Episode 349: Compulsive Lying and Protecting My Sister From Our Mom

Hello, friends! In this episode, I answer two listener questions.   The first question is from a listener who has been with her boyfriend for over 10 years, but suspects he is a narcissist and compulsive liar. She believes that a car accident at 17, which resulted in physical injuries as well as a TBI, may have stunted his development. The listener is struggling with her boyfriend’s lying behavior and wonders if he’s lying about their relationship too. She asks how to deal with the lying and gaslighting, and how to tell if her boyfriend’s love for her is genuine.

In the second question, a listener shares her concerns about her younger sister’s emotional development, given their mother’s unpredictable and intense reactions to normal child behavior. The listener worries about her sister’s mental health and emotional growth, and wants her mother to be more gentle and understanding towards her. However, the listener is struggling with confronting her mother due to past fear of her reactions. She asks for advice on how to approach the situation.

As always, you can send your questions to duffthepsych@gmail.com, and find the show notes for this episode at http://duffthepsych.com/episode349.

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Don’t lose yourself in the shuffle. Get linked up with a licensed therapist completely online and get 10% off your first month at http://betterhelp.com/duff


Question 1:

Hello there! Thank you for writing in with your concerns. I can see that this has been weighing heavily on your mind and I’m sorry that you’ve been feeling overwhelmed. Before I address your concerns, I want to thank you for sharing the backstory of how you and your boyfriend got together. I understand that it may not be something that everyone agrees with or understands, but I appreciate you being honest about it. I believe that there are many circumstances in which people may step outside of their relationship and I try not to judge those situations without knowing the full story. It sounds like in your case, it was for the best that you both left your previous relationships.

That being said, your concerns about your boyfriend’s lying and possible narcissistic behavior do give me some pause. You mentioned that he lies about everything, from big things like cosigning on a mortgage with his ex-wife without your knowledge, to small things like what he had for lunch. You also said that his favorite thing to say is “what’s the difference?” when you ask him about something. It’s understandable that this behavior is causing you distress and concern, especially when it comes to questioning whether his feelings towards you are genuine.

When it comes to narcissism, it’s important to understand that there’s a difference between having narcissistic personality traits and having Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). NPD is a rare disorder and is diagnosed when a person exhibits a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, lack of empathy, and a need for admiration, among other criteria. It’s possible for someone to exhibit some narcissistic traits without having a full-blown personality disorder.

Moving on to his traumatic brain injury (TBI), I understand that he was in a severe car accident as a teenager that caused physical injuries and a TBI. This is an interesting wrinkle and it’s possible that his frontal lobes were damaged in the accident. The frontal lobes govern many aspects of behavior, including personality, impulse control, and social appropriateness. In my experience, people with a frontal lobe injury can behave in ways that seem younger than their stated age. It’s important to note that a TBI typically involves a healing process and then relative stability over the years, so it’s worth considering whether this behavior is new or has always been present.

Additionally, research indicates that a history of TBI may increase the risk of developing a degenerative condition such as Alzheimer’s disease or frontotemporal degeneration. If you suspect that this may be a factor, I would recommend talking to his doctor about a referral to a neuropsychologist to assess his cognitive abilities, especially executive functioning, which is associated with the frontal lobes of the brain.

It’s also important to consider your role in this situation. While I’m not pointing fingers, it’s worth asking if there’s a reason why he would get in the habit of lying to you. Is there a history of big fights or do you tend to get very angry at him for things that he does? It’s possible that he lies to avoid upsetting you, even if you wouldn’t actually get angry in that specific instance. It’s important to be specific about the types of lies he’s telling and whether he’s avoiding certain topics altogether.

I would recommend having an honest conversation with him about your concerns. Try to avoid using the term ‘lying’ as it can be very charged and defensive. Instead, approach it as a broader issue and ask if he notices that he sometimes tells you one thing and later you find out it wasn’t true. You can express how this worries you and ask him why he thinks he does it.

Depending on the answers to the questions you raised, there may be different follow-up actions you could take. For example, you and your boyfriend may need to get into therapy to address your communication and the issues you presented here. Alternatively, you may need to educate yourself more about his condition, work on being patient, and adjust your expectations accordingly. You may also need to have some hard talks about boundaries. Unfortunately, the best course of action depends on the specifics of your situation. I hope that my insights were helpful to you.

Finally, I want to mention a couple of things to watch out for. In your age range, sensory loss such as hearing loss can be a factor. It can masquerade as language, memory, or behavioral issues. Additionally, you may want to consider your boyfriend’s other behaviors to see if he has any impulse control issues or lacks a filter in social situations. Sometimes, frontal lobe injuries can also make people super horny and obsessed with frequent sex, which is something to keep in mind given the backstory you shared. I hope that these tips are helpful and that you can find some answers and potentially even some resolution soon.

Question 2:

Hello, and thank you for asking such a great question. It’s really sweet that you care about your sister enough to ask for advice on this. I find it fascinating that there’s such an age gap between the two of you, with you being an adult while she’s in 1st grade or so. This age gap presents a unique opportunity for you to play a mentoring role in her life.

I also have a 7-year-old kid, and I can completely understand when you mention that they can be wild, disruptive, and inconvenient. It can be frustrating to deal with these behaviors, but it’s normal for a child to act this way at this age. However, it sounds like your mom is losing her composure in a way that goes beyond what’s reasonable. It’s understandable that this makes you uncomfortable.

Comparing your sister to you is not okay, as it could lead to some serious self-concept issues for her by explicitly comparing “bad” and “good” behavior. I’m proud of you for being able to take a step back and realize that you were considered the good kid because you made yourself small and were afraid of your mother’s reactions. You don’t want your sister to have to be small, and I can understand your concern for her.

It must be challenging to feel conflicted between confronting your mother and being scared of her reactions, while also being concerned about your sister’s well-being. One thing to remember is that your sister has you, while you may not have had someone in a similar position when you were growing up. Sometimes, having one person who is on your side and can provide perspective can make a significant difference. You have an opportunity to be that person for your sister.

You can talk to your sister and help her understand in age-appropriate language that it’s not her fault when your mom gets loud or intense at times. You can reassure her that all kids make mistakes sometimes and that does not make her a bad person. You can remind her that she’s a good kid and that you’re proud of her. Tell her that she can always come to you, even if she’s in trouble with your mom.

You can also ensure that she gets experiences outside the house and is exposed to other families and kids. Solo time with you can also be lovely. If you do want to talk to your mom about this, I suggest approaching the conversation empathetically. It’s possible that she has some mental health challenges, given the patterns you’ve described. It’s reasonable to assume that she’s struggling while caring for a young child, and that must be incredibly hard for her.

You can lead with empathy and tell your mom that you’ve noticed she’s been very stressed lately. You can say that you’re not trying to tell her how to parent, but you’ve noticed that your sister is getting down on herself and that you’ve heard a lot of yelling coming from her. It’s likely to be an uncomfortable conversation, and she may be defensive, but approaching the conversation this way is likely to be more useful than being accusatory and angry.

Ultimately, you will be able to make a much bigger difference with your sister than you would be able to with your mom. You can help your sister feel stable and connected during a time when she may feel like a burden. There’s no perfect way to go about this, but leading with your heart and care for her will make a significant difference.

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