Borderline Personality Disorder,  Lying,  Validation

BPD, lying and the nature of truth


One of the most searched-upon subjects in this blog (and talked about in our ATSTP Google Group) is the subject of lying by someone with BPD. The nons are confused by untruthfulness on the part of someone with BPD and wonder how the person with BPD can have any credibility or trustworthiness when, clearly, they continue to tell bold-faced lies. In my response to a recent poster within the ATSTP group, I recently made a new revelation about truthfulness and lying by someone with BPD.

I have long said that someone will lie when telling to truth would cause more emotional suffering than lying would. However, that statement seems to indicate that there is a level of calculation when the lies arise. It infers that someone, when actually telling the lie, is deciding beforehand whether to tell the truth or not. For people with BPD, feelings = facts. It is not the events that matter to them, but how they feel about these events that truly matter.

So, two things have come to mind for me in this regard. One is that the experience of “reality” is filtered through those feelings and the person with BPD will reflect how they feel about them. If they have strong feelings about what has happened, they will actually experience things in a different manner than those of us who are rational in the face of the same events. It can hardly be called a lie in some ways because it is how they experienced reality.

I listened to an audio CD on Buddhism a while back and there was a statement made that went like this: An artist doesn’t paint a picture and then put his “style” into the painting. He paints the picture through the lens of his style. That is how he or she sees the world. The same seems to be true for people with BPD and their emotions (rather than style).

The second thing that came to mind is the actual telling of the lie to a particular person. If someone with BPD feels that, by telling the truth, his or her feelings will be invalidated and judged by the other person, they will lie either by admission or by omission. If they don’t feel safe sharing the “truth” (and to them the truth is their feelings, not the events/behaviors themselves), they will not trust the other person with their feelings.

In order to get a more truthful report from a person with BPD, one has to learn to listen to the feelings and not judge those feelings – which is extremely invalidating to the person with BPD and at the core of their “personhood” (since their feelings are immediate and strong and block out other more “objective” views of the situation). If you can listen to the feelings and validate those (for feelings are not right or wrong, they just ARE), I suspect you will get much more truth out of a person with BPD. But the truth you will receive is the truth for them, which is, of course, their feelings about an event. Still, once you start actually hearing and validating these, the level of trust accorded to you by the person with BPD will go up measurably.


  • Distressed

    OK, the BP may not be “lying” as we understand it then. The BP actually believes you have done the horrible, hurtful things they have accused you of doing. But you didn’t do them, and you can’t defend yourself. How can you respond?

  • Bon Dobbs

    The most effective way to respond is by addressing the feelings that underpin the lies. The use of validation and mentalizing can help with lies. If the truth is more painful than lying, lying is likely. If the truth is less painful, the truth will be told. Making the truth less painful by accepting the other person’s feelings is the most effective response.

  • sean schiraldi


    Please allow me to say, quickly, that I have been married to a BPD for slightly over a year now. We got married soon after we met as we bonded instantly, as is often described in the relationships of BDP.

    She certainly had some nuances about her, but for the most part things were great until two weeks ago when she snapped. She accused me of beating her, called the cops, and had me arrested. I am currently going through the court system, detached from my home and all off my belongings.

    Thankfully for me (but not my poor friend), my friend also had an ongoing bout with a BPD wife (with kid..ouch). His father is a therapist and spotted the disorder rather quickly. This has helped me to move past this devastating and shocking occurance and dive right into the problem.

    Now studying BPD, it all makes so much sense, which is exactly what I needed. I wanted to just UNDERSTAND WHY this happened. Unlike the rest of my family, I did make a vow and as horrible and unforgivable as this act was (and it was way worse that I described, trust me!), I felt I had to at least get her help.

    With that said, now that I see what I’m up against AND realize that her own family either doesn’t give a damn or are in serious denial (they don’t return my calls), coupled with her relatively callous, even egotistical, attitude, I wish her safety, but I WILL NOT dance around this disorder!

    Sorry, about the length, but this is where I’m speaking to the topic, this notion of sticking through it with your spouse. First off, I think it matters greatly whether or not you knew about this disorder first hand. I did not and feel as if I never knew this person, espescially since her feelings are fabricated. So, if this is the case, and nobody in his/her family alerted you to their “problem,” is it your obligation to honor “in sickness and in health…”

    Please don’t take this as a rationalization on my part. It just seems like it takes more than a fake stormy romance and twisted seduction to sentence me to a life where I must “figure out” when my significant other is telling me the truth.

