Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lies and Borderline Personality Disorder – Part 2: Lies I tell to others – Omission

Yes. I am a liar. You are too. Everybody lies. Children learn to lie instinctively. Lies are a part of most people’s lives. Do you feel a spark of self-righteous indignation when I say that?  Have you ever told someone you were fine when you weren’t? Told someone they looked fine, when they didn’t? Did you automatically think of justifications or rationalizations for why it was okay for you to spare someone’s feelings in that instance? It was just a tiny little white lie. But a lie, nonetheless. Lying is very common, and people like to justify why lies are okay in the particular instance that they used them, but then get quite upset when others have the same justification. Personal perspective is what makes a lie worth noting. It’s when that lies become harmful and destructive that people should really be concerned, because people are rarely 100% honest 100% of the time. That doesn’t mean people aren’t generally honest though. 

I don't believe people with borderline are "naturally" any more or less honest than anyone else. I think that circumstances where it might feel acceptable to lie in the interest of psyche self-defense might arise more frequently for someone with disordered thought patterns. A lie might serve as a shield, or to soothe the fear that if the "true self" is seen, that it will be rejected. A lie might serve to keep someone's attention or sympathy. A lie might serve to hide a misdeed out of shame. There are as many reasons to lie as there are people, I imagine. Some people lie to keep the peace, or to avoid an uncomfortable situation. None of that is particularly unique to a disordered thought pattern.

What seems or feels like an exaggeration can also be due to how borderline filtering works. Actions and events tend to take on as much significance as "feels" applicable. This may or may not be indicative of reality, but nor is it likely intended as a lie. A person with borderline might say "Remember when you yelled at me?" when no voices were raised, but to them, thoughts or feelings expressed in a tense situation might "feel" like they were yelled at, and that becomes how they remember the situation.

Previously I talked about unconscious lies. Unconscious lies are untruths that the person actually believes on a conscious level. To be truthful you need the ability to be honest with one's own self, because if you're not honest with yourself, you won't be honest with others. 

So how do you define a conscious lie told to others? I found this neat little list over at Psychology Today. Let’s have a look shall we.

1. Lies of omission: telling the truth but not the whole truth in a way designed to mislead ("While you were gone I watched a DVD"--not mentioning the five people who were also over and who drank beer).
2. Not speaking up when asked a direct question. (Silence when asked, "What did you do when we were gone?")
3. Making up facts that are not true ("I did my homework while you were gone").
4. Embellishing the truth is a way that misleads ("I took care of the cat"-meaning she petted it a few times but forgot to feed him on time or change the litter box).
5. Insisting that a truth known to someone is a falsehood ("I did not have friends over!").
6. "Gaslighting," a purposeful attempt to erode another's reality by denying their experience ("No, the house looks exactly like it did when you left. Is there something wrong with your vision?"). One woman in therapyonce said that nearly all the quarrels in her family was about whose reality would be dubbed the "right" one.
7. Acknowledging the truth but assigning motives that were never there to make yourself look better ("Yes, I had people here but only because I was so lonely without you that I was getting very depressed and started crying").
8. Keeping secrets for the wrong reasons (One of the friends stole the mother's expensive earrings).

Pretty succinct and accurate for as far as we need to go with it. Let’s break this part of the discussion into two parts.

            2.a. Lies of Omission
            2.b. Lies of Admission

Lies of Omission

Lies of omission trip me up a lot. It’s such a grey area of language and communication that it’s very difficult to decide if something is really a lie of omission or just unnecessary in conversation. It’s also subjective, because something I may not find important and omit without thinking about it, could me the pivotal piece of information that sends someone else over the edge.

Technically speaking, if someone asks you, “What did you do last night” and you don’t give a step by step description of every single thing you did last night it could be a lie of omission. You’re not typically trying to deceive someone but most of what we do is pretty inane. Does he really want to know you took a big ole poop between movies? Probably not. But something typical for me is if I stayed in one night because the person I wanted to see had plans, and followed up by asking what I did, often I’d shrug and say that I just stayed in and watched some movies. Which is completely true. I might omit the fact that I drank a bottle of wine to drown the intense feelings of loneliness I was dealing with though. I might leave out telling someone that I also decided to masturbate before bed too.

Okay, now that’s just private. People don’t need to know EVERYTHING! But what if you know your partner has a very big problem with you masturbating and will withhold sex if they find out you’ve been doing it (even if they refuse to satisfy you sexually)?  You don’t want to cheat on them, but you also have physical urges. You know they would be upset if you told them the complete truth. You know you would feel the consequences if you told the truth. So you omit. Let’s put aside the fact that there’s probably some other unhealthy issues going on there if your partner is that controlling and insecure (yes I know someone with this issue). How would you deal with that situation? Is it okay to lie by omission or isn’t it?

My Evil-Ex would lie by omission in very malicious ways. When I was trying to  establish my own friendships independent of him he would stay in and tell me, “Oh I just watched movies with some friends.” But when one of those friends was a woman he was getting drunk because he was trying to seduce her in my absence… that’s a pretty bad omission from my perspective. He would also try and turn it around on me and blame me by saying, “Well if you’d been home I wouldn’t have been tempted.” He was clearly trying to alienate me from people and control me but at the time all I felt was betrayal and panic.

