books/resources about dealing with pathological liars
November 9, 2017 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I just learned that my recent ex had been lying to me about various things, great and small. The behavior is definitely pathological but he doesn't have many of the typical narcissist traits I'd associate with this sort of abuse. I've dated a couple of people with similar issues. I'm interested in books/online resources for myself to try to understand this sort of personality problem and how to avoid entering a similar relationship in the future. more below.

I'd been suspicious for a while, and had thus extricated myself amicably from the relationship a couple of months ago. Still, having my suspicions confirmed about at least 3 large lies makes me feel like the rug is pulled out from under me emotionally. Mostly I'm grieving for Past Me whose entire recollection of the relationship and of the many positive things I'd gained from it now needs to be reexamined.

The ex had alcohol, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior issues verging on victim mentality, but didn't gaslight me, didn't seem to do many of the typical 'narcissistic' behaviors, and didn't really seem to be doing this to manipulate me into anything specific (in part maybe because I don't have a ton to offer- we are in the same profession and make the same income and have similar problems/finances/station in life). It seems more like cover-your-ass kneejerk dishonesty in response to real or perceived stressors, at a pathological frequency. Keep in mind that I think I have a lot of tolerance for white lies and minor stress-induced deceptiveness. I am also hypersensitive to outward manipulative behavior so I'm pretty sure this wasn't something I was missing.

The ex's lies fall into a few categories, from what I can tell: situations where he was trying to impress me, situations where he was perhaps trying to one-up impressive people around us, or (most commonly and most seriously) were a response to stress and anxiety. None of this was OK, but it wasn't a 'setting up a manipulative fantasy world to get me to do things' sort of thing.

I am seeking books and online resources (I don't have a therapist and am unlikely to get one for this situation) to help myself understand what I just experienced- it's not the first major liar I have dated, and I've done some work around understanding them already in the past.

Complication: I read a TON of social psychology research, which is mostly not about pathological states, and as a result of this I am very skeptical about the quality of the scientific evidence for 'personality science' in general. I know that therapists have to forge ahead and come up with solutions to help people even if the science isn't really solid on a specific syndrome and pathology. It would be great if these were 'meatier' resources that backed up their claims, but I know that research on this probably doesn't really exist outside of vague behavioral economics stuff on dishonesty and rationality, which doesn't apply here.

Most of the time when I see lying discussed as a relationship issue, it's in the context of substance abuse or narcissism. I'm not sure either is the issue here (he drank heavily but I don't think that was the issue that caused the lying).

I haven't read anything solid about narcissism other than a bunch of Internet self-help pages, and would like recommendations on a good book about it.

Do therapists/relationship counselors deal with serial lying as a separate issue ever? What should I look for as far as resources?

Keep in mind all of this is for me, not to 'treat' my ex, who is not my patient nor my partner anymore.
posted by twoplussix to Human Relations (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
People of the Lie by M. Scott Peck.
posted by Bruce H. at 10:10 AM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Unscientific, but not all habitual lying is narcissistic or abuse. Sometimes it's merely a distancing strategy, which I suppose could be emotional abuse but I think of it more as denial of intimacy.
posted by rhizome at 11:04 AM on November 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Another reason for habitual lying is that he was taught to do so as a child. My father was emotionally/psychologically abusive to me and I learned very early that telling the truth more often than not escalated things very quickly. I learned how to answer the question I thought he was asking, and I learned how to figure out which answers would get me in serious, often dangerous, trouble. This led to me just pretty much lying to everyone about anything that felt frightening or that would open up my life to someone else in a way I wasn't ready for.

Once I moved out of my parents' house and figured out that not everyone was a threat, I re-taught myself to answer the questions as they had been asked and learned that being vulnerable and letting people in probably wasn't going to cause me distress. I had the help of wonderful friends who knew of my background and were willing to be patient with me (therapy wasn't possible in those days, for me). Therapy helped later as well.

