If you have suffered in abusive relationships then you likely value honesty but somehow end up being surrounded by lies and deception. If you want to get out of this pattern then you need to be honest with yourself and build self-trust.
In an abusive relationship typically the abusive partner is very good at lying to other people. The person suffering the abuse is typically very good at lying to themselves. In other words both people are not acting from their authentic source but in different and complementary ways which result in a dysfunctional relational dance.
Complementary modes of deception
In an abusive relationship, the way people lie is complementary. The abusive partner tends not to deceive themselves but is more than willing to deceive others in pursuit of their own particular agenda. The victim of abuse on the other hand tends predominantly to deceive themselves. They tell themselves there is nothing wrong, that they are happy, that the other person didn’t mean it that way, that there are understandable legitimate reasons for their bad behaviour. They pretend to themselves and others that everything is fine when really it is not. They have a difficult time believing that someone could be so willfully malevolent and dishonest in their interactions with others and may continue in this belief despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
Lies in the public image of the abuser and abused
These complementary modes of deception affect the public image of the relationship. People who are skilled in deceiving others often maintain a carefully crafted positive public image. These people are able to project a public image that is very far from the truth and this does not result in a sense of internal discomfort for them. Often the abused party is less interested in their public image and/or is unable to maintain a facade that strays far from the truth. Since they are enduring abuse within the relationship, they may appear highly strung, anxious or depressed while the abuser appears more functional.
The abusive partner will also not allow their abuse to become public knowledge. You may notice that they rarely if ever confide to others about problems in the relationship. This is because they know that they are instigating abuse and control tactics that they would prefer to conceal.
The abused partner on the other hand minimises the abuse to themselves and to others out of a sense of shame. This sense of shame is displaced and manifests as a desire to “protect” the abuser from social embarrassment. The abused party holds the shame that in reality should belong to the abuser but is renounced. The abuser however will do everything they can to avoid shame. In reality, were the abused party to speak up about the abuse, the abuser would attempt to redirect any social reprobation and concomitant shame onto the abused party through lies and smear campaigns.
Unfortunately, these complementary modes of deception conspire such that outsiders are commonly not aware of the abuse. They might say “but we thought you were such a happy couple”. If relationship problems do come to light, the abuser might have an easy time convincing others that their partner has had some sort of break-down, has gone mad, or has callously started an affair when everything was just perfect. In reality, the complementary deceptions of the abuser and abused mean that this image of the “happy couple” was just a facade.
If outsiders do suspect a problem they will often incorrectly conclude that the abused party is the one who instigates conflict in the relationship. The abused partner is less interested in carefully crafting their persona and are suffering the effects of abuse which may manifest as volatile public outbursts or displays of anxiety or melancholy behaviour. Unfortunately, unless outsiders have a deep knowledge of domestic abuse dynamics (which can be instigated by either sex), they may simply perceive the couple as consisting of one upbeat “together” person (the abuser) and a more difficult complaining “less together” partner (the abused). Problems around the public image versus reality in abusive relationships is often exacerbated where the victim is a man because of incorrect societal stereotypes which assume men cannot be victims of domestic abuse and the social stigma associated with male victimhood.
Types of lie within the relationship
When someone tells an easily discernible lie you know that they have done it. You can be surprised and outraged or whatever and then move on. They lied. You knew they lied. You can decide whether to forgive and try to forget or not. You know that perhaps you can’t trust them in future.
In an abusive relationship lies are often more subtle but at the same time pervasive. Much of what is said by the abuser contains the elements of one of these more subtle types of lie.
These subtle lies are just covert enough to keep you from concluding definitively that this person is lying to you. In glib psychopathic types, these lies permeate much of their speech:
Lying by omission – in this type of lie the meaning is changed by what you decide to leave out. The character of the event would be changed by the missing information. The abuser dodges responsibility by leaving out information so that you do not hold them accountable for their actions or lack thereof.