    These people have seduced us with great skill, such that if they were not insane to the point of being dangerous, the emotional foundation was set to support a long, happy marraige. True. Does that mean we must now study this disorder in hopes of obtaining a skill that most psychologists become frustrated over? In other words, doctors don’t even want to TREAT these people; must we LIVE with them???

    Again sorry so long. We all have pages to fill, though! lol

    Also, there are many circumstances which can come into play, of course, like children.

  • drgvenkman

    first off, thank you bon for doing all the work you have and setting up this highly useful and informative site. i have been all over the internet and have not before now discovered a site as clear, to the point, and useful for understanding wth is going on. thank you. and that comes from only having read 2 of your pages so far. you are in my bookmarks; i will return.

    sean’s post brings up an extremely valid point. i myself have now spent 14 years “figuring out” my spouse. he is a recovering alcoholic, 10 years; diagnosed bipolar/MANIC during recovery, which held true to much of his behavior, and depakote seeemed to be the lever he needed to stay off the alcohol. well, i didn’t know about the bipolar, but it wasn’t a marriage killer for me if he continued with his therapy and meds, and worked thorugh the issues alongside me. bipolar is manageable.

    however, the longer he has been sober, the less compliant with meds he grew, and the less willing to work through bipolar issues. he now, after quitting his meds for 5 years, doesn’t quite believe his diagnosis was accurate.

    it may not have been. he displays classic signs of NPD and BPD, with a touch of CD (conduct disorder). at first i thought it was intermittent explosive disorder, but that doesn’t cover things like him blaming me for everything he feels, especially the negative feelings. he actually says i MAKE him feel what he feels, and i am the one in the marriage who needs desperately to change so that he can be happy.

    i am well aware of the problems with THAT little piece of fantasy. what brought me to search out information like you have here is the attempt to discover how i could communicate with him sans the outbursts and degredation into frightening and abusive scream fests and threats.

    which occurred even while i was recovering from a bilateral mastectomy and stage 3 breast cancer. that is the last straw for me. my life hangs in th ebalance, literally, and even after his first wife suddenly dropped dead at 31 apparently from a brain aneurism, he cannot connect.

    everything is a threat to HIS well-being. i can understand and do have compassion for a person suffering from mental illness and disconnection from the ordinary world of us ordinary folks (‘nons’). however, this is not a relationship. this is not relate-ing. this is destructive, and it very well may be killing me. i won’t suffer you all with the eveidence about cancer, but stress like this is a giant no-no. so is living daily with attacks and no honest, loving support from your spouse.

    for me, this does NOT fall under “better or worse…sickness or health.” those vows are supposedly reciprocal. they are meant to convey the deep and abiding love one person has for another, which is returned. they are not meant to bind you in a deadly situation where you risk life, limb and liberty in order to get to those times where everyone is laughing and smilling while out to dinner and a movie, etc.

    i will always need to understand how to deal with my spouse, whether married or not – and actually, i also run the risk of great harm getting out of the marriage. but i know i cannot endure this type of misuse “until death do us part.” it doesn’t matter to me that he needs a certain way of understanding because he is suffering with something he didn’t ask for and is in many ways beyond his control. it used to. his alcoholism was all about that. and he made it into recovery. but facing down the reality of death next to this person has changed my compassionate understanding from seeing him and his suffering to seeing me and mine.

    i can learn all the best ways to support him in his dysfunction, and relate to him where he is at. but i will never receive anything close to the same in return, because he is incapable – first due to the nature of personality disorders and mental illnesses, and second, but most importantly, because he refuses to move one speck on the position that all of our problems come from me, and i am the one who needs to change. we are in marital counseling now, one session, and he already doesn’t ‘like’ the counselor and refuses to listen to any counselor say one iota of info that may demonstrate he needs to change anything further. as far as he is concerned, his recovery is enough changing – in fact, he has had to change everything about himself.

    i see now, reading through things here, why he so viciously espouses that position. in his world, i really do “make” him feel. and his feelings are fact for him; fact and unaltrable truth and proof.

    he has many complex issues overlapping, including a frontal lobe inury. when we were first together and i was in college, i told him about phineas gage, and it became a way for him to understand some of his lack of control and other-worldliness in the eyes of non-injured people. but that person who was open to understanding what was going on inside himself has chosen instead to follow his heart – the heart of a borderline.

