Saturday 16 December 2017

Dear Mary: My friend is a compulsive liar

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

Mary O'Connor

My friend of 30 years has always had an extraordinary ability to invent stories, a trait that I accepted and looked past. Over time I have observed that her lies - ranging from health scares to tall tales about others - are generally told in order to gain sympathy, or recognition, or to get her own way. Her recent behaviour has provoked a new level of concern for me, and I am seeking advice on how to extrapolate myself from this friendship for good. My difficulty is that she does not respect boundaries and ending this friendship will not be easy. I don't have a network of friends so maintaining our friendship was always more important to me.

Her husband separated from her some years ago. It hit her hard and I felt sorry for her. However, I subsequently bore witness to her appalling behaviour, including her making anonymous calls to his partner, calls to their respective work colleagues and numerous nasty acts. I am ashamed of myself for indulging her behaviour and I wouldn't dare tell my husband about it. He warned me about her a long time ago.

Her husband had an affair with a significantly younger woman and has been in a relationship with her since. I now have no doubt that the failure of their marriage was very likely accelerated by my friend's behaviour. Since her separation I have witnessed her manipulating her children, stalking, creating fake online profiles in her ex-husband and his partner's name, and employing cunning and subtle tactics to generate sympathy from others.

The final straw for me came earlier this year when she fabricated an outrageous story about events surrounding the death of a relative abroad. She went on to repeat these lies to others, including to her own children. I know her story to be utterly false, as I was able to discover the truth surrounding the death from the authorities who dealt with it and its aftermath.

I have given up trying to understand why she behaves in this manner. Her current partner has been very supportive of her. Despite her separation she has maintained the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed, retained a superior house in an affluent area and has never had to work.

I am no longer willing to indulge her manipulative behaviour. Unfortunately, ignoring her will only provoke further contact. There are other factors to consider - our children are friends but luckily not in the same area or attending the same schools. I know what she is capable of and therefore am concerned about what she might do to me.

Any advice on ending this relationship would really be appreciated.

Mary replies: This woman has been your friend for a long long time, and throughout those years you have gone along with her fabrications, and at times destructive behaviour towards others. She appears to be at the very least a compulsive liar or she may be a pathological liar, which would indicate mental health issues such as narcissistic personality disorder. But whatever is going on for her you have had enough and your dilemma is how to get out of the relationship without having her become nasty towards you.

There is no easy way out of this as far as I can see because whatever you do you risk her wrath. You have two choices. One is to tell her that you have grown increasingly frustrated at her apparent lies and negative treatment of other people which you cannot any longer condone. You could cite the example of her blatant lies regarding her relative's death and explain that you know exactly how this relative died. She will probably deny everything, but you will have put her on warning that you are not going along with her fairy tales anymore. This in itself may cause her to retreat from you as she will not want to be reminded of what you have said, and seems to me to be the more direct route to severing the relationship.

The other option is not to return her calls and be unavailable when she suggests getting together. However, it could take a very long time before she realises what you are up to, and the results may not be very edifying.

Your children do not seem to move in the same circles what with school and home being different, so I wouldn't worry about that too much. Children continue to make new friends as they go through school and subsequently work or college. The main person that you have to be concerned about is yourself, and as this relationship is causing you worry and frustration you will benefit in the long run when it comes to an end.

I want away from this life and world

I email you in the deepest hope that maybe you can offer me some words of advice or help. I feel my life is so empty and worthless and lately I have really been struggling to get through each day. I get up and know that it's the same old boring day and know it has nothing to offer. I know I should be very grateful for what I have - I have a job, home and wonderful husband but life just feels so empty. We tried for  many years for children and have  done everything possible, including many IVF treatments, but it was never successful for us and I feel that has left a massive void in our lives. I feel such a failure, I've just turned 40 and none of the things I wanted to achieve in life have been done.  I get up each morning and go to work, the days I am not working I just sit there eating rubbish and feeling very sorry for myself and wondering how I can get away from this life and world. I don't have many friends so there is no one I can reach out to and family don't really seem to care. They have their own lives and the few times I did try to look for advice I was basically told to cop on. I have built a little prison in my home and just want to sit there. I hate going out or social events because I hate me. I know you are going to say counselling or talk to someone but there is no point; there is no one to talk to.              

My husband is great and goes out socialising with his friends and away for weekends, but I don't think he actually knows how miserable I am. I put on a front every day and I can't do it anymore. I did have a good friend in work and she recently had a baby and I hardly every hear from her any more, even though I have texted and rung her several times. I always seem to lose friends which points even more to the fact that I really am worthless. I don't want to be here. I hate this life and I'm struggling more and more. What do I do?

Mary replies: I can fully understand why you are feeling so down. While you were going through the various IVF treatments you had hope of starting a family, but now you are faced with the fact that you will not have a baby and are going through your own grieving process. It is wrong that you are shouldering this all alone, and please bear in mind that the World Health Organisation says that one in 6 people experience infertility issues. I don't know what part of the country you are in, but whatever resource you used to have your IVF treatments will almost certainly provide counselling for infertility, so that should be your first place to seek help. I also think that your husband should be made more aware of just how unhappy you are. I'm sure he is going through his own grief but he is handling it differently.

Your friend who has the new baby is probably full of good intentions, but it is amazing how the hours and days fly by when looking after a brand new baby. You are being very hard on yourself in calling yourself worthless, but that is all part of the depression that you currently undergoing. As well as seeking talking therapy I urge you to go to see your GP and explain just how unhappy you are. And there is always somebody to talk to at the end of a telephone line 24 hours a day at the Samaritans Freephone 116123.

When you begin to feel better, and I know you will when you start being proactive in seeking help, you should consider doing a hobby or pursuit that you enjoyed in the past. This will help you feel less alone and give you a sense of purpose in your recreational time. You might also consider volunteering for a cause that appeals to you. Charities always welcome help. Even a couple of hours a week in, for instance, a charity shop would make a great difference in your life and would be helping others at the same time.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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