A long-standing body of research shows that adverse childhood experiences such as child abuse, trauma, sexual assault, and chronic poverty can negatively affect people well into adulthood. Adult experiences that have been associated with adverse childhood experiences include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, dissociative symptoms, and other psychiatric disorders, plus physical illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Factitious disorder — sometimes called Munchausen’s syndrome — is a condition in which a person acts as though they are physically or mentally ill when they are not.
Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy is when someone lies about another person having an illness. This condition is most common in mothers, who feign illness in their child and lie to a doctor about it.
The causes of factitious disorder are unknown. Theories include:
- biological or genetic causes
- childhood abuse or neglect
- low self-esteem
- the presence of a personality disorder
- substance abuse
Abstract A phenomenon of particular interest to forensic mental health workers, the courts, and police is that of pathological lying or pseudologia fantastica (PF). Unfortunately, PF is an understudied, poorly understood entity. The current diagnostic system captures intentional deception around physical or psychological problems but does not allow for diagnosis around prominent, purposeless deception within other realms (e.g., false accusations). In addition to reviewing the literature around… CONTINUE READING
While the occasional white lie is considered to be a normal part of social interactions, repeated and elaborate fabrications cross into a very different territory. But what do you do when you realise the person you love is a pathological liar?
Persistent dishonesty is a clear sign of something gone wrong in a friend or loved one. As trust is a fundamental component of relationships, repeated violations of it indicate serious problems are afoot. Lying can occur for a variety of reasons, and ascertaining the root cause of the dishonesty is critical in addressing the problem and beginning to rebuild relationships.
Pathological lying is a unique type of mental health disorder that often co-occurs with other mental health conditions. Understanding the nuances of pathological lying can help you know if your loved one is struggling with this condition, and how to support them.
One of the reasons that narcissists are so difficult to spot, and indeed to understand, is because they have a split personality – one that maintains a public image of the very pillars of society, and another private one that wreaks havoc and abuse on anyone misfortunate enough to get close to them.
Why the Split Personality?
Generally, people develop Narcissistic Personality Disorder in their early infancy. It happens as a result of serious trauma experienced as a young child – physical or sexual abuse, for example – as a result of which the child feels a sense deep shame towards their “Real Self”. Their real character is buried deep in their psyche, and suffers arrested development – that is to say certain emotions develop no further as they grow older but are frozen in time at the age that the abuse happened. Key regulatory emotions affected include empathy, remorse, love, and compassion. They compensate by establishing a “false self”, in essence a charade, an act that mimics mannerisms learnt from their parents, friends and family, films etc.
Empathy capacity is central to healthy emotional, spiritual, and character development. Some equate this capacity with what it means to be truly human. But these days many among us have an impaired capacity to truly care. The reasons for this are many and varied. And as I’ve written about before, how impaired a person is in their empathy capacity has a lot to do with where they might fall on the character disturbance spectrum.
For a long time many professionals believed narcissists had to present a confident front because they were inwardly insecure. (Sadly, some professionals still believe this!) They thought that admitting shortcomings, error, or fault was simply too devastating to their “fragile” egos. So, they simply had to be right. To admit frailty, weakness, or any type of vulnerability would crush what little self-esteem they actually had. And for a small minority of narcissists, there actually might be some truth to a few of these notions. But not for most! (See also: Character Disturbance.)
Most of the time, the issue comes down to the horrendous lack of respect the grandiose among us have for any “higher power.” And truth, you see, is the ulimate higher power. If we reckon with it honestly, it has the power to grow us and set us truly free. But folks who are character disturbed take issue with the truth. Some simply deny it. Others are at war with it. Still others place themselves above it. For the most ardent narcissists, truth is what they say it is. They know they’re not always right. But to acknowledge that would be tantamount to removing themselves from the perch they’re absolutely determined to occupy. Dethroning themselves is not something narcissists do willingly. They refuse to even recognize, let alone voluntarily subordinate themselves to, any higher power.
Behaving Like You’re Always Right
Most true narcissists act like they’re always right. And sometimes they can be really convincing about it. They can project a remarkably confident image. Their demeanor seems to make a statement: “I don’t just think I’m right. I know I’m right.” But do they really believe such nonsense?
Most folks on the narcissism spectrum know they’re being pompous when asserting they’re always right. That’s right. Most narcissists know better, even though they’re loath to admit it. They definitely won’t admit it to others. And they’re very hesitant to admit it to themselves. Although they will admit it sometimes. That’s when they re-invent themselves and re-frame things in a way that lets them assert they were right all along even when they know they erred. But those at the farther end of the narcissism spectrum may have deluded themselves for so long and so egregiously that they no longer know what’s real and what isn’t. And they can even become so delusional that they can no longer know or respect reality.
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 for 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.
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.