Dealing with a compulsive away or confront?
June 4, 2016 8:34 AM   Subscribe

I met a person that I really enjoy the company of, and feel a very strong connection with. On the other hand, they're a compulsive liar and extremely manipulative. It's gotten to the point where I don't know what is truth and what are lies and having to keep track of it is becoming an obnoxious, draining task that is putting a strain on things. What is my best course of action?

I won't go into the specific list of lies, but I've caught them in several, primarily as a means of manipulating my time (bordering on possessiveness), emotions, and opinion of them. Lies that are bombastic (almost petulant in a way) and easily verifiable as false (which I have done) keep piling up. I want to confront them about it but I will most likely be gaslighted or asked for proof, and I'm simply not in the mood for this sort of discussion. It's frustrating in many ways because I like this person and they are otherwise very good for me, but I feel the positive aspects they brought to the table have been undone by this baffling behavior. My friends think it is a case of trying to impress me (which is unnecessary)/overcompensation and find it a shame, but they also think I should probably start the slow fuck off at this point before things get really weird. I just honestly don't know how to do this or to address it in a way that is anything other than accusatory, because it may be that this person really doesn't understand that these lies are disconcerting, harmful, and damaging. They have admitted to being a compulsive liar in the past, which is oddly self-aware given that they continue to do so. Really, this is the only reason I WOULD HAVE to stop talking to them, and it makes me conflicted and sad on several levels. I honestly feel like I am dealing with a child, but this is a grown adult that should know better.

I've been avoiding them for the time being while I figure this out, but we still talk via text. Any recommendations at this point are greatly appreciated.
posted by Young Kullervo to Human Relations (45 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Can you take this person for what they are, in small doses, and not hang any hopes on them? The tone of your post suggests you can't. You already find it too disturbing and upsetting.

I think you can find better friends.
posted by zadcat at 8:40 AM on June 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yes, this is the kind of person it may be okay to have as a casual friend, but will be a nightmare to have any closer, even if he doesn't become actually abusive (the bit about lying to be possessive is worrisome). And it already sounds like you are getting very invested.

This person knows he's lying as he does it. He just doesn't think basic respect for the person he's talking to is more important than his own emotional needs. And he'll remake the past behind him into its own convenient image. It's impossible to live with.
posted by praemunire at 8:44 AM on June 4, 2016 [20 favorites]

I sincerely doubt a known, admitted compulsive liar will chose or even be able to stop compulsively lying if you confront them. They will continue to lie and manipulate, and the more time and energy you give them, the more leverage they will have to do so. I strongly think any benefits you will receive from this person are going to be massively outweighed by the consistent, pervasive lying.

What happens when you get in a relationship, and they say they love you? That they are faithful? STI free? Financially secure?

I would recommend pursing this relationship about as much as I would suggest taking up with a hardcore alcoholic or drug user or dealer.

You can taper off contact, or just ghost, or tell them you are not interested in being around them. And yeah, it is sad... they have a problem, and it messes with their life.... don't let it mess with yours.
posted by Jacen at 8:45 AM on June 4, 2016 [24 favorites]

You could just raise your eyebrows and say "Really?" whenever they make a statement that appears to be trying to manipulate you about your time. Or, more drastically, try "I really like hanging out with you, but half of what comes out of your mouth is total BS." And if you want to cool the friendship off by fading, then do it.
posted by puddledork at 8:46 AM on June 4, 2016

I had a compulsive liar in my life for awhile. It's not worth it. The friendship will end in a heinous drama bomb one way or another, and how badly it's going to affect you depends on how involved you are with him and his bullshit.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:46 AM on June 4, 2016 [26 favorites]

Running away is a good idea, but you could also just walk away, or stroll away. Any variation on that that puts emotional distance between you and them is the one that will yield the greatest long-term good. It's self preservation.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:47 AM on June 4, 2016 [12 favorites]