    there is no way i can justify giving my life, love, and hard work to a person who will do nothing but belittle me, and say it is my fault. there is no way i can justify learning all the approaches and techniques, and altering my way of being who i am in the HOPES of MAYBE relating every now and then! i want much more in the way of love and support than this.

    however, i do believe that i can best help myself heal and let go of anger, resentment, and misunderstanding by learning all of those things. i may even afford both of us a more peaceful situation, but not a marriage. i didn’t sign up for this. and there’s no guilt in wanting out. i can’t wait X more years for something to get better, no matter what i learn to recognize about him or say to him. life is too short.

  • Jordan

    Wow, WHY the assumption taht if you have BPD you lie?
    First off i have been diagnosed with BPD, i do NOT lie.I do NOT get in relationships at ALL.
    I have isolated all my life.I do NOT do a lot of the things that people say BPDs do for certain.

    I find it INSULTING.
    I do have a lot of rage, i had eating disorders, i did self-injure and my moods change rapidly i do go from happy to very sad all of a sudden.

    But i do not have a lot of the other behaviours that are ASSUMED anyone with BPD have.

    YOu should point that out.That NOT all people with BPD have all the behaviours.Before you ad fuel to the fire and misinform people by telling them ALL people with BPD are and act the same.BIG FAT LIE.

  • Jordan

    You are extremelly misinformed.
    NPD and BPD are exact opposites.
    Is very unlikely a person have both disorders.
    A person with BPD have too much empathy one with NPD has NONE.

    Totally opposite disorders.

  • Brian

    My therapist mentioned my x-wife may be BPD, due to the way she interacts about the truth even when confronted with undeniable facts. He also mentioned she creates new realities, when the current one does not suit her anymore and she will “shelf” the old realities ~ not forgetting them, but rather putting then away and not looking back. Is this another sign of BPD also?

  • Bon Dobbs

    It is called emotional memory. If the facts/evidence don’t support her emotional world, she remakes the world to match her emotions. It is not just people with BPD that do it, but, since BPD is essentially an emotional regulation disorder, the people with BPD are likely to do it more often than others. I also meant to say it’s “feelings = facts”.

  • Brian

    In addition, not mentioned above. When the new reality is created, it often has a tremendous similarity to a new person in her life, or something that interests her at that point in time. Then the old is vilified and the new is the better choice no matter what may be, a good or bad outcome. Still wondering? thanks for any reply and input….

  • Bon Dobbs

    I believe that is because she desperately wishes to be liked by those around her. Borderlines use others to regulate their emotions and self-image. They can’t self-regulate very well. So, if she’s feeling that the other doesn’t like her based on who she is, she changes reality (it’s called “pretend mode”) to make herself more acceptable. They crave acceptance because of the shame. The most effective thing you can provide a borderline is unconditional acceptance for who they are. The “feelings = facts” way of thinking is called “psychic equivalence” BTW. Those two and “teleological” are the three main mentalization failures that a borderline person will experience.

  • Brian

    Bob, this is great info….I just recently have sent a letter letting her go,

    “Do what you will ~ be happy with your life”

    I think I may have done the very thing you mentioned above already? If so, would this be a pathway to understanding her on my part, and perhaps begin a possible dialoge in getting help for her if she accepts it? thanks again for your great input. I just learned about BPD today & it is a lot to take in rihgt now! thanks again!!!

  • Bon Dobbs

    I think she probably took your statement as judgmental and telling her how she should feel. It’s difficult to listen to one’s own words through the ears of someone with BPD. If you want to being a dialog with her, that’s one thing and it can be done with resources like mine and other’s. If you want to start a dialog for “getting help for her” then you have an agenda and she will see that as you deciding that she’s broken, messed up and crazy.

  • Brian

    Oye it’s like a “catch 22” I have to really think about what I say and how hmmm? I see what you are saying, I have to think in terms of total support? and not show any type of “feelings” of my own, simply to give understanding in her terms? I think that’s right?

  • Brian

    I forgot to mention, I have my therapist and we are going to work on communication, but again, I wonder if I can engage her in this too? Or should I just focus on building new communication skills of my own?

  • Bon Dobbs

    It’s not a “catch-22” once you learn the language of emotions. It’s not that you have to feel nothing. It’s that you have to mentalize and understand her feelings as well.

