To me bipolar and lying have always been connected. I grew up surrounded by bipolar liars – my parents, my grandparents, aunts, cousins – my sisters – and I have told more than my own share of lies.
So is lying a symptom of bipolar disorder?
Lying does NOT appear in any list of bipolar disorder symptoms. In that strict sense, it is not part of the clinical criteria.
However, many of us have had life experiences that lead us to conclude there is a definite connection between bipolar and lying.
Why is this so? Well, for starters, everybody lies! In fact, “everybody lies” is one of today’s pop culture mantras. It is the signature line of Dr House on tv, and you can even buy a t-shirt proclaiming “everybody lies”.
So in fairness to all of us with bipolar disorder, the issue could be more fairly cast as “do people with bipolar disorder tell EXTRA lies?”
Much as I hate to say it, my own experience leads me to say YES!
However,bipolar and lying is a complex and nuanced issue and I hope you will keep reading to discover some of the factors that drive this apparent lack of honesty.
First, let’s quickly review why people (and that is, ALL people) are sometimes untruthful. In general, folks lie because:
1. They feel guilt and/or shame.
2. They are afraid of the consequences of telling the truth.
3. They feel compelled to cast themselves in a more favorable light.
4. It is a “white lie” to make someone else feel better and has no malice in it.
5. They are manipulative sociopaths or narcissists and enjoy the power that comes from deliberately deceiving and making fools out of other people.
6. They are politicians or secret agents or parents or are in some other situation where it appears to them that the ends justify the means.
It is easy to see why at least the first three of these common reasons for lying may come up frequently in the life of someone with bipolar disorder. It may also help to learn about the general pathology of compulsive liars.
For someone with bipolar disorder there are, in my opinion, at least six additional factors linking bipolar and lying:
2. Memory lapses and other cognitive problems.
3. Manic symptoms such as grandiosity and impulsiveness.
4. The bipolar/creativity connection.
5. Collision of racing thoughts and pressured speech.
6. A LOT to cover up and hide. For us, maybe more than for other people, the truth really can hurt!
(An interesting portrayal of a compulsive liar with bipolar is Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre in the movie The Informant.)
Is bipolar and lying a perfect storm?
The symptoms of mania, when taken individually, can all be shown to create a predisposition for telling lies. When several, or all, of these symptoms are combined, the likelihood of lying compounds and amplifies. Lying and mania share the same dark core. Wish fulfillment, selfishness, delusion, deceit, egomania, self gratification, escapism – words often used to describe the psychic landscape of the liar are strikingly similar to the experience of bipolar mania.1
In my opinion, bipolar and lying go together with bipolar grandiosity, diminished need for sleep, racing thoughts and overall impulsivity and impaired judgment. The person with bipolar disorder may be experiencing a powerful sense of superiority and entitlement, and/or an unshakable conviction they are above the rules and/or an aching feeling of being misunderstood and under-appreciated – that is, the perfect storm!
During an episode, the normal self is temporarily replaced by someone who is convinced they are special and superior. He or she is now so wrapped up in themselves that they can only perceive other people and events through their own self-engrossment. Nothing has significance except for how it relates to their wonderful, perfect self – right here and right now. What are some examples of our society’s “special” or “superior” people? Think about royalty, celebrities, presidents, third-world dictators. Often, we see such people acting as if they can play by a different set of rules. They are above the law. Bipolar liars may have such an inflated sense of self-importance that they feel suffocated and constrained by everyday life. “Great Ones” do not have to stick to drab and suffocating facts, especially if the truth stands in opposition to seemingly brilliant insights and moments of revelation (rather than the base and tawdry need for excitement that others may perceive).
Remember, in grandiosity the perception is not just of being special. It is a conviction of being “superior”. This means having more value than others and more importance than others. It is a hierarchical perception. The grandiose bipolar liar is not just the center of their own delusional universe – they are ABOVE others. This may mean also being above the usual norms of behavior. It is a special sense of immunity and entitlement.2
This is why it is so typical for bipolar liars to not only express no remorse but to act as if they are actually the injured party. In their delusional state, they experience any attempt to limit their behavior (for example with the truth) as a malicious and unjustified act of control and domination. Any effort to reason with them will be perceived as manipulative, and ironically may even be perceived as selfish or cruel. They are a bright and shining star and any attempt to curb their manic behavior is a petty, jealous attack by mere mortals who resent true greatness.
Also, bipolar liars may be expressing creativity through lies.
Sometimes the bipolar liar is trying to communicate a profound emotional or psychic truth that cannot be expressed by sticking to the facts.
Why bipolar lying is wrong
When we tell another person a lie we are behaving in a way that is controlling and contemptuous of that person. Telling someone a lie reduces the lied to person from a subject to an object. That person cannot exercise their free will and personal judgement because they do not have all the facts. Rather, they become a prop for our playacting.3
Bipolar liars may not intend this type of malice. Mania can turn us into fantasists. And, as outlined above, there are many reasons bipolar and lying are so tightly linked. However, we have a duty when we are well to reflect on why we lie during mood episodes and to include strategies for avoiding lies in our Treatment Contracts and Wellness Plans.