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Credibility and BPD: The Assumption of Lying

I recently re-read parts of my journal that I kept while I was in the state hospital system. One recurring theme is the assumption that I was lying. This often impacted my treatment, and often impacts the treatment of other people with borderline personality disorder (BPD).

The presumption of guilt

Are people with borderline personality disorder liars“Some theorists argue that patients with BPD often lie,” reads a Wikipedia entry. “However, others write that they have rarely seen lying among patients with BPD in clinical practice. Regardless, lying is not one of the diagnostic criteria for BPD.”

So how does this assumption affect people with BPD? Wikipedia continues: “The mistaken belief that lying is a distinguishing characteristic of BPD can impact the quality of care that people with this diagnosis receive in the legal and healthcare systems. For instance, Jean Goodwin relates an anecdote of a patient with multiple personality disorder, now called dissociative identity disorder, who suffered from pelvic pain due to traumatic events in her childhood.[127] Due to their disbelief in her accounts of these events, physicians diagnosed her with borderline personality disorder, reflecting a belief that lying is a key feature of BPD. Based upon her BPD diagnosis, the physicians then disregarded the patient’s assertion that she was allergic to adhesive tape. The patient was in fact allergic to adhesive tape, which later caused complications in the surgery to relieve her pelvic pain.”

I have my own experience with this presumption: my suicidal symptoms sometimes have not been taken seriously. When I was at Richmond State Hospital, I told multiple staff members I was suicidal, showed my therapist the note and told the staff I had plans. They assumed I was lying until I made an attempt. After that, there was no apology – just an explanation that they assumed I was lying to get attention.

Why people with BPD might lie

Psychology Today‘s website, reads “not all people with BPD or knowingly NPD, lie. It’s just that those who do, lie so thoroughly and often that they spoil it for those who do not.”

So why do those who lie do so? It’s all about self-perception.

According to BPD Central, “In the essay ‘Lies and Their Deception’ in the same book, Lying, Cheating, and Carrying On, Clarence Watson, JD, MD pulls no punches when he says:

Given that a BPD hallmark is interpersonal relationships that alternate between idealization and devaluation, the person with BPD may distort facts aimed at the person with whom they desire a personal relationship. … In the moment, their desired objective, whatever that may be, takes such precedence over speaking the truth or behaving honestly that the potential consequences of their conduct are reduced to shadowy details.”

The site continues:

“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. … People with BPD believe that anything ‘bad’ would make others reject them. … Lies may mask real feelings and put up an impressive façade; this is especially common with invisible BPs. Lies may help make sense of why things happen to them in their mixed-up identity.”

In other words, some people with BPD lie to avoid abandonment or to avoid self-hatred.

Not all with BPD lie

I wrote in my journal: “I am many things, but I am not a liar.” Mental health professionals should judge whether or not a person with BPD is lying based on that person’s case history, not the diagnosis.

Based on my experience, very few people with BPD knowingly lie. Very few set out to intentionally deceive someone. But many people with BPD lie based on perceptions, what they believe to be the truth. A classic example is “He doesn’t like me” when the person with BPD really means “I hate myself because I’m not like him.”

What are your experiences with lying and the presumption of lying?

14 thoughts on “Credibility and BPD: The Assumption of Lying”

  1. I was given the bpd diagnosis and nobody belived me either. I believe I lied to other people but I did believe my lie. I honestly thought that I was telling the truth. In retrospect I probably lied but not to manipulate but to communicate (badly) what is going on with me. However, I was serious when I said I wanted to die. I should have been hospitalized then but I wasn’t. I went through many years of depressions after that. The type of lie that borderliners do is basically to themselves.

  2. I once dated someone who I now believe could be borderline, and she did an incredible amount of lying. But it’s as you said–her lying usually doesn’t seem intentional, but is instead based on her perception of reality. I still have a lot of trouble wrapping my head around the idea that she truly and honestly believed things were one way when they absolutely were another, but I read somewhere that people with BPD could lie as a means of protecting themselves from rejection or a survival technique, and it did seem that a good deal of the lying was some kind of defense mechanism to avoid any intense feelings of failure and self-loathing. For example, when she first started to believe I was going to leave her or that I didn’t love her, she created an untruth (I won’t call it a lie, it was more like a complete manipulation/twisting of reality into something else) to blame me for something that hadn’t happened, in order to make herself into a victim. I’m not sure if this is also characteristic of BPD, but personal victimization was pretty consistent in virtually every conflict she had, whether it was with me or anyone else.

    I’m glad I read this post though, because as a result of my experience with this one person I thought a common symptom of BPD was lying/untruths, when that is apparently not the case. I’m not a mental health professional, so this belief is just that–belief. But reading this post gave me a good deal of closure. Thank you.

  3. Feel that professionals expect those living with BPD to be manipulative and therefore constantly lie. In my experience it is the opposite and maybe too much honesty is expressed to the wrong people who then use it as a weapon!

  4. I can’t stand Psychology Today anymore. They always seem to have bad things to say about BPD and some of the blogs there say down right horrible things about people with BPD including that we have the emotional functioning of 18-24 month olds and that were severely disabled and will never survive alone.

  5. a believe the lying is fantastical way for the borderline persons to create an identity. a see a lot of borderline persons at group therapy compare themselves to other persons and celebrities, some of whom are also borderline. it is not in a bad way, just for the borderlines persons to feel that they have an identity, that being someone else.

  6. Thank you so very much for posting this. I am trying to figure out whether it is best to ignore what I suspect are my son’s lies or draw attention to them to help him more. This give me the understanding of what he is trying to accomplish or the why of it. WHich doesn’t really help me decide but still helps.

  7. Actually I have to ask. Do you think it is better to just ignore it then? Because it seems to just cause more anxiety and feelings of rejection.

  8. It is not true that “very few people with BPD knowingly lie.” I believe, also based on my own experience, quite a number of people, I have to say most, with BPD lie because of their twisted perception of reality and lack of moral.

  9. My stepdaughter openly admits to lying. She is EXTREMELY manipulative. I believe she lies the most to herself, but there is ZERO doubt she knowingly lies frequently. Her mother is equally dishonest. She cannot possibly believe ALL of her lies given the sheer number of lies she tells. Confronted with irrefutable proof, she will still lie.

  10. PLEASE – all those arrested are innocent until proven guilty in court – so all people with BPD are not all liars – until proven otherwise…do not abuse the abused more by denying their true needs to identify themselves and recover from the abuse they have endured from one source or another. I have BPD due to abuse but I strive to learn and fight those twisting their lies due to cover how they failed me – not all dogs bite or attack just because some do – dont judge us all….we suffer too you know – do you think we like who we are at times and how we feel? apart from those living with us making themselves into victims – we are too…

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