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Is there such a thing as an honest narcissist? Or do all narcissists lie? Well, I got a pretty interesting comment on the video I produced last week on identifying covert narcissism in relationships.
The viewer who wanted to know what if the person they were dealing with was very religious and raised to not lie. They noted that everyone says covert narcissists lie a lot. I can only assume they had found that the person they’re dealing with otherwise fit the bill for a covert narcissist.
What happens when a toxic person doesn’t fit every symptom of a narcissist? Does it mean they’re not one, or does it mean something else?
This is what is so perplexing about narcissists in relationships of any kind. Their manipulation and control tactics can be so pervasive and confusing. They are subtle and sort of hard to detect, especially if you have not been taught to watch for this stuff.
If you’re anything like I was when I first recognized that I was dealing with a narcissist in a relationship, it will be kind of a slap in the face. You probably thought you were the problem, thanks to months or years of conditioning from the narcissist telling you that you were always wrong, directly or indirectly.
You may have had a sort of sneaking sensation that something was going on, that something wasn’t right. But you were taught to believe the worst about yourself and taught to see the narcissist as nearly infallible. This is especially true if you’ve been raised by a toxic parent or otherwise closely influenced by a narcissist in childhood.
Since narcissistic abuse can be so hard to detect from the inside, and since gaslighting (the narcissist’s most-often employed manipulation tactic) involves causing you to question your reality and even your own thoughts and perceptions, it makes sense that you might miss it – and that you’d question yourself and the validity of your assessment once you do figure it out.
So this leaves us with the question the viewer asked: Are they still a narcissist if they don’t lie? Well, that’s exactly what we’re talking about today – can someone be a narcissist if they don’t lie, and if they can, how’s that possible and what does that look like? Let’s get started.
Is the Honest Narcissist a Myth?
Is there really such a thing as a narcissist who doesn’t lie? Could there be an honest narcissist? First, it’s important to note that narcissists come in all shapes and sizes. As I explained to the viewer, not every narcissist has every symptom or sign listed in the criteria for the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder.
Covert narcissists, for example, defy the typical narcissistic profile by appearing to be shy and introverted. And some narcissists don’t cheat. Some narcissists are wealthy, controlling workaholics while others are lazy parasites who seem to do nothing but drain you dry. Some are obsessively clean while others don’t shower for weeks. Some are neat-freaks and others are hoarders.
And despite what most people think, there are some narcissists who don’t seem to be pathological liars.
It doesn’t even seem possible, but very often when you’re dealing with an altruistic narcissist or a communal narcissist, they’ll seem to be very ethical and morally bound. This is especially true when they’re using their religion as part of their plan to control you, but it doesn’t always involve religion.
Still, while these so-called upstanding citizens may seem to be above reproach, they still control, devalue, manipulate, and demoralize the people closest to them. They still seem to suck all the energy and air out of every room, and they could still be called narcissists and abusers.
And it’s true that they may never outright lie to you. However, they do pull a little trick that might be considered dishonest or at least manipulative, sort of like finding their own little “lie loopholes.”
Lie Loopholes: How the narcissist uses honesty to control you
Some narcissists will tell you they’re the most honest person they know and really seem to live up to that claim. You literally can’t think of a single time they lied to you. You trust their word, despite the way they otherwise treat you, and most likely, you blame yourself for anything that goes wrong in the relationship.
But, while that may be technically true, there’s something else going on here. They’re still abusing you on so many levels. Rather than lying, they use a tactic I like to call a “manipulated shift in perception,” meaning that they heavily influence your thoughts and feelings using manipulation and gaslighting.
How Narcissists Can Manipulate Your Perception Without Lying
1. The Brutal Truth Statement
At some point in your relationship, this kind of narcissist makes it clear they don’t lie. They will say it has to do with religious or moral reasons, or they’ll say they were hurt in a previous relationship and they need to be themselves. Or you may have told them in the beginning of your relationship that you were hurt by lying in the past, so they’ll take this as an opportunity to be completely uncensored with you. You may appreciate the honesty at first, or feel like you should, anyway. Or, in some cases, they’ll just straight up tell you they’re brutally honest and if you don’t like it you know where the door is. Now, they feel like they never need to concern themselves with your feelings, and like you’ve given them permission to do so.
2. Implied Permission to Insult and Belittle You
They use this whole brutal honesty thing as an excuse to insult and belittle you. They might tell you that you’re unattractive or that an outfit looks bad on you. They might openly criticize everything from your cooking and housekeeping skills to how you are in bed or how you raise your kids – anything that crosses their mind will come out of their mouths without consideration for how it makes you feel. Not only is their lack of empathy painfully clear, but so is their apparent disdain for everything you are. Then, they wait for your reaction.