I don't know your ex's background; this is just additional information that may or may not help you.
posted by cooker girl at 11:11 AM on November 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

Snakes in Suits gives a great insight into seemingly normal but extremely deceitful people functioning in everyday environments.

You also might want to check out the books / writings of Paul Ekman who gets quoted a lot in academic literature vis a vis people who lie.
posted by jacobean at 11:15 AM on November 9, 2017

Given that you want these books for you, and that you stated that you've dated people with similar issues, I'm going to go ahead and recommend The Gift of Fear as a book that will help you hone your radar rather than providing insight into the liars themselves.

Ultimately trying to puzzle out "why" is going to keep you intrigued and engaged with liars, where really you might just want to be able to screen them out and move on. I have heard good things about Detecting Lies and Deceit if you really want to go down that road but I haven't read it myself.

I'm also going to also suggest a book on narcissism called Why Is It Always About You because it talks about why people are attracted to narcissists (hint: often grew up around narcissists). It's a bit dated but I like its orientation.

Ultimately I don't think a book is going to tell you why this person broke your trust in such a deep way. I'm very sorry that happened to you.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:09 PM on November 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

I know someone who does this, he keeps his self-image intact by telling himself that he doesn't outright lie, he just doesn't disclose things, so he's not one of those Bad People (of course, to prop up the missing info he witholds, he does actively lie too). But even those things he witholds do affect the lives of others and their ability to make decisions for themselves, so the semantics are neither here or there - not outright TELLING your wife you're not sleeping with the receptionist because she never asked is still lying to her.

For him it seems to be about control and power. If no one else has the full picture of events he has the upper hand. He enjoys thinking he's smarter than others and this is an easy way to gain that false superiority. I also suspect it has something to do with managing anxiety, feeling unsafe and guarding against vulnerability. As a distancing technique it works great. You get other people being honest and vulnerable to you without having to reciprocate, which comes back to control, thinking others are weaker and clueless, not like you who's smart and in control, etc.

Just thinking about this individual makes me tired, and I'd say don't spend too long thinking about why your person was such a duplicitous fuckup, but just try to identify signals to avoid it. Nothing is a perfect defense, but Gift of Fear is pretty good, and I might check out some of the other reccomendations here too.
posted by everydayanewday at 1:23 PM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

On the off chance that anyone reads this thread in the future, here's an update on my reading:

I went down the rabbit hole of reading about personality disorders, which was super interesting.I found that the quality of books on psychopathy varied a lot, and it was hard to tell what was going to resonate with me (I'm interested in that topic for more reasons than that I'd just experienced this incredibly damaged/evil individual who has no particular diagnosis that I know of). Like anyone with 'medical student syndrome', I got to do a lot of soul-searching about whether _I_ might myself have all of these problems, so it was an enriching and useful perspective.

I found a couple of good books on manipulativeness and abuse, and they were so, so, so, so useful when I dealt with The Liar again and had to deal with manipulative conflict (our community decided to ostracize him and I delivered the news last week).

In order of usefulness:

-In Sheep's Clothing
-Why Does He Do That (which is about violent abusers , but I found the message about 'entitlement' as a source of abuse to be extremely useful in understanding my abuser's victim--status-claiming games)
-The Sociopath Next Door (moderately useful in this particular case)
-The Psychopath Inside, by a neuroscientist who writes about his own possible personality disorder, lying, risk-taking, possible undiagnosed bipolar, and more, with refreshing frankness. I resonated with this book a great deal and found it much more useful than the self-help books.
posted by twoplussix at 5:32 PM on April 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, it's ironic that my post above says that the liar never tried to gas-light me. I did some more reading and reflection and realized that during any conflict, there was a phenomenal amount of gaslighting that I always chalked up to him remembering things wrong all of a sudden. I suppose that gaslighting coupled with very persuasive impression management is hard to spot!
posted by twoplussix at 5:34 PM on April 14, 2018

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