  • Bon Dobbs

    The therapist needs to understand BPD properly. If you get a copy of my book, it can instruct you as to emotional communication technique. Yet, you have to practice and understand and be authentic. That takes time.

  • Mandy

    I think the intense shame and fear someone with bpd feels when they have done wrong (and only done wrong to appease their pain slightly)causes their lying.And to abuse and hit and yell angry swear words at them and throw them out of the house for that’lying’seems very cruel.Most bpd’s have never felt loved or kindness from anyone,ever,and every time someone hurts them again it just reiterates how despicable they are.They need anyone to reassure them that they won’t be abused and hit and yelled at and shamed and despised and insulted and kicked out for trying to survive.But unfortunately,because of their ‘twisted’behaviour,they never get it and the hurt just goes on and on and on.Terrifying for bpd’s, and it just over and over repeats the pain of abandonment they’re trying to repeatedly ‘fix’ and heal by their simply testing constantly of who will abandon them again .And again.And again.And again.Sad for them.Very sad.And very painful.

  • Serpentor

    1: Never try in a relationship with a BPD, you’ll be the only one

    2: Never marry or have a kid with a BPD, life sentence of hell for you and everyone else

    3: Never help a BPD, they only want enablers

    4: Never trust a BPD, they even lie to themselves 24/7

    5: Never love a BPD, it will not be reciprocated

    Follow those 5 rules and BPD’s aren’t that bad 🙂

  • CC

    >If they have strong feelings about what has happened, they will actually experience things in a different manner than those of us who are rational in the face of the same events.

    Next time my borderline sister physically attacks me again, I’ll just remember that her interpretation of reality is just different from mine. Then when she calls the police to falsely report that I assaulted her, I’ll remember that she deserves my empathy and take the burden on myself to adapt to her threats against my life.

    Great advice!

  • Anon E. Mouse

    I came here desparately looking for a way to either get a bpd person to admit to a damaging lie or to catch them in a lie.

    I am a victim of a very vindictive and damaging lie from a woman with BPD. (She has said this is her diagnosis, and her parents have discussed it with my friend who she was dating. ) My only connection or commitment to this woman was that she was dating a very good, old friend of mine for about four months. My friend is male, I am female, and happily married, by the way. She was apparently very jealous of not only myself, but also of several of our mutual friends, including male friends. I believe she truly thought that my friend was cheating on her with me (completely not true!) and that may be her reason for going as far as she did. I do admit I once slipped and said something very insensitive to this woman. I suggested they be careful regarding birth control, as my friend was already involved in a custody dispute and having another child would have been disastrous at the time. I honestly feel bad about saying anything, wasn’t any of my business. (Honestly, I probably said it out of my own pain and jealousy of not being able to become pregnant, but that’s besides the point)

    Anyway, without getting into all the details, this woman set me up. She planted a small amount of marijuana in some of my personal belongings and called in an anonymous tip. The real fun part is that she arranged for this to happen while I was vacationing out of the country, and I was detained by customs upon coming back into the US. So, it was a pretty big deal and I was put in jail. They ended up transferring my case to the state, not federal, since it was such a small amount, which is sort of good, but also means that I cannot get anyone to look twice at this case, since it’s misdemeanor marijuana possession is, apparently, pretty routine.

    I know this scenario implies premeditation, but I believe both of her actions that led to this were rather impulsive. First the planting of the drugs, which was done while we were all drinking together, same night I made the insensitive comment. She may have just done that and left it alone, but then she later found herself upset again, remembered she had done that, and went ahead and called in the anonymous tip. She probably felt at the time that I deserved it.

    My lawyer, who doesn’t seem to have time to fight a case as trivial, in her eyes, as this, talked me into taking a plea deal in order to end this. Unfortunately, taking it to trial would have cost me even more money and no guarantee, and even the possibility of jail time. I do not have physical proof of her doing this, but without going into detail, I know for a fact that she is responsible for it.

    She is also now testifying against my friend in his custody hearing, after taking it upon herself to contact my friend’s child’s mother and telling her some scary lies that the mother, somehow, apparently believes. During the “honeymoon phase” of their relationship, this woman admitted to my friend that she had a restraining order out against her from an ex boyfriend of hers. The reason for the restraining order was that she had falsely accused this man of molesting his own child. (She admitted the accusation was based on “a feeling she had.”) Luckily, the man was able to clear his name and get the restraining order to avoid further harm.

