Narcissists lie easily and frequently. They learn early in life that lying is an effective manipulation tool, and they have no compunctions about using it. They lie to get you to do what they want, but they also lie because it gives them a feeling of power. They realize they can control you and the situations in their life with lies, and they don’t seem concerned about what will happen if you find out they lied. But how can you tell when they’re lying?
It can be as difficult to tell if a narcissist is lying as it is with anyone else, but there are some common signs to look for that indicate they are likely lying. Here are 11 red flags to be aware of:
- Look for Opposites;
- Over the Top Insistence:
- Unsolicited Denials;
- Excuses, Excuses, Excuses;
- Partial Truths;
- Actions Speak Louder than Words;
- Projection onto You or Others;
- Ancient History;
- Look for the Benefits;
- Statements of Entitlement;
- Their Lips are Moving.
No one likes to be lied to; it is a difficult betrayal of trust to accept. Narcissists lie often and easily because they don’t have the ability to empathize with how their lies make you feel. They use it as a manipulation tool and to feel good about themselves, but to catch them in a lie, you need to understand why they do it, and you need to learn the telltale signs they’re inventing a story.
Why Do Narcissists Lie?
For narcissists, lying is almost a way of life. They’ve been doing it to themselves for much of their life, and they have learned to do it without a hint they’re not being truthful. They could probably pass a polygraph, and in some cases, they may even believe their own lies.
They lie to you and others so that they can manipulate you into doing what they want you to do. They need the people in their life to support their self-esteem. Because of their childhood experiences, they are filled with self-loathing and shame.
That inner turmoil caused them to bury what they see as a hopelessly flawed true self to hide it both from themselves and from the world. Since that time, they live in fear that it will be exposed and the world will see them for what they truly are, a fraud.
To interact with the world around them, however, the narcissist had to construct some kind of identity mechanism. That’s why they created the false self, but it can’t prop up their self-esteem so they need other people to do that for them.
To get those other people to do that, they will use various manipulation techniques, the most common of which is lying. In fact, many of the other manipulation techniques they use involve some form of lying. What’s more, they’ve been doing it since they were a child, so lying has become second nature to them.
What are the Manipulation Techniques Narcissists Use?
Narcissists use several manipulation techniques, many of which involve some form of lying. Among these are gaslighting, projection, and triangulation. With gaslighting, they will lie about their motives to get you to question your own perceptions.
They might say, for example, “I was just kidding,” or they might even deny your version of events altogether. The goal is to have you doubting what you know happened. If they can do that, they can manipulate you much more easily.
Projection is another manipulation tactic that narcissists use that involves deception. This is where they will accuse you of doing something that they are actually doing. If they are cheating, they may accuse you of being unfaithful, if they are lying, they call you a liar, or they might accuse you of trying to manipulate them. They are doing this so that you will be distracted from what they are doing.
Finally, triangulation is a particularly destructive form of manipulation that involves deception. The narcissist will tell you one thing and a friend or family member of your something different. They are playing both ends against the middle to negatively affect your relationship with that person. They will even do this to their own children, and it’s very destructive to the family dynamic.
Given these many ways the narcissist will try to deceive you and how damaging they can be, let’s explore some of the ways you might be able to spot when they are lying.
1. Look for Opposites
Often narcissists will make statements like, “I’m not cheating on you, but I could if I wanted to.” They will make statements about how they’re not doing something. That’s usually an indicator they’re lying about what they’re not doing.
Anytime a narcissist is making an emphatic statement about what they are not doing, it typically means they are doing just that. They feel empowered if they can flaunt what they are doing and make you believe they are not doing it.
2. Over the Top Insistence
Another sign that a narcissist is lying is if they are over-the-top in their insistence about something. This is where they may be so insistent that they would never do something, maybe because someone did that to them in their life or maybe because they claim to believe it is so morally wrong.
Whatever the reason the narcissist gives, if they are overly insistent that they would never do it, it’s likely they’re doing it or considering it. It’s like that famous line from William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” In this case, the lady is a narcissist, and if she’s protesting too much, that’s because she’s doing what she claims she would never do.