3. Your Reaction is Rejected
This kind of disrespect and constant unfair criticism upsets and confuses you, as it would anyone. You confront the narcissist or at least question them about what they’ve said to you, about the way they treat you. You’re angry or you’re sad or you’re feeling otherwise negatively, and you ask the narcissist to be nicer to you. You ask them how they’d feel if you spoke to them the way they speak to you. But rather than offer you any validation or reassurance of their love for you, they laugh or scream in your face. They absolutely reject your reaction to their abuse. They say you don’t have the right to be angry. They say you can’t be sad. They say you asked for this honesty or that you knew they were like this from day one.
4. You’re Put in Your Place
The narcissist continues to minimize your feelings and treat you like you’re unimportant. They remind you that your feelings aren’t valid and that you don’t have the right to feel anything about this situation. And, whether directly or indirectly, they communicate that you really shouldn’t feel anything because only the narcissist has feelings that matter. They imply that you’re stupid for not being already aware of this unwritten rule by now.
5. They Justify Their Behavior
“Well,” they’ll say. “You always say you don’t want me to lie to you. You claim you want the truth. But obviously, you are the liar here because you can’t handle the truth.” No matter how horribly they’ve treated you, they will never admit any wrongdoing or take any responsibility for hurting your feelings. Everything they’ve done up to this point, they’ll swear, has been in the name of being honest with you and everyone.
6. They Play on Your Fears to Keep You in Control
This is where it gets really sneaky. See, when you don’t just agree that you’re the total piece of poo that the narcissist wants you to believe that you are, they’ll really dig deep and begin to play on all of your biggest fears. And if you keep feeling upset or angry at them for being so rude and disrespectful to you, or if you refuse to agree with their assessment of you, they’ll start the threats. They’ll say things like,” Well, if you’re going to be mad at me every time I tell you the truth, I might as well just start lying to you.”
7. You Are Triggered Into Submission
This is where the narcissist will exploit your fears and push your buttons to trigger you and get you deeply enmeshed with them and under their control. So, basically, they are manipulating and controlling you by presenting themselves as upfront and brutally honest. If this is a non-parent relationship, you’d have initially found this quite refreshing, since other people in your life have hurt you by lying and playing games.
Your history of trauma in relationships is exactly what makes you vulnerable to being triggered when they threaten to lie. And since your behavior during a trigger moment is less rational and more self-protective, the narcissist accomplishes 3 things that help them get you to submit to them.
- You’re feeling scattered and confused. This means that you are easier to control and manipulate because of the stress and the sort of primal mode you are in when you feel triggered by one of your biggest fears. You feel crazy and begin to doubt your perception once the full effect of the gaslighting kicks in. You might even feel dependent on the narcissist to tell you what you see and think in some cases, and now not only are they controlling your actions but also your thoughts and feelings.
- Your fears are used to keep you in place. The narcissist has established that you can and will be moved by your fear of losing them or of being alone. If you’re anything like I was, one of your biggest fears is being the last one to know your relationship is over. You are afraid of being humiliated in a situation where you’re the only one who doesn’t know what’s happening in your own relationship. And another biggest fear is that some toxic person in your life was right and you’re actually doomed to being not good enough (or otherwise deficient) forever. And then there’s the most common human fear that we are all a little embarrassed to talk about out loud – that fear of having no one. The fear of abandonment.
- You get deeper and deeper into the trauma bond. You’re enmeshed with the narcissist. They control you through the active infliction of their own perception. They teach you and make sure you don’t forget, that their needs are always more important than your own. They make you feel like you’re not a real person and that your feelings and thoughts and ideas aren’t relevant or worth expressing – not to mention worth actually hearing or implementing. That prevents you from ever reaching your true potential as you lose yourself a little more each day.it changes you and could limit you forever if you allow it.
If you’d like to learn more about how trauma bonding works, as well as how you can start to heal, be sure to take a look at these videos.
- Narcissistic Abuse Recovery: Healing Codependency & Moving Forward
- Toxic Parents Want Free Rent in Your Head Forever: Healing for Adult Children of Narcissists & ACOAs
- Narcissistic Abuse-Induced Trauma Bonding: Why It’s So Hard to Leave a Narcissist
- Trauma Bonding and the Brain: Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
- Identifying a Narcissist vs a Traumatized Person Who Can Still Heal
- This is Your Brain on Narcissistic Abuse: Cognitive Dissonance, Trauma Bonding & Healing in Recovery
- 9 Self Help Exercises to Help You Feel Safe After a Toxic Relationship (Based on Polyvagal Theory)
- Narcissists Believe Feelings Are Facts (Cognitive Distortions Explained)
- Reality Anchoring: A Practical Solution for Cognitive Dissonance After Gaslighting
- Cognitive Dissonance in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery: What It Is, Why It Happens & How to Resolve It
So, does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, you should definitely take a look at the playlist I’m going to leave for you in the pinned comment and description as it will help you learn how to stand up for yourself and begin the healing process.
Question of the Day: Have you ever met an “honest” narcissist? Could you relate to the discussion today? Share your thoughts, share your ideas, share your experiences in the comments section below this video and let’s talk about it!
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.