    Now, I do not EVER smoke marijuana, nor does my partner or the vast majority of our friends. (This woman does and according to my friend, it tends to upset her and bring out some of her negative qualities.) I do listen to rock music and may look like “the type,” so the police, judge, even lawyer, just seem to assume I’m the one whose lying and this must be just a little “oops” that is no big deal. Now I get to go through a drug program and supervised probation, all at my own expense. This is truly unreal to me and anyone who knows me well.

    I am dealing with problems of my own and this is just too much. For one, the reason I even had any money for a lawyer is because I suddenly lost both of my parents earlier this year and they had a small life insurance policy. So this is where the funeral money is going. I am also dealing with infertility, therefore, of course trying to be healthy, which includes not using marijuana, but was also beginning to look into adoption. Well, with this now on my record, I definitely, by law, cannot adopt for six years. I apologize for my sob story, but there it is. If I had done the crime, I’d chalk it up to a little bad luck and pay for my mistake but that is not the case.

    This woman is now living a whole new wonderful life in a new, unassuming, community of kind and loving people. Well, at least in between testifying against my friend/her ex boyfriend. I’ll admit this makes me very upset that she’s been able to destroy my life, in addition to others, and now gets this wonderful new beginning, though I’m trying not to be overwhelmed by my own anger. I knoe that she, like everyone else, deserves peace and happiness. She seems to be doing quite well and I’d honestly be happy for her if only she could admit to the trouble she gas caused me.

    I do not have any desire to harm her. What I do want is for her to admit what she had done to me so i can, at the very least, get my name cleared. I would really like to recover some of my costs, though if i had to settle for just getting my name cleared, I could live with that. I am willing to be understanding of her reasoning and not hold a grudge or try to punish her. I do not care one way or the other if she has any remorse for doing it, it’s not my job to judge. Even if she stands by doing it and believes I deserved it, fine. I just need something to take to the courts.

    I did not sign up for any of this in any way. She dated my friend and I let her into my home and life. I am not in contact with her, but we do have a few mutual acquantances and I see her around town from time to time, happily living her new life. This is already a mega long comment but there is definitely more to it regarding how I am absolutely certain she is the one responsible for my troubles.

    I need help and advice. I need her to admit this so I can clear my record. Should i try to approach her myself? Have a friend ask her about it? I don’t have any desire to prosecute her for this, especially now that she seems to be getting her life in order, but this is not ok. It is not fair to me and she is the only one who can show proof that i did not do this, short of spending even more money on a private investigator or so ething of the like. The courts are too jaded and used to people who actually do use drugs, not to mention busy with bigger cases, to bother looking into my case so I am trying to find another solution to clear my name, even if it means taking it into my own hands (by that I just mean talking to her myself. )

    I do not mean this to be an affront to all people with BPD. I believe this was just a very unfortunate freak incident, a series of small events that came together to royally screw me over. I just need to find out how to resolve it. Would she admit it if I explain to her all the trouble it’s caused me? Should I have another, mutual friend try to drag it out her? Or is my only hope to hire a private investigator and spend even more money. I’m desparate. I’m about broken from all the events of this year and this, killing any hope of having a child through adoption due to these events, is just abouy too much to handle. I can understand that she is troubled herself and I do not hate her for it, but this is deeply affecting my life. I am not perfect by any means, but I do not deserve this.

  • Ginny

    I have a 30 year old daughter who I suspect has BPD. My life has been extremely difficult since her birth. She has always been an incredible challenge and seems to hate me no matter what I do. She has been a drug abuser for years. After many years of inhaling “whip-it’s” she developed breast cancer and a debilitating spinal condition. After chemo and a double mastectomy at 28 she continued using the whip-it’s and excessive pain killers. The cancer has metastasized now and is rapidly spreading. She won’t let me help her or take care of her. But she calls me and demands certain things and curses at me. It’s very difficult to love someone so much and they break your heart every day. I just want to be there for her but she treats me like I’m her enemy.

  • Ginny

    To Anon E Mouse: If that chic is anything like my daughter, she will never admit what she did to you. You will have to find another way to get closure, including that she is mentally ill and not capable of accepting responsibility. Believe me, for your own sanity, just try to learn a lesson from this and move past it. I’m so sorry it happened to you.

  • Bill

    Bon Dobbs, no they do not deserve what they can not reciprocate. Love with them is a one way street.

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