I think becoming close with a habitual liar is a terrible idea. Toxic situations seem ok at first but they slide-- they get worse, and weirder, and while doing so, they gradually they erode your own boundaries, judgement, and sense of what's normal. Later, you will have to do work to undoing the insidious damage that these kinds of people have done to your own value system and judgement, and that's a long process that can leave you vulnerable to other predatory and toxic relationships. People often show you who they are right at the start. Believe them and act appropriately. Relationships (whether romance or friendship or work) take an investment of time and energy to build. You only have so much time. Invest it in healthy relationships.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:52 AM on June 4, 2016 [63 favorites]

Life is too short to be friends with compulsive liars. They will drain your emotional and physical energy. Get out now. Don't wait.
posted by 41swans at 9:08 AM on June 4, 2016 [12 favorites]

The "strong connection" we feel with such people is often because of their manipulative qualities; they wouldn't be able to get away with lying so much unless they had enough charm to keep people hooked, anyway. I generally regard "strong connections" with such people as red flags.
posted by lazuli at 9:09 AM on June 4, 2016 [61 favorites]

The strong connection is a bug, not a feature. Slow fade.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:14 AM on June 4, 2016 [21 favorites]

the positive aspects they brought to the table have been undone by this baffling behavior

The worst among us have positive aspects. Choose people whose positives more than compensate for their imperfections, and whose behavior is not baffling to you. (A reliable sign is if you find yourself devoting your energy to making sense of baffling behavior.)
posted by headnsouth at 9:15 AM on June 4, 2016 [7 favorites]

I had a friend for over 20 yrs who I finally had to separate from due to her continual lying. It wasn’t a problem or noticeable for the first 10 yrs of our friendship but eventually it got to the point that I felt like I was talking to a child. Her lies became fantastic stories, and changed over time. The past became subject to revision. She even lied to me about stuff that happened when I was there in the first place. Once I caught her in a whopper and confronted her she said she mixed up who she was talking to and didn’t mean to say that to me. It was fucking ridiculous.

In this friend’s case the lies became worse as her life worsened. She was unable to take any action to improve her life herself so her fantasy life took over. I decided to cut ties after a particularly bad episode of her drama when I realized I just couldn’t listen to her by then near constant lying. Keep in mind, if the person is lying to you about others, they’re lying about you to others too. Ask me how I know.

She was a good friend once and we had some really fun times together. But as we aged she had trouble adjusting to stress and adult problems and that's when the occasional fibbing ramped up to constant flat out lying.

You'll be better served investing the time you're giving to this friend in someone who will be a true friend. Our friends do reflect back on ourselves; don’t waste your time or reputation on this person. Unless you're looking for endless drama and a hefty load of bullshit, slow fade is my advice.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 9:33 AM on June 4, 2016 [7 favorites]

The friend that you think you like never really existed. That person was just another lie. Move on. Life is too short to get tangled up in someone else's delusions.
posted by myselfasme at 9:35 AM on June 4, 2016 [23 favorites]

It's not just an unfortunate coincidence that you feel a strong connection with them, and they happen to be a compulsive liar. That "strong connection" IS one of their lies - manipulators are really good at making people feel that way. To quote mefi fave book The Gift of Fear: charm isn't something people are, it's something they do. Another vote for run away.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:44 AM on June 4, 2016 [16 favorites]

There's nothing to be gained by confronting them, it just gets you more entangled in their nonsense. I agree with other people, you feel a strong connection to him because of the general personality trait he has about dishonesty and lying. It's hard to pry yourself away but I suggest doing so.
posted by jessamyn at 9:48 AM on June 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

Move on, run away now, don't waste one more minute of your time.

I was on the fence about this until the bit about them using their lies to try to manipulate your emotions and opinions, and to bolster their possessiveness --- now we're getting into potential-abuser territory, and nobody wants to go there!

