Liars. I’m not talking about those who crack a white lie now and then to smooth out social interactions or spare someone’s feelings (which would be almost everyone) or those who twist truth just a little to suit their own interpretation of things (also terribly common I’d wager), but those who truly and seriously lie. While I would like to think my skills of understanding people are decent, this is a point I just can not wrap my head around.
I’m not sure what made me think about this today, probably some subtle push from something I saw or read… Either way, I started thinking back to some ten years ago, when I think I for the first time ran into a pathological liar. To this day I don’t have confirmation that it was so, but I’d bet my hat on it. It was this woman, friendly and intelligent, older than me by twenty years or so. She started telling stories of her life, and it was fascinating. This woman had done just about everything, it seemed! Working five jobs at the same time, being in the process of publishing a book, being friendly with some celebrity whose name I don’t recall today, being just so interesting. Every day she would tell a bit more, and soon the stories involved more extreme elements as well. Her young daughter was kidnapped. There were political implications. She had to get money, so much money, to try and get her daughter back.
It didn’t add up. Slowly, as I went over all she had said and tried to piece everything together, I came to realize how unlikely a tale it all was. This friendly, smiling woman who talked and talked and talked… I didn’t believe her. Couldn’t.
But how do you deal with that? Go up to the person and say, sorry but I believe you are lying. These stories about your daughter being kidnapped, about how you are soon to be a successful author and know these famous people, how you work five jobs and run your own company too, I don’t believe them? What if it would be true. What if she really was struggling through the emotional hell of a lost child? There was just no way of confronting her to try and get to the bottom of it. I was, and still am, quite sure that she just couldn’t help herself, that she lied and lied and lied to spin the tale of an interesting life, an interesting identity.
Feeling unable to confront her, but also being unwilling to play along and pretend as though I believed it all, I just backed off. Cut contact. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do or not, but it was the only thing I at that moment knew to do.
Two years back I ran into a case that rang some familiar bells. A girl who seemed kind, friendly and interesting. Always something new to tell, always something exciting or terrifying. It started growing more extreme, involving high profile, super rich people. A kidnapping. People dying. Abuse. It seemed things would be calm for a week or two but as soon as things were quiet, something would happen that brought attention back to her, brought sympathy back to her. And again, looking at the facts… it just didn’t add up.
Again, how do you deal with such a case? If the stories are true, if the person really is struggling with being abused, and family members just died, and they were kidnapped as a child and… and… and… If it’s true and you claim her to be a liar, how terrible would that not be? Absolutely terrible. But at the same time, once you have realized that it’s in all likelihood just lies, lies and more lies, it’s impossible to play along. So again I just backed off. Couldn’t do anything else.
In that case, I’ve had confirmation later on that my interpretation was right, they were lies. She probably can’t help it, it probably stems from serious issues and I should feel sorry for her. But I can’t.
How do you handle these things? How do you confront the liar at the risk of being wrong, and hurting her in the process? Is the only way to back off and just leave it, like I did?