Lying by distortion – in this type of lie the facts are exaggerated or minimised, twisted and turned around in a myriad of ways to suit the abuser’s agenda. This rabbit hole is very deep indeed. Someone can instigate horrendous levels of gaslighting and psychological abuse by using an armory of manipulation tactics to systematically and intentionally distort the truth over time wearing away your own sense of reality. When used “skilfully”, this stuff is so powerful that it has been studied by the military for the purposes of torture and mind-control.
Red flags for abusive liars
The following list of behaviours are what I have observed in my own relationships that turned out to be red flags indicating that this person was an abusive liar.
Demanding trust – this was a big one. If someone demands that you trust them when you have your doubts, then this is a bad sign. Someone who demands trust likes to have overly trusting people around them who they can lie to.
Over-use of rhetoric and showboating – they enjoy spin and persuading others a bit too much.
Lots of superficial social relationships with others – they maintain lots of superficial connections where they project a carefully crafted image. You notice a lack of supportive “real” peer relationships.
They say they are going to do things then just forget.
They talk the big talk. Everything is a bit too fantastic or great. Especially when they are talking about themselves.
You notice they put an overly positive spin on things when they screw up.
You sometimes feel like Mowgli being hypnotised by the snake in that scene in the Jungle Book.
You catch them in a blatant lie, particularly if they are then unrepentant or try to shift the focus onto you.
All abusive relationships contain lies, but these are the red flags I noticed in someone who turned out to be a really big stealth liar – the kind of psychopathic hypnosis lies that people talk about.
Listen to gut feelings
As always, you need to tune into your gut feelings and start trusting them. When someone is lying to me I generally get the following bodily sensations even when it is not obvious if or how I am being lied to from what is actually being said:
An icky sensation – disgust. Yuck. You want this person to get away from you. You are being lied to.
Mentally congested – it feels as though your head is full of cotton wool. This is cognitive dissonance and confusion. You have conflicting sets of beliefs i.e., that this person is telling the truth and that this is bullshit.
Mesmerised – sometimes with glib psychopathic types you might get almost a trance-like feeling, especially when their message is positive.
In more obvious lies you might experience anger or rage. Listen to yourself. You have every right to feel that way.
If you start honouring your gut feelings then you will believe that you are being lied to rather than doubting yourself. It puts you in a stronger position against someone who is deliberately trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Much of what they are doing only works because you doubt yourself rather than just believing what your gut feeling is telling you is the case.
Get into the mindset of “I’m right”. You are so far from that if you suffer in abusive relationships so it won’t hurt to make a conscious effort to start believing you are right more of the time. Make this your default position. You are very far from being an arrogant person who is overly self-assured. You need to make a conscious effort to move in this direction to reclaim your power. Always trust yourself first. Believe yourself first and others second not the other way round.
If someone says something that doesn’t make sense, then seek clarification. Don’t worry about being annoying or things being awkward. Keep asking questions until you get to the truth “What did you mean when you said…”, “But you said before that…”, “Why are you saying that now….”, “You said you would call but didn’t. What happened?” etc.. People who get into abusive relationships (myself included) have a tough time asking these sorts of questions because we feel that we are being difficult especially at the beginning of the relationship. We are already afraid of being rejected and don’t want to rock the boat in a new promising situation. The thing is however that being assertive will not scare off healthy people but it will put off abusive people. This is a good thing. It is OK to seek clarification. It is better that people reveal themselves to us early on and we do not live in a state of delusion about the situation in front of us.
Raise your standards
With new people have a rule of threes. Once – OK let’s see what happens next time. Second time… OK so you say something came up. Last chance now. If someone lets you down again move on.
Pay attention to how much contrition someone has over not doing something they said. If they don’t seem that sorry move on.
Being in a relationship with someone who is a chronic liar is not safe. If you can leave then do so. If not then as always, learn to trust your gut feelings and disengage from them as much as possible to protect your sanity. Do not share your personal world with your partner if this is your situation and work on being as self-sufficient as possible within the relationship.
All the best.