Why People With Borderline Personality Disorder Lie

Lying is a primitive coping mechanism that protects us from feeling bad about ourselves. It can develop very early in childhood and persist into the teen years, later becoming a habitual behavior in adulthood.

Most teens and adults have learned that acting out and lying are not effective behaviors. However, it is typical for those who have either some traits of Borderline Personality Disorder or full blown BPD to keep using these primitive defenses well beyond young adulthood.

The question is… Why do they lie?

Why do people with borderline personality disorder lie?

They feel guilt or shame.

They feel guilt and/or shame that is so painful and threatening they will say anything to avoid the pain.

To conceal not meeting someone's expectations.

They worry that if they disappoint someone by not meeting their expectations, that person might choose to abandon them.

To cover up failure.

BPD people may pretend they are succeeding to cover up failure. Fear and shame are again at play. People with BPD have no solid sense of self. They attempt to copy other people who they see as successful in some domain. Not measuring up (or the perception of not measuring up) can feel like they are in life-threatening danger.

To explain themselves.

They may lie in an attempt to explain why they behaved in a specific manner. When a person has big emotions and expresses them in ways that are considered “over the top” or “crazy” as compared to most other people, the person with BPD lies in hopes of being given a pass... or at least not being discarded.

To get attention.

They may lie to get attention in situations where praise or recognition is not offered. When an individual believes they are unseen, the primitive brain considers their life to be in danger. When others receive recognition in even the smallest way, the BPD person becomes highly motivated to get their need to be seen met immediately.

To avoid doing something.

There are many reasons a person might want to avoid doing something at any given moment. For emotionally sensitive people it may be just the faintest inkling that they might not do a “good enough” job. Or it could be that they have to stop doing what they are currently engaged in and transition quickly which sets off their danger alarm. They may be seeking a sense of control over their time and energy, want to avoid conflict, or simply dislike what they are avoiding.

To protect their privacy.

As human beings, we all have a boundary between what personal information we are willing to share with others and what we want to keep private. Invasion of this space can be extremely threatening as it breaches a very personal and intimate line of protection. When a person assumes correctly or incorrectly that their privacy is being challenged, lies can seem like an at-all-costs way to limit the threat.

To feel independence.

They may lie to feel a sense of independence from their parents or others who attempt to control them. A sense of being in control of our environment and in general of our lives is necessary to thrive. Learning to make choices and tolerate mistakes is necessary to grow into a fully effective adult. When that balance of self-efficacy and acceptance as we are by others is removed by a parent, or say an employer, who even though well meaning makes all our decisions for us, we receive a message that it’s not ok to fail. It seems as there is only one right way and that we are incapable of figuring things out for ourselves. We can see why adolescents in particular can resort to lies in attempts to get their need for independence met.

They are afraid of the consequences of being honest.

They may simply be afraid of the consequences of telling the truth in any given situation. This is not uncommon. When punishment has been consistent and especially if the punishment was not a natural consequence of the behavior being punished, anyone will notice an urge to avoid being punished.

To be perceived more favorably.

They may feel compelled to cast themselves in a more favorable light. When we have what is commonly referred to as an “external locus of control,” we find ourselves looking at others and comparing ourselves to them in an attempt to figure out exactly how we are “expected" to be. When one has been repeatedly told they are wrong or mistaken, that they don't measure up or have been reminded of how others have succeeded, a fabricated story about oneself can be a desperate attempt to fit in or find acceptance. A core sense of believing one is not good enough can be a powerful trigger for lying.

They think it's harmless.

They believe a "white lie" has no malice attached to it. As children most of us were taught that a "little white lie” is acceptable if it helps avoid hurting someone’s feelings or helps make them feel better. It’s easy to see how over time this can develop into a people-pleasing tool and a tool for avoiding social stress that may very well become a fixed pattern of behavior.

To experience a sense of power.