I've known a couple compulsive liars, and the only ones I don't run from are the ones who use their lies to try to bolster themselves, to look more important than they really are; those you can accept, knowing full well that they are liars, for the entertainment value. (I used to know one who claimed her father was the US ambassador to France: in reality the ambassador at that time was a woman. My friend also claimed such things as having gotten 'limes' disease --- not 'Lyme' disease! --- by being bitten on the butt by a mosquito in Africa, at a time when the only diagnosed cases involved deerticks in New England. As I say: the entertainment value.)
posted by easily confused at 9:53 AM on June 4, 2016

Something to remember with an adult liar is that they've been through this cycle before. They lie and manipulate until it all goes boom. Then it goes boom. They may or may not understand why, but it isn't because they haven't been told. Manage your expectations accordingly.

We've covered "this connection isn't real." Now let's imagine, for the sake of argument, that the two of you do have a real connection. If so, you're the only one who'll recognize it as genuine. No matter how good you are at seeing through them, they're so used to manipulating people that they will assume they duped you into liking them. Because they'll believe the connection is ersatz, it will never mean to them anything like what it does to you. They will not value you appropriately.

There's nothing more for you here. Distance yourself and go.
posted by phantom powered at 10:05 AM on June 4, 2016 [8 favorites]

Listen to what everyone here (and your RL friends, and your gut) is saying, and fade. There is no good to be had from confronting this person, only madness. There is no good to be had from continuing your relationship with them, only madness. This kind of person can easily consume your life and cause damage that cannot be undone for years if ever, and they'll do it so slowly that by the time you realize what's happening the damage is already done—your old friends are distant or gone, your sense of self-worth is in tatters, irreplacable years of your life have been wasted, and you no longer have faith in your own memory of even quite recent and uncontroversial events. Ask me how I know.

Be prepared, by the way, for the possibility that when you do fade this person spreads lies about you behind your back to any mutual friends or acquaintences you might share. They will, of course, deny this if confronted—so don't confront them, as that will only feed the cycle. People who compulsively lie often do it because they crave attention, and if they can't get positive attention for their stories then they are apt to settle for negative attention rather than being ignored. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that you have friends who are on your side, and that the smear campaign (if there is one) would have been worse the longer you waited to cut then out of your life.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:37 AM on June 4, 2016

Meaningful relationships (romantic or friendship) are based on trust. You cannot trust a liar. Move on.
posted by biscotti at 11:01 AM on June 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

No need to confront or explain. You are now busier, have more work, have scheduled more hobby outings, whatever neutral reason you can present as fact to be less available to them, i.e. I am nthing the slow fade.

I too would second that they will probably notice nonetheless, and may ask your friends about it, try poisoning the well, that sort of thing. In this case, hard-wrought experience has taught me that the best response to any stories that may come around to you through friends is a shrug, no matter how high-falutin' the story is. Do not feed the drama. It will bite you in the behind if you do.

It is worse to keep someone like this in your life, btw, than any fallout from a slow fade may bring.
posted by fraula at 11:06 AM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, the strong connection thing. Every commenter here is right on the money about that. It's absolutely part of the lie, and don't feel bad about 'falling for' it. It's just as fake as anything else this person says, and it has the same goal: to emotionally manipulate you somehow (in this case, into friendship or relationship). This person doesn't know how to make connections otherwise.

You might even think, "oh, it's really too bad! because they have all these great qualities..." but keep in mind those are very well probably lies, as well. Sorry!
posted by destructive cactus at 11:11 AM on June 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

One of my children went through a lying stage. I began checking his story. It broke him of it.

Doing this to another adult amounts to playing free therapist. Since they haven't asked you to help them fix this issue, it also is a form of boundary violation and is highly likely to involve drama.

My observation is that habitual liars very often have a significant back story. In many cases, they lied habitually to survive terrible circumstances. So, even assuming that your friend can be reformed, they may be genuinely unsafe to be around -- and making them more honest may heighten the danger.

What if daddy is a mafioso and they are trying to start life over, away from the family business? It would potentially put you in harm's way to just know that fact.

People who lie constantly sometimes have deep, dark secrets that are best left buried.

