason to believe he had misrepresented appeared to involve his social image, which led her to believe he must be suffering from some self-esteem issues. With enough support and validation from her, that should resolve, she thought. Only after years of marriage and when the proverbial “crap” began “hitting the fan” (e.g., what he’d really been doing with their money, how many affairs he’d really had, how few of the things he’d told her about his past, his family, or himself were really true, etc.) did she realize the extent to which she’d been duped. Still, she couldn’t understand why someone would lie so much, even about the most semmingly inconsequential things.
Over the years working with disturbed characters I came to realize that the folks we call “pathological liars” are not as irrational or as mindless in their behavior as they might first appear. And while it’s natural for a person to speculate about all the possible underlying reasons for such lying, I came to realize that when it comes to pathological lying, there’s really only one major reason for it. Lying is one of the most effective tactics a person can use to both resist aceding to moral principles and simultaneously manipulating and managing the impressions of others. In a way, it’s the ultimate manipulation tactic. And pathological liars have a singlular purpose in doing it: namely, to keep a position of advantage. That’s right. Disturbed and disordered characters treat life like a game or contest and never want to play on a level field. Whenever they engage, even in the simplest way, they want the advantage. If you’re in the dark about who they really are, what’s really going on with them, what they’re really up to, how they really feel about something, what they really want, etc., then you’re automatically in a one-down position, which is just the way they like it. Keeping you unawares and thereby gaining a leg up on you – that’s what it’s all about, pure and simple. Forget all the other reasons you’ve ever entertained about why they do these things. The reason some people lie, even when it doesn’t seem to make any sense, is to maintatin a position of advantage, so it’s easier for them to take advantage of you.
I’ve heard hundreds of stories (like the one above) over the years about relationship partners who’d led “double lives” and were exposed for the disturbed characters and frauds they really were only after bank accounts were already drained, affairs that had been going on for years finally came to light, or the many stories that had been told were finally proven bogus. And in each case, the victims of such duplicitous behavior found wondered how they could have been “duped” for so long. They also entertained a myriad of potential reasons their partner behaved the way they did. But what they rarely considered is that there are some people whose character is impaired in such a way that an equal partnership with them is simply not possible. There simply cant be trust when right from the get-go it’s all about position and impression management, exploiting weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and looking for opportunities to take advantage (for more on trust and relationships, see the series on this topic, beginning with Trust: The Foundation of Any Relationship). And while many a victim’s guts may have been churning at the “red flags” they sensed about these things, most tended to discount their gut feelings because it seemed so unfathomable to them that there could be people so hell bent on maintaining a position of advantage that they would never reveal their true nature or real agendas. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of being so egregiously conned, many victims also struggled with shame, guilt, and a tendency to constantly question their ability to ever again be able to make sound judgments. Surviving a relationship with a pathological liar can leave almost anyone feeling quite unsure of themselves and confused. That’s why I wrote my books Character Disturbance and In Sheep’s Clothing. Once you understand the true nature of character disturbance, cast off old notions about why people do the things they do, and pay greater heed to that churning in your gut and the warning signs about someone’s character, you’re less at risk of being deceied by an artful but pathological liar.
So the next time you have encounter with someone whose outlandish claims don’t seem all that believable and whose stories just don’t add up but who also appears to have no reason to deceive, pay attention to the uneasiness in your gut. Consider the possibility that you’re dealing with someone who lacks both the desire and the capacity to relate to you on fair and equal terms and may only want to take advantage. And don’t waste time and energy asking yourself why. Just heed your instincts, walk away, and watch your back. Odds are, you’ll be really glad you did.
This Sunday’s Character Matters program at 7pm EDT (4pm PDT) will again be live, so I can take your calls.
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