Why does my narcissistic mother lie?
While I can’t be exactly sure, I have a pretty good idea. Let’s start with some observations.
Sooner or later everyone tells a lie. In fact, over a lifetime, we all tell many lies. The narcissist, however, is a liar. It isn’t just what they do, it is who they are.
In my work with daughters of narcissistic mothers, daughters frequently can’t wrap their heads around why their mother would lie. Needless to say, it hurts them and confuses them.
What’s the difference between a person who tells a lie and a liar?
When confronted with the opportunity, to tell the truth, or tell a lie, most of us check in with our inner-selves to see if our answer feels right. This gut check is a calculation that happens automatically mostly at the unconscious level.
This is true even for liars… and if mom is narcissistic, this is true for her.
Thus, we all act in accordance with our sense of… who we know ourselves to be.
The three-year-old, mouth rimmed with chocolate, who declares with impunity she was NOT the one who ate the half-eaten candy bar, is given a pass because we all know intuitively she doesn’t have a fully formed sense of self.
Narcissism is a disorder of the self. It isn’t so much an undeveloped sense of self as it is an impaired/fragmented sense of self. A self-based on opportunism instead of values. Life is a game and they play to win.
What happens when otherwise good people tell a lie?
Somewhere, somehow most people will lie. Given enough reason, fear or perceived gain, most of us will violate our sense of integrity, our internalized values. We make the calculation that an untruth is worth telling. If we aren’t a liar we feel bad, sometimes really bad.
We feel bad because who we know ourselves to be and our values don’t match up. This incongruence makes us uncomfortable. It costs us to lie.
What happens when a narcissist tells a lie?
The narcissistic calculation is a different algebraic equation.
A narcissistic mothers’ lie also comes from her sense of self. The difference is that her life has become a lie.
When her life becomes a lie, her lying is different. Different because her sense of self is different. The lie is not inconsistent with her sense of self. For her, the lie is a necessity to preserve what she regards as a self.
That self, however, is a set of defenses, not internalized values. That set of defenses stand as armed guards against a horrible cauldron of self-loathing of which she is mostly unaware. And, her defenses keep her unaware of the emotional pain that would otherwise swallow her up, or so she believes.
The secrets, the layers of lies, become a fragile house of cards. The self she has built from those lies can easily cave in on itself under the weight of truth.
Her lying is an act of desperation.
The narcissistic mother is operating from a place of defense all of the time. The lie is more a PR stunt, a marketing ploy rather than a cohesive integrated set of values. mom’s narcissistic personality is more of a storefront designed to hide that there isn’t any there, there. She can’t ever let down their guard and let anyone in.
There is no true capacity for intimacy. She can’t invite you into the store because the store is full of empty discarded garbage. She wants you to buy the fiction that the storefront is so dazzling you wouldn’t need to come inside. “Nothing to see here…move along”. She may have tons of acquaintances, be the life of the party but no one knows the whole story. There will be gaps in her stories and in her life.
She is marketing a self she wants you to believe. She needs you to believe the storefront is the store. These days that can manifest as a carefully curated Facebook page or Instagram Feed. If she is convincing enough to others then maybe, just maybe they can believe it too. She doesn’t experience it as manipulation or lying, not exactly… she feels it is necessary for survival, psychological survival.
What you don’t see – true humility and remorse for mistakes made. That takes self-reflection and honesty. If you look more closely and you will see she takes no ownership in her struggles.
What she says about her lies.
“I had to lie. You see circumstances were such it only made sense for me to lie. External conditions forced me to lie- I would be stupid not to.” What they are not saying is that their lie is an outgrowth of internal conditions or that it violated their values. There is no accountability for lying.
“The other person is so ridiculous/stupid/unreasonable they left me with no other choice. “ They put the responsibility for lying on the other person. “They made me do it.” Again you see the lack of accountability coupled with the denigration of the other.
“I am protecting someone by lying to them.” If they knew the truth it would hurt them. Not that everyone needs to know every thought or fact about our lives. However, the narcissistic mother will mislead, omit or outright lie about huge aspects of her life and tell herself she is protecting people, not hurting them.
All of these excuses reflect an impoverished and distorted sense of self. Paradoxically she isn’t lying… not exactly, she is speaking the truth of who she is.
It is confusing and damaging to have a mother who is distorting reality to you when she is the one you look to- to interpret reality.
- It bears saying that the fractured abusive childhoods that create the need for this level of narcissistic defense imprison their victims in lives that are hard if not near impossible to heal from. When a person lies as a manner, of course, they not only do relational violence to others, tragically, they do it to themselves.
Wondering if you are in the role of the Good Daughter of a narcissistic mother? Take the quiz – it’s free.