It’s the same with not speaking up when asked a direct question? Or asking a question to imply that you don’t know the answer. One morning I woke up to find the driver side mirror on my new car smashed in. The night before I had stayed out late with some friends and didn’t get home until about 3a.m. He would often wait up for me. When I woke up and came downstairs he asked me, “Hey, do you know what happened to your car mirror?” He’d pick his wording in a way that didn’t necessarily say that he didn’t do it (He didn’t ask “what happened” he asked “do you know what happened”). But it automatically tricks the mind to thinking that if he’s asking the question then he doesn’t know. Of course I went out to look and came back in saying, “Holy crap, it wasn’t like that when I got home. Did you see anything?” From there he avoided answering me directly. I knew what had happened. I had it confirmed for me from someone he’d told a couple months later, but I still knew. When someone doesn’t answer your questions or tries to change the subject they’re trying to cover up their guilt by omitting their involvement or knowledge.

I don’t do things like this but it’s pretty obvious to me why he would lie. He didn’t want to get caught, have to pay for my car, and risk me moving out, but he still wanted to punish me for staying out late. For someone with BPD I can see this being a problem as well. If we’ve done something that we think, that we perceive, might have painful repercussions, even if what we’d done was an accident, then sometimes it feels important enough to hide our responsibility for that thing. When Monroe was moving in I accidentally backed my car into her nightstand. It was the only thing left outside and it was very small so I didn’t see it. As soon as I realized what I had done, my first thoughts in panic were that she was going to be so angry with me and this was a terrible sign for having just moved in with me. She’s going to think I’m careless and will just break all her stuff because I don’t bother to pay attention. I felt like I might lose her friendship over something as silly as a $25 second hand nightstand. It took me a couple minutes to gather myself together, but of course I fessed up and apologized over and over… only to have her say, “Oh don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal. It’s my fault for leaving it out there. I knew it was there but was to lazy to pick it up. It was super cheap.” Even then, I still felt terrible. I searched for new nightstands on the internet and offered to buy her a new one worth twice as much. Which she wouldn’t let me do. I did pay her back though. And that was that. So no, I didn't lie to her, but I wanted to point out the instantaneous feelings that come about that could push someone to lie. 

The point is. Often our perception and feelings color what we know to be the truth. I KNEW she would be angry at me because I felt like I had messed up so bad. The very last thing in the world I wanted was for someone I really liked to be mad at me, even for something that was an accident. I can understand why someone would omit their involvement or knowledge of something to diminish the “inevitable painful consequences” of that perceived fear. That doesn’t make it right, but I can understand the motivation. People with BPD are very sensitive to rejection and deathly afraid of abandonment. Lying is a way to maintain the interpersonal relationship with someone they are afraid will abandon them.

People with BPD-especially the conventional type-may judge themselves harshly and expect others to do the same. Lying serves to deflect shame when something might make them look bad, thereby maintaining whatever self-esteem they have on a temporary basis. This backfires on those with BPD who then feel worse for having lied and become paranoid that they will be found out.

It’s a poor way to go about it, because ultimately lying can be a legitimate reason for someone to end a relationship, but often people with BPD don’t think that far in advance. Especially in those of us with problems of impulsivity and impulsive behavior, if one of those types of behaviors happens to be lying there is no contemplation of long term consequences. All someone knows is this it is a problem right now and needs to get as far away from the blame as possible.  It’s not thought out, it’s not pre-meditated, it’s a fast defense.

Everyone has things about themselves we would prefer others not know. But we see the good and the bad and hope others do, too. Someone with BPD though tends to have a very black and white world. Coupled with our sensitivity to rejection, people with BPD believe that anything "bad" would make others reject them. And as you know, we often do desperate things to avoid this desperate outcome. It’s maladaptive. It’s rarely helpful. Often destructive. But the motivation is usually not about hurting you, so much as protecting ourselves. 

In conclusion, deciding what is and is not a lie, what is an acceptable lie, what is hurtful, and what is self-preservation can all be pretty tricky things. And that's all without even stating a lie directly... 


  1. I'm in no way saying I don't lie, but I am actually very very bad at it, so I try really hard to avoid it, lol. Just to prevent further mishaps anyways. HA!

    1. ::smiles:: Nice. Yeah, my whole point was that everyone lies in little ways but it's not necessarily a big deal, just technically it is what it is.

      I, on the other hand, am a very very good liar. I used to lie to my parents all the time. Eventually I grew out of that though (thankfully) and I just try to be as honest as I can be.

      I've found that getting my anxiety under control has greatly reduced my any impulse to lie that I used to have. It's those situations that create anxiety in me that make me want to lie. I think why people with BPD may appear to lie more often is because so many more things create an uncontrollable anxiety.

  2. They don't all lie. I don't lie. I did when I was young and hedonistic. But that ended in me by the age of 22-23. If you live a decent and orderly life, you will not have a need to lie. Of my four children, only one is a liar. And guess what? He was taught to lie by his borderline mother who made him a borderline.


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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