Since they have already admitted to compulsive lying, you could have one and only one conversation where you let them know that their reality warping tendencies are messing with your head and it needs to stop if the friendship is to continue. But such a conversation makes the slow fade impossible. It notifies them that you are considering ending the relationship. It is probably best to just skip it and slow fade on them.
posted by Michele in California at 12:44 PM on June 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

My experience with adult compulsive liars is confronting them does no good; they just come up with yet another lie to cover the previous ones. Most people will lie if backed into a corner to get out of a bad situation.; not admirable but understandable. The key word here is "compulsive"; someone who lies for no reason at all in order to manipulate a response from someone else. There is no reality nor trust with a compulsive liar, and no real relationship or friendship. It is all their play and they are the star and write the script. Get away from this person before things get even messier and harder to extract yourself from.
posted by mermayd at 12:56 PM on June 4, 2016

I had a relationship with someone who turned out to be a compulsive liar, and it sucked. It's really not worth it, and it left me unbalanced and full of self-doubt for years. I also had to put up with hearing about the lies he told about me and how horrible a person I was for years. Trust your instincts here and get away. The longer you stick around, the more you are going to get duped, and the longer the feeling that you have been very stupid will hang around in your head once you finally do break away from this person.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:16 PM on June 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was friends with a compulsive liar. Most of the time the lies had nothing to do with me so I ignored them and enjoyed the other parts of the friendship - we cooked together and had great dinners and went out frequently.

Then the lies involved me and I ended the friendship. The specific lie she told me was about my behavior and amounted to an accusation that I'd done something criminal. I was perhaps too innocent - it never occurred to me that she'd go that far or say that I'd been involved in something like that. I was shocked and cut off all contact with her after confirming with the other parties mentioned that her accusation had no grounding in reality and that they had no idea that she'd accused me of it. I'm still friends with the other people involved in the situation and we occasionally reminisce about her issues.

Personally, I'd get the heck out of there. I was lucky in that rumors about me were nipped in the bud. You might not be so lucky when the lies start to concern you.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:19 PM on June 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'd walk away, rather than confront. Someone trying to gaslight you can really screw with your head, even if you KNOW that's what they are doing. I'm currently in a friendship like this. It's toxic. Be stronger than me. Walk away. You can't salvage it and you will hurt and exhaust yourself trying.
posted by ELind at 1:22 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

This person cannot possibly reasonably believe that you are buying these lies. Either they are in denial so profound that it is approaching delusion, or they are enjoying the power trip of making you act as though they are telling the truth.

If they are enjoying the power trip, yikes.

If they are in profound denial, anything you say to them will either bounce off of their denial, or access the deep wellspring of psychological distress that they are seeking to avoid by being in denial.

Either way, I don't see much of an upside for you.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:08 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

This person will never change. In my experience people like this have an incredibly fragile and tenuous sense of self-worth and will say and do anything to make themselves feel infallible and superior to everyone around them. If you tried to find the real person behind the lies, you'd find out there isn't a real person there.

Run away, FAST.
posted by a strong female character at 2:33 PM on June 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

it may be that this person really doesn't understand that these lies are disconcerting, harmful, and damaging

I want to address this specifically. You seem to think that this is in favor of you giving them a chance to correct their behavior. That reflects well on your character -- you don't want to punish someone for something they don't understand. Your compassion is commendable.

However, the fact that they literally don't understand that lying in order to manipulate you is not okay indicates a severe, deep-seated issue that you really cannot hope to fix.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:49 PM on June 4, 2016 [12 favorites]

In the same vein....Compulsive lying is a mental illness. Are you qualified to treat mental illness? If so, do you want to do it for free, in your spare time? If you are not qualified to treat mental illness, isn't it possible that any attempt on your part to do so on any level might actually do harm to this person as you clumsily stumble through trying to help?
posted by raisingsand at 3:11 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I want to thank everyone for helping me gain perspective. In this case, the "connection" I feel is based in a shared past (neglectful, absent, and abusive parents, homelessness, being alone and self-sufficient through many of our formative years and in the present, etc.) and a common talent/set of goals (which ISN'T false in this case). I don't THINK that much is manipulation but it might be. I know this bad habit is wiring from a traumatic time based solely in survival as mentioned. Given our shared past experiences I UNDERSTAND this behavior, but I can't empathize (I've never lied to survive or used people...hell I can barely ask for help when it's justified). How much of what he says about his past and daily life is true given the issue at hand is beyond me. In addition to admitting to being a compulsive liar he has admitted to manipulation and forming bonds with only people he thought he could use to further his goals or to get by in life.

