While I wrote a bit about lying yesterday, I really felt this topic needed its own post. Lying is so pervasive in our home. Our kids lie to protect themselves and each other, no matter how illogical that “protection” may seem. They lie about stupid stuff. They lie about things that are clear and in front of our faces. It drives us crazy. Lying is probably MY biggest trauma trigger. Lying pushes MY buttons. My kids know this. It gives them a way of controlling me.
I met another trauma mama at a local coffee shop this morning. She’s about my age, but started her family younger than I did, so she’s already been through what we’re going through. It’s nice not to feel so alone sometimes. Her daughter was also adopted internationally. She also has biological children. She’s been through the lying and the not being able to believe a word that comes out of her child’s mouth. She knows. Again, it was just nice to be with someone who gets it. She knows what it’s like to have a child lie about everything.
Conversely, one of my children is also a compulsive truth-teller. Yup! She’ll rat herself out if she feels it will relieve her stress faster than lying. She’s very smart. The trouble with this is, I really have to be even more careful with her because she’s a 50/50 toss. I don’t want to treat the situation as though she’s lying when she’s really telling the truth. While I’ve gotten better at figuring it out most of the time, I still mess that up sometimes, too.
Both kids “crazy lie.” Something can be as obvious as the nose on your face, and yet, they will still lie. My son can convince himself that his lies are the truth. It doesn’t take much. He took something not too long ago and lied about where he got it. When he finally put the story together, he came up with a tale about how his grandparents gave him the object. The thing is, my in-laws don’t give our kids gifts. They’ve only ever seen the kids once. They are not crazy about our adoption and it is quite clear that our adopted kids are not their “real” grandchildren. Yet, my son, screaming at the top of his lungs, told me to call my in-laws and “prove” that he’d gotten the item from them. Of course, I didn’t do that.
Lying is fear manifested. Yes, I understand that ALL children lie. I get sick and tired of hearing from parents of children raised from the womb, from teachers, from school counselors and principals who say, “All children lie.” I know that. I’m not new here. It’s not the same for adopted kids! There is an intense fear behind my children’s lies. They are masters at it. They are extremely convincing. They convince other people all the time. They used to convince me, too. However, their motivation is more intense, more constant, and for much deeper seated reasons than it is for other kids. When they feel unsafe, when they feel fear, they lie.
I was reading the blog of a young adult who was adopted out of foster care. She wrote a story about how she became such a skilled liar. Her experience, too, was rooted in fear. Her abusers killed her dog in front of her, and they told her if she ever told anyone what was going on, her little sister would suffer the same fate as the dog. She said she lied to the police when they asked her if she was being hurt. They believed her for a long time and the abuse went on. She lied because she “knew” her sister would die if she didn’t.
Unfortunately, whether our kids can grasp that fear of dying cognitively or not, the fear of losing their life is quite often the motivation for their fear and their crazy lies. Even if the trauma, abuse, neglect, and "really bad stuff" happened before they were old enough to put their memories into words, the emotional memory is stored in that center part of their brain (the amygdala). When they are triggered, that emotional memory comes to the surface and they are literally scared to DEATH.
What we need to do as therapeutic parents is pause and get ourselves centered before reacting. This is especially important if lying is one of your triggers, like it is mine. We need to step back and ignore the lie – YES – ignore it – and see the frightened child. What our child needs in that moment is reassurance from us that they are loved.
My friend told me her daughter, while adopted as a very young baby, still needed this reassurance as a child. She would cling to her mother and need constant “mommy checks” long past the time most children do (normally about 8 – 28 months old). It’s a little awkward when a 16 year old boy, who stands many inches taller than you, needs the reassurance of a 2-year-old. But that’s what he needs in that moment of fear.
So, what do you do once you take that breath and you pause – even if that pause takes a few minutes or a few hours? (It’s okay to say, “I need some time. Let’s talk about this later. “ Then, WALK AWAY and come back when you’re calm.) Again, remember this: IGNORE THE LIE. Reassure your child that you love him. Tell him what may seem obvious to you. “You’re here now. You’re home with the family that loves you, and wants you, and takes care of you. We are not going anywhere. You are not going anywhere. You’re safe.” Pause again. Take note of your child’s countenance. If he’s softened, hug him, if he’ll let you. If he’s still hard, tell him again. Say, “I’m going to tell you again. Look at me.” (Get eye contact.) Then tell him again. Tell him a third time if he needs it. Keep IGNORING THE LIE. Let whatever love he’ll allow you to demonstrate to him happen.
Then, and only then, tell him you know there’s more going on than meets the eye. When he is ready to talk with you more about it, he should let you know. Tell him you can wait. Then wait. Don’t prod. Don’t suggest. Wait. If he tries to forget about it or let it pass (my daughter is also a master at this), it’s okay to remind him you’re still waiting. You haven’t forgotten. We still need to figure out everything that’s going on so we can move forward. But still, IGNORE THE LIE. Your child’s sense of safety is most important here. He’ll never come clean while he feels threatened, whether the perceived threat is real or not. What you’re thinking and feeling won’t be the factor that gets him to the point of reconciliation – and ultimately, restitution and natural consequences for the behaviors associated with the lying.
And hang in there. This is a constant battle, but it’s worth the fight. Every inch gained in our kids’ attachment is a huge victory! (Somebody remind me of that the next time I’m mucking through this.)
- Trauma Mama T (who blog at My Life as a Trauma Mama)
Mar 16th, 2013
Hi~ I am the birth mother of one daughter; she is now 37 years old. To our knowledge, the only trauma she ever suffered was when she was 2 years old.... I was diagnosed with cancer and underwent almost 2 years of experiemental treatments, surgeries. She is a compulsive liar and has been since we can remember. Yes, even in grade school. My husband and I have been married to each other for 39 years. Our daughter was the only child we could have b/c we had her before the cancer. Treatments made me sterile. I was in menopause at age 22 and 1/2 years. She lies about dumb stuff, about stuff that she will eventually be found out about. She's lost so many friends, has been married and divorced 2 times now. She is beautiful, is a fabulous singer, is a wonderful, good person. She has such low self esteem. She was bullied in a well-to-do suburban school all through grades 6-12; I know that contributes to her low self esteem. It is so horrible not being able to believe a word she says. So many times over the years, we have believed her, thinking it was "all better" now, that she was finally telling the truth. We are always shocked to our shoes when we discover the newest lies. We've taken her to counseling, doctors; she has gone to self-help groups, even AA, in order to apply their tenants to her own situation: being addicted to lying. She does not drink, smoke, or do drugs. She is addicted to working out and eating healthy. And lying. The latest doc told us we should not keep asking her if she's telling the truth, that we must accept that she doesn't like herself and is in constant flux, trying to reinvent herself. We are supposed to call it, "reinventing," not lying. She is now on medication for impulsivitiy disorder -- Wellbutrin. She thinks it's helping. I don't know if it is, or not; because, I have no idea if the things she is telling us now are true or not. Any thoughts? Oh, I am a special ed teacher in a rural area. My students are cross-categorical. Most are emotionall disabled and behaviorally challenged. Most were horrifically abused at young ages and are now adopted into good families. I have all my parents on speed dial, and they all have my personal cell # on speed dial, too. I know none of the things that happened to my students happened to our daughter. But, Lord help us, SOMETHING MUST HAVE. My students also lie, have frequent meltdowns, and have to constantly work on using their coping skills, and strategies I have created for them. I have lots of tips in that regard, if you or your members ever need them.
Mar 17th, 2013
Moe please email me on our website email here. I'd love to talk privately, if you are interested. I have some thoughts I'd like to share.