There are many words to describe a narcissist, and near the top of the list is phony.  Because they consistently portray a False Self, what you see outwardly is not the same as who they are inwardly.  They are masters of cover and duplicity, so much so that the deception is not just a byproduct of the narcissistic pattern, it’s a defining feature.

Prioritizing image control, narcissists want you to believe information that is simply not true or accurate. 

They lie easily.  They interpret events based on their need to gain an advantage.  They cover their faults carefully, and often lie by omission.  They can accuse you of all sorts of flaws even though you may not realize in the moment how they are projecting their own unresolved problems onto you.  They will act as a victim even when you are the one being victimized.  

In other words, being deceptive, then gaslighting and hiding behind their Alternate Reality is what they do.

Complicating matters, narcissists can be so abrasive and adversarial, you too can learn to be deceptive as you realize how your words and actions will inevitably be mischaracterized.  You can think: “Why would I make myself vulnerable to someone so unsafe?”  Then making matters worse, as you hide your real self, the narcissist can accuse you of sabotaging the relationship.  (By the way, refusing to self-disclose to a toxic person is different than being a chronically dishonest person.  The intent is quite different.)

Narcissists have two primary goals associated with their deceptive practices, protection and promotion.  To them being open and honest equates to giving up power.  They are on a quest to prove their superiority, so to them the end justifies the means.

As you seek ways to manage relationships clouded by a narcissist’s deceptions, it is necessary to ponder essential insights regarding their motives.  Let’s examine several.

  1. Deception is one of their tools to maintain control over you.  Fearing your independence, narcissists compensate by controlling the narrative for the relationship.  Being bossy and critical, they want you to filter your opinions and priorities through their self-serving narrative.
  1. Deception is “necessary” since their goal is exploitation.  Seeking narcissistic supply, narcissists want you to feed their entitled needs.  Along the way, they harbor the notion: “What you don’t know suits my cause, and in the meantime, I’ll gladly use you up.”
  1. Deception allows the narcissist to feel superior, albeit illogically.  As part of their pathology, narcissists cannot accommodate relationships featuring equality.  They must claim the higher status, even when it means having to lie to get there.
  1. Deception becomes a cover for hidden anger.  Within narcissists is a longstanding struggle with anger.  Frustrated with people from an early age, they can harbor contempt, resentment, and agitation.  But instead of constructively addressing it, the anger becomes fuel for them exploiting you.
  1. Deception becomes a cover for hidden fears.  Narcissists fear rejection, as well as appearing inadequate.  Likewise, they dread seeming powerless or exposed.  So, in deception, they ignore those issues as they focus only on you.
  1. Deception becomes an extension of their pervasive egotism.  With raw selfishness and entitlement leading the way, narcissists have convinced themselves how unique they are, meaning the standards applying to everyone else do not apply to them.  They simply assume privileged status.

As narcissists persist in deception, relationship failure is a given, and of course, in their minds it is your fault.  And regretfully, there is a low probability they will change course.  That would require honesty and humility…which they find off-putting.  For improvement to occur, they would need to cease their image-control game, giving priority to openness and vulnerability.  A long time ago they gave up on honest self-reflection.

A key ingredient in healthy relationships is honesty, but the narcissist’s commitment to being deceptive and the False Self tends to be so ironclad that healthiness is inevitably elusive.

That understood, remind yourself:  When a person is willing (repeatedly) to be dishonest and deceptive, it is a choice.  Becoming trustworthy is also a choice.  And as it remains clear that you are on a separate path, choose instead connections with people whose core values and standards match yours.

~Les Carter, Ph.D.

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