3. Unsolicited Denials
An unsolicited denial is one where the narcissist just denies they would ever do something out of the blue. You weren’t talking about it, and you didn’t bring the subject up. Just out of the blue, the narcissist denies they would ever cheat on you or steal from you or whatever the case may be.
If they make one of these unsolicited denials, that’s a big red flag that they are doing exactly what they are denying they would ever do. In the narcissist’s mind, they are simply reinforcing in your mind that they wouldn’t do something, and they want to do that to distract you from even thinking about the topic. It’s the quintessential red herring, as the saying goes, because they are lying and the unsolicited denial is one way you can know.
4. Excuses, Excuses, Excuses
Another telltale sign that a narcissist is lying is if they begin making excuses for their behavior. They may say something like, “I was just kidding,” or “I was drunk when I said that.” They might claim they just said something out of anger, but they didn’t really mean it.
The truth is they probably meant it. Narcissists will often blurt out truths during an argument, so if you listen carefully, you can know what the truth is. They also try to gaslight you into thinking that they didn’t mean what you know they meant they said. Trust your gut, because these excuses often are flimsy attempts to conceal what they’ve already said was the truth.
Another form of excuses is the “I was working late” type of excuse. If you notice a recent change in behavior accompanied by numerous excuses, that’s an indicator something is up. They are having an affair or doing something else they don’t want you to find out about.
5. Partial Truths
Another way that narcissists let you know what’s true is the partial truths they will tell. The partial truth is a phenomenon described by psychiatrists from the University of Sassari in Italy as a tool used effectively by psychopaths for their own reasons.
The authors of this study state that psychopaths, “deploy lies or half‐truths and present them as universal and irrefutable facts. They thus manage to make others see a partial view of reality and to persuade them in ways that ultimately lead to the psychopath’s own personal gain.”
This is exactly what the narcissist does; they use partial truths to make their partial lies seem even more convincing. By using some grain of truth in their lie, they can convince you to believe the whole story. These partial truths usually sound true to the listener, but they feel somehow wrong.
Moreover, if the narcissist can provide you with some irrefutable evidence of part of what they’re saying, you’re less likely to doubt the remainder. Minimally, you’ll feel confused and the narcissist can take advantage of that doubt. For example, they may say they are not cheating, they are just working late. That may be true and they may even have proof, but if they are having an affair with a work colleague, that partial truth can shield the truth.
The way to get the truth out of what the narcissist is saying is to look beyond the partial truth. If they present you with something that’s true, but it’s only part of the story, you have to trust your gut on whether the rest is true or not.
6. Actions Speak Louder than Words
When in doubt, pay attention to what the narcissist does, not what they say. Their actions will clue you into what is true and what is not. If they are doing something that is the opposite of what they have told you, you should believe what they’re doing.
Narcissists will make all kinds of promises and say all kinds of things, but their actions are what is true, not their words. This is a guide that the narcissist simply can’t hide.
7. Projection onto You or Others
Projection is the act of accusing you or others of the very thing the narcissist is doing. If you suddenly find that the narcissist in your life is accusing you of cheating, it might be because they are cheating.
If they are talking on and on about how their friend or ex or family member is lying to them, that likely indicates they are lying. Anytime the narcissist is accusing someone of doing something they shouldn’t be doing, that’s an indicator the narcissist is the one who’s really doing what they’re talking about.
8. Ancient History
When a narcissist begins focusing on the actions of exes or other people in their past, it’s likely a signal that they may be doing the same thing. They may, for example, tell how their ex-partner wronged them in the relationship.
Maybe they cheated on them or lied to them or even stole their money; whatever the accusation, it’s likely the narcissist is bringing it up because they are doing what they claim to have hated about what their ex did to them. They can’t face their own bad behavior, so they talk about how badly they were treated in the past.
This is particularly true if there’s no real reason for them to be bringing it up. If they are just telling you out of the blue, that’s a very big sign they are lying about their own actions as they complain about the actions of others.
