She was someone who passed through my life, and I’ll call her Dee, although that is not her name, and not necessarily her gender. Whether she was a coaching, writing, or training client, or simply someone I called a friend is also not important. What is important to this story is her remarkable skill as a liar.
My inner critic often tells me I am gullible and a fool; I prefer to think of it as trusting. I believe what I’m told until I know otherwise. Many times, when I’m listening to people’s stories, I am acutely aware that this is their story and their experience. t
So I believed what I heard, although some of it sounded improbable. As a coach, I realize how much people live through, what incredible pain, what wrenching loneliness, what intense cruelty children are asked to manage without much help. I step into the world as a believer, not as a sleuth.
My first clue that I was dealing with a born liar was her asking me to agree on small statements that I could not prove. “Wouldn’t you be angry if that happened to you?” she’d ask, or “How could you not agree with that?”
Lying is a cooperative act, it takes at least two people to make a lie work: the liar and the believer of the lie. Without a gullible believer, the liar doesn’t have what she needs the most: an audience to string along.
The lies got bigger. When I questioned some of them, Dee went on the attack. “How can you not believe me, after all I’ve been through?” “Sure, grill me–don’t believe me–but ask yourself what you would do if this did happen and you had done nothing.” “What if he hits me again, and you do nothing? How will you feel if I’m hurt because you didn’t believe me?” Guilt, attack, and keeping my attention were her skills.
The last straw came when she began to involve me in her lies–I became the one who would vouch for her. She told such huge lies, so constantly, that I missed the pile of small lies she left in her wake. She would tell lies for no reason at all: insist that it had rained earlier in the day, when it had not. Tell a group we were in that it was her birthday, when it was not. Call me and tell me she had not eaten for days, right after finishing her supper.
Being soaked in her stew of lies made me feel like a liar myself. I became unsure of my own truths. I began to doubt myself. Gaslighting isn’t just done by abusive spouses; it’s a daily routine for congenital liars. And Dee was a born liar. She called me insensitive and judgmental, and I began to wonder if I was.
She had an amazing memory, but lied so often she often contradicted one lie with another. When I tried to puzzle them out, to find out which one was more likely to be a reality I could work in, she would complain that I was suspicious, cruel, not sensitive to her needs.
She began to copy my work, my ideas, my life. When I pointed it out, she brushed it off and said, “You don’t own that idea. I came up with it myself.” Or, “Why can’t I do that, too? What difference does it make to you?” Diminishing me to keep her lies intact was a routine for her.
In order to get myself back to a point where I could cope, I told her I could no longer believe what she said. She heaped abuse on me. The world, however, began to take a clearer shape. Eventually, I had to break contact with her, for my own protection.
That relationship became a catalyst to a different behavior pattern for me: staying alert, ferreting out fake news, asking questions that really dug into values and truths. I can accept many facts and hard truths, but I am not a friend of lies.
Here’s another article on “honest” friends. It’s by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s about trust, and a good read.
Be smarter than I was: don’t let even long-term friends gaslight you. (Gaslighting is a term used for someone so adept at lying that they psychologically damage their victims. It comes from the 1938 play, Gaslight.)
Signs of Gaslighting
- You feel off kilter, agreeing to things you don’t think are facts, just to hold on to a relationship.
- You are fed vivid details that you don’t have any recollection of, or a completely different memory of the event.
- Your friend/relative belittles you if you do not agree with stories, recollections, or descriptions.
- You are told different versions of the same story on different days.
- Your gaslighter states one fact one day, another on the next, insisting both (though quite different) are true, just because he/she said them.
- Your gaslighter denies something he/she said earlier, although you are sure of what you heard.
- You are often accused of being slow, mean, or a bad friend.
- Your gaslighter pulls rank on you, whether at work or in a friendship.
- Your gaslighter is rarely interested in your feelings or life. It’s always about him/her.
How to Handle Gaslighting
- As soon as you notice it, listen for both big and little lies. A mix is the tip-off that lies have been being told for a long time.
- Gaslighters are often stalkers as well. Once they have your attention, they need to keep it. Getting details of your life helps them build false equivalencies. Example: “I was not having sex with your friend. Anyway, you lie about your age.”
- Get out of the situation. I wish there were another way, but liars rarely change. What is painful to you is a game to them. They don’t care about you, your feelings, or the consequences of their lies.
- I’m going to repeat that: walk away. There is nothing for you to work with in a relationship built on lies.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach, and poetic medicine practitioner.