The person may enjoy the power that comes from deliberately deceiving and making fools out of other people for malicious reasons. These lies often carry serious consequences for other people and may lead to situations people consider unfair or unjust. This behavior definitely falls into the category of a Red Flag and there is good reason to proceed with caution.

They think the ends justify the means.

My clients who have been in AA often use this quote: “The pain of the problem has to be worse than the pain of the cure.” Going back to the idea of each person having certain needs and wants in any given moment, it makes sense that getting what they want this minute might be worth the pain of being caught in a lie.

They confuse emotions with facts.

The intensity of their emotion in the moment causes them to take in pieces of information that confirm that what they are feeling in that moment is a fact. The result is they believe or (lie) that XYZ happened when it did not.

To protect or defend friends.

If a friend is in serious trouble with their parents, the school, or authorities, teenagers may come to their defense with alibis, stories, alternate versions of what happened, or outright denials — all to help their friend get out of a jam.

To cover up emotions.

A teen may not be totally forthcoming about how they feel about things. They may be uncomfortable with their emotions, embarrassed by them, or afraid feeling a certain way may make them look immature or uncool.

The types of lies people with BPD tell

There is a form of lying that I observe frequently in individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder that I call the What Character Am I Today Lie. In this case, the person with BPD tells a far fetched story story about  themself that doesn’t quite add up.

The story may be an indicator or reflection of how the individual wants to be seen and can be a way to improve other people’s opinions of them.

Very often, the individual does not believe there is anything noteworthy about their life or their experiences, which leads them to lie in order to make themself more interesting, more important, or to fit in with a specific group.

Such stories can be an attempt to fulfill the need for love, affection and belonging. Most importantly, the ultimate goal is to protect themself from shame and fear of being alone, abandoned and/or lonely.

Some untrue stories I've heard over the years from BPD people:

  • Multiple miscarriages or death of newborn when there is not actual history of pregnancy.
  • Being in various branches of the military when they never actually served.
  • Promotions in high profile companies when they actually have an hourly paying job.
  • Attendance of multiple ivy league colleges when they did not actually attend any of them.
  • Saying they had been kidnapped when they actually hadn’t.
  • Saying they had been divorced when they actually hadn’t.
  • Saying they had been stalked when they hadn’t.
  • Saying they had been sex trafficked when they hadn’t.
  • Saying they were addicted to heroin or other drugs when in fact they never were.
  • Claiming to be a cheerleader, dancer, performer or award winning gymnast when that wasn’t the case.
  • Various health problems and near death experiences that were made up.
  • Accusing a parents or other innocent individual of sexual or physical assault.

When to get professional help for BPD and lying

I’ve put together some tips on how to respond when your emotionally sensitive person lies and you can find them here.

Seek professional help when any of the following are true:

  • Lying remains constant over time. This might signal an emerging personality disorder, conduct disorder, or learning disability.
  • Lying is used to deal with difficult situations on a regular basis.
  • Lying occurs with such frequency it is habitual or compulsive.
  • There is no remorse about lying, even when caught.
  • Lying is coupled with other extreme behaviors such as fighting, stealing or cruelty.
  • Lying is used to cover up harmful behaviors such as drug use.

Share this post


Leave a Comment

blond woman with short hair wearing glasses and smiling | Lisa Bond Coaching | DBT skills and solutions for borderline personality disorder and high emotional sensitivity

Hi, I'm Lisa!

My mission is to provide high quality, evidence-based tools to meet the unique needs of individuals and families who want to create a life worth living, and coaches who want to help others do the same.

This practice is welcome and inclusive to all | Lisa Bond Coaching | DBT skills and solutions for borderline personality disorder and high emotional sensitivity

Digital Course

Real Tools for Right Now

Everything on borderline personality disorder I wish I had known... ALL IN ONE PLACE.

Get updates

Join my email list to receive helpful resources, important updates, and upcoming events right in your inbox!

Take the quiz!



Take the quiz!



This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. If you continue using this site, we assume you're okay with it!