9. Look for the Benefits
Another way to tell if a narcissist is lying is to look for the benefits they have for doing so. Narcissists will sometimes tell you the truth if it will benefit them, but they will also lie to get what they want.
It’s kind of like the detective’s motto, ‘follow the money,’ if you follow the benefits and understand how what the narcissist is saying might benefit them, you’ll likely discover the truth. Everything the narcissist does is done so they can benefit. It’s the only thing they’re really concerned about.
10. Statements of Entitlement
If you really want to know what the narcissist wants, listen for their statements of entitlement. Part of the false image narcissists have constructed is the idea that they are entitled to everything they want. They deserve it and shouldn’t have to be grateful for getting it.
When you listen to them talking about what they’re entitled to, you’ll often see the truth behind their lies. Remember, they are only really concerned about their own needs, and so, when you see how something can benefit them, that’s the truth of what they’re after.
11. Their Lips are Moving
That’s the old joke about how to tell when a politician is lying — their lips are moving. It’s also applicable to narcissists (and not coincidentally, many politicians are narcissists). Narcissists lie frequently to get what they feel they need, but they also lie because it makes them feel powerful when other people believe their lies.
They will often lie just because they can get away with it, and that’s why if their lips are moving, they’re likely lying. That doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes tell the truth, but apply the other tests above to see if it’s likely or not.
You just can’t take anything a narcissist says as the truth. The bottom line is that you need verification, particularly if lying has important consequences.
What are the Most Common Lies a Narcissist will Tell?
Given how frequently and easily narcissists lie, you might reasonably wonder what are the most common lies they tell. Let’s take a look at some of the common whoppers you should be on the lookout for:
I would never lie
If a narcissist says they would never lie to you, they’re lying. They will lie to you, often and to your face. Moreover, just the fact that a narcissist is trying to convince you that they wouldn’t lie is suspicious in and of itself. Someone who usually tells the truth wouldn’t feel the need to convince you.
I have changed
It is possible for a narcissist to change, but it’s not likely. If they are trying to convince you for any reason that they have changed, it’s more likely than not that they’re lying. For a narcissist to change, they would have to commit to years of intensive psychotherapy. Again, it’s not possible, but it’s not likely.
It isn’t my fault
Uh, it likely is their fault. If the narcissist is trying to convince you that something wasn’t their fault, they’re probably trying to manipulate you using projection or gaslighting. They will almost never take responsibility for anything they have done wrong, so it probably is their fault.
My ex is obsessed with me
It’s more likely the other way around — the narcissist is obsessed with their ex. Narcissists love to cycle through exes discarding them and then convincing them to try again. To do that, they often become obsessed with them and may even stalk them.
We have so much in common
That’s what the narcissist will try to make you believe. It’s closer to the truth to say that they have studied you and know what you care about. Then, they make it seem like they care about the same things. They don’t.
What a coincidence seeing you here
If you run into a narcissist after ditching them or after they ditched you, it’s probably not a coincidence. It’s likely a calculated move to run into you so they can begin hoovering to get you back into their life. They will frequently follow exes around or start hanging out at places where they know you like to go just so they can ‘coincidentally’ run into you.
Cheating (or lying) is immoral
For you, maybe, but not for them. If they are harping on how wrong these kinds of actions are, it’s likely to throw you off the track. They’re doing it, but they want you to believe they believe so strongly that it is bad that they never would.
It’s a difficult topic to discuss how someone you love is likely lying to you, but knowledge is power. When you understand why narcissists behave the way they do, you know better what to look for to know when they’re lying. Narcissists are, at heart, insecure individuals who fear being exposed as worthless humans. All of their actions, including lying, are designed to prevent that from happening.
That’s not to excuse their behavior, but it’s to explain what’s at the root of it. You have to know what you’re dealing with if you’re going to be around a narcissist. It’s better to know what to look out for so you can determine what is the best action for you to take to protect yourself and your loved ones.
When you’re dealing with narcissistic manipulation, it’s important to know all the ways a narcissist might try to deceive you. Check out the article about why narcissists will deprive you of sleep so you’ll understand just how far they’ll go to get you under their control.
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