But I am also at the point in my life where I am not ok with allowing this sort of influence or to even ask someone to be self-aware enough to change for their own good. It's a weird conversation to have. I also think he will not understand the fact that I am fading, or will be in denial that his behavior has any hand in this, and will perhaps take it as me being flaky or cruel. I guess I am willing to play villain...
posted by Young Kullervo at 3:18 PM on June 4, 2016

In this case, the "connection" I feel is based in a shared past (neglectful, absent, and abusive parents, homelessness, being alone and self-sufficient through many of our formative years

This is not really a good basis for a personal connection. I am currently homeless and was sexually abused as a child. I actively avoid people who want to try to bond with me based on 'We are both pathetic losers with no money currently" or "We are both fucked up sexually because of shit in our past." I have hopes, dreams and goals and there is more to me than my problems, although they are quite serious.

I understand the impetus to have someone really understand that part of you and really accept the worst in you that many people will be unable to genuinely accept. But if bad experiences in common is all you have to bond over, this is not a healthy relationship with a constructive future. That basis for a relationship has no place to go but bad places.

The slow fade does not make you a villain. Furthermore, accepting this kind of behavior such that it makes him feel it is somehow okay only helps keep him stuck. Walking away is the kindest way you can signal that "No, this is not acceptable behavior" and hope he eventually gets a clue that he really needs to change. Encouraging him to remain stuck in this pattern is not a kindness.
posted by Michele in California at 3:31 PM on June 4, 2016 [7 favorites]

One more clarification: I really have no interest in playing therapist. I've done that enough. Mostly I am just anticipating a confrontation during the fade. I have a difficult time being dishonest, so part of me really wants something along the lines of a script that says "I like you and we had a neat thing going on, but you lie without batting an eye and I don't need that in my life. Good luck."
posted by Young Kullervo at 3:47 PM on June 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Your script is fine. Be prepared to block on social media and change your phone number without telling them should they just not want to accept "no" for an answer.
posted by Michele in California at 3:50 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of fantastic people out there. People who don't lie compulsively. I suggest slowly cutting off contact. You actually don't *have* to explain why-- you can just say you're getting really busy and don't have time to hang out.

If you do want to explain, you could say: "It's been fun getting to know you. However, honesty is a trait that is an absolute must for me in my friends. I think we have a difference in values there, and it's a deal-breaker for me. Sorry about that."
posted by sp160n at 4:00 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dude no do not tell them that

Don't tell them anything about their lying

This is your past (probably parents with bad boundaries, been there) telling you that not being straightforward = lying and you don't want to lie

It's not the case

Self-preservation in this case means interact with this person like you would interact with a boss you didn't particularly like

Cut down on the personal info, only talk about banal and boring stuff, don't initiate

They will eventually go away
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:55 PM on June 4, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also do not tell them anything in terms which might become 'negotiable.' As in, You: "You are not honest enough for me." Them: "I promise I'll change." Etc.
There just has to be a boundary there between them and you. It sounds like they know that such a boundary exists, but they have been deliberately transgressing it for a while - that's how manipulative liars work. So now you need to work on trying to enforce it and getting yourself some space to think. Switching to just small talk is a good place to start.
posted by carter at 5:02 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know this bad habit is wiring from a traumatic time based solely in survival as mentioned.

Maaaaaaybe. Maybe it is.

Frankly, though, as someone from a similar background, this is either a completely different problem, or an extreme version of that behavior that indicates a really severe personality issue.

