DEAR KELLY: My friend lies about everything. My mom says I should feel bad for her, but I’m getting sick of it. She lies about where she goes, who she texts, who her real friends are, whether or not she likes something (after she tells me how much she can’t stand them), how much money her parents have, what she does on the weekend, who she has dated in the past, literally it’s everything. She never tells the truth and even tweets lies. I catch her all the time and call her out (she says she feels bad), but no one else seems to get as mad as I do or think it’s a big problem like I do. One of my good friends just says “she makes crap up all the time, but who cares? Everyone does it.”
Kelly, I don’t make crap up. I tell the truth even if it means people are mad at me, or I hurt people’s feelings. I’m always honest, and sometimes it’s brutal, but it’s always truthful. I never lie about what I do even if it makes me look boring or uninteresting. I don’t try to impress anyone, and she tries to impress everyone. She can be so fake, and she’s a liar, so I’m not sure which is a bigger problem. I can’t forget, and it’s hard to keep forgiving her. I thought we were better friends, but she keeps doing it to me.
Do you have any advice on how to handle a friend like this? Or do I just dump the friendship and see her for who she really is?
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DEAR MEL: Your friend is struggling, and clearly there is something going on in her life that is making her tell these lies. Lying or compulsive lying can wreak havoc on friendships or relationships. Compulsive liars “bend the truth,” “tell a fib,” “embellish” or “stretch the truth.” Telling the truth becomes uncomfortable to them, and lying is easier and more natural. Lying goes from being a habit to a way of life.
As a friend, lying is never something that is easy to forgive or forget, but if you can understand it, it might make more sense. Her lying is not about her feelings about you; her lying is about feelings about herself. She feels so poor about herself that she has to compensate by lying, creating non-truths about her life and her relationships. She doesn’t feel like she would be accepted or embraced by people if she told the truth. Her insecurities outweigh her confidence.
Take a moment to reflect on the friendship. Don’t be too quick to dismiss her if you truly care about her and have a history together. See this as a personality issue within herself and not something that she is doing directly to you. More important than her lying to you is that she is lying to herself, and there lies the real problem.
Go talk with her, not in a shaming or blaming way that reminds her what a bad friend or liar she is. Rather tell her that you love her as she is and that she doesn’t need to be anything more or inflate herself in order for you to accept her. Try to let her see that you don’t judge her and you want to support and help her. If this is a cry for help, offer to help her get help or talk to her parents about what is happening. Perhaps if you validate that you care about her and not the image she tries to portray, she will stop telling you lies and feel safe being authentic. Just her focusing on being truthful with you can be a great start to working on changing this destructive life pattern. You can plant the seed that being honest is more important than being impressive.
If she denies any lying problem and continues to make up stories or tell untruths, step back from the friendship until she figures out that you are not OK with the constant lying and you choose to not be around someone you can’t trust. Avoid using the words “dump the friendship.” Approach her from a place of empathy and kindness. She sounds emotionally fragile and “dumping” her might cause great distress and more lies. Tell her you need to take a break from the friendship and if she feels ready to address the problem or get help, you are there to help.
Since your mom knows, maybe she can call your friend’s mom and share what is happening. Your friend needs professional counseling to figure out why she keeps doing it, the risks involved and how she feels about herself. If your mom calls her mom more out of concern than of anger or shame, perhaps her parents can take her to talk with a professional. Compulsive or pathological lying is a difficult life pattern to break.
Avoid judging her. Being a friend means not coming from a place of judgment but rather from compassion and concern. Even if you have to step back, do it with respect – meaning avoid social media or hitting the send button on impulsive thoughts or hurt feelings.
People lie because they feel deficient and unlovable. They lie because they lack confidence or inner strength to stand up for who they are. They lie because they are hurting, and they have created the lies to make themselves look better. Be glad that you live your life based on truths. It is not always easy in the moment, but it makes life much easier in the long run.
Write to Kelly Richardson at Teen Talk, The Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15880, Sacramento, CA 95852, or email krichardson@ sacbee.com.