Most "functional" or "adaptive" liars from shitty are much much better at it than this. Which, that can produce its own problems. Notably, they lie about petty shit and make it hard to figure out wtf they're thinking, and they lie to avoid confrontation. That stuff can suck.

However, they generally don't go out of their way to say a bunch of grandiose shit that you can google. That is, IMO, an indicator of a much more severe problem. And while those kinds of severe problems do often come from the same kinds of environments that produce "adaptive" liars, these severe problems are really much more dangerous for other people. They indicate a serious lack of ability to empathize with/understand other people that should be 100% avoided. Compassion from a distance.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:05 PM on June 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

And I say maybe because...this person is a compulsive liar.

Sociopaths and psychopaths and generally shitty people do, in fact, make things up to make other people feel sorry for them. I don't think that's necessarily what happened, but an attitude of healthy skepticism is called for here.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:06 PM on June 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

What if daddy is a mafioso and they are trying to start life over, away from the family business? It would potentially put you in harm's way to just know that fact.

Also, not sure how serious this is, but just to be 100% clear, this is not a thing that happens and if it were, those people would be much less grandiose and manipulative. Drawing attention to yourself by telling easily verifiable lies is pretty much the opposite of lying low so that you can hide from the mob.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:09 PM on June 4, 2016 [8 favorites]

Please don't call this person out. You don't know what he'll do when cornered. I've had two friendships with compulsive liars/sociopath type people implode over the past three years, and when confronted one of them started telling everyone we knew how she feared for her life. Because of me. No one has ever, or will ever fear for their lives because of me.

We have this belief that if we just explain things correctly or say the right words in the right order....people will straighten up. Many people just cannot, or will not, or just are unable to.

Just fade. Don't explain. Don't use the word "liar." You can't teach this person anything to be better. Please be careful.
posted by 41swans at 6:56 PM on June 4, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think it's a good idea in this case to take a page from Brave Sir Robin and bravely run away away.
posted by colfax at 2:35 AM on June 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

You don't owe him an explanation and it's not likely to help him. He's unable to hear it and it's likely to only focus his anger, outwardly, on you and your perceived betrayal of the "connection" he's worked so hard to convince you of. Just fade, and if confronted, it's fine to say something like "I need to work on myself/ my projects right now" and shut down the rest of the conversation quickly. He's likely to try manipulating you to start talking about emotions then, so have a plan for getting out of that conversation quickly, referring only to yourself and not taking up any of his bids for discussions of closeness/betrayal/connection/obligation, etc. Avoid going into "relationship review" mode.

By the way, congratulations to you for noticing your healthy instincts and acting on them. This isn't someone who's going to make your life better. I had a friend tell me once about a relationship with someone who had a few good qualities but mostly bad ones, "if there is a diamond the size of the moon at the heart of the sun, would you burn yourself up trying to get to it?" There are diamonds everywhere without the psychological drawbacks. Hold on to your own sanity. It's your best tool.
posted by Miko at 6:22 AM on June 5, 2016 [8 favorites]

I have a lifelong friend who is a compulsive liar. We grew up together and, as an adult, I love her very much. From opposite coasts. We were integrated into each other's families as kids, in the way that close teenage friends become. Once, when I was ranting about some random bullshit of her's, my father said "It's hard to count on [her] to tell the truth. But I think you'll always be able to count on her love for you."

He could not have been more right, as we coast through middle age with occasional visits and lots of online contact, but no real involvement in each other's daily lives. WITH THAT SAID, this is someone I've known my whole life. I seriously doubt that the pull to deal with this in some way that keeps a newer friend in my life would be worth it.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 2:10 PM on June 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I guess I am willing to play villain...

See, right there, this reads like you're already starting to allow boundary erosion. To me, a better way of phrasing that would be "I guess I am willing to stop assuaging their feelings" or something like that. You're not the bad guy for saying "no, you can't treat me like this", the other party is the bad guy for initially violating the social contract.
posted by disconnect at 8:15 AM on June 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

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