Can a Liar be Psychoanalysed
Published (1990). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 71:187-195
Though common, lying has been little studied. There are many kinds of liars and lies, and this paper studies one sort, the habitual liar, to whom psychoanalysis has so far given little encouragement, since a liar who is characterologically a liar rather than a truth-teller seems so inauspicious a subject for a psychoanalysis.
Can a habitual liar be psychoanalysed? An analyst who considers this question comes at once upon a paradox. Psychoanalysis is founded on truthfulness, yet for a liar to be himself he must lie in his analysis, so that a basic contradiction appears at the outset which we fear may make analysis impossible. We have also the opposite response. Lying is surely, like any other symptom, a manifestation of disturbance, and, moreover, psychoanalysis has always recognized the human need for, and been ready to work with, a variety of forms of untruth – denial, disavowal, misconception, distortion, delusion. So why not the lie? There is in fact a little about lying in the literature – in connexion with the condition of pseudologica phantastica (e.g. Deutsch, 1922); (Fenichel, 1939); (Hoyer, 1959), delinquency (e.g. Karpman, 1949), the defence of denial (Anna Freud, 1966), adoption phantasies (Sherick, 1983), and thinking (Bion, 1970).
Blum (1983) describes clinically a single central lie by a patient which ‘surprisingly proved to be analysable’, and Bollas (1987) describes an attempt to understand a habitual liar. Might we analysts not be like the philosophers who solved the logical Paradox of the Liar with a theory of types and levels of discourse, and succeed in understanding and analysing a habitual liar, if we, too, could get the level – in this case, the emotional level – right? My view, even though, as I discuss later, our fears of a fundamental antagonism between a liar and a psychoanalysis are justified and the transference problems are grave, is that we can.
Because it presents itself in speech, lying might seem to be a relatively mature pathology. Analytic investigation reveals, however, that the fundamental problem the habitual liar is bringing to analysis by lying is primitive, and primarily involves not the truth and falsity of propositions, but the truth and falsity of his objects – their genuineness or deceitfulness. I shall illustrate my thesis with an account of the beginning of the analysis of M. M is a liar in identification with a lying object. His lying is linked to his deep doubts about communications which he fears must overwhelm him and his objects and express lies rather than truth.
At the preliminary interview M was quietly charming. He seemed not to want to talk about himself other than to say that he hoped he might perhaps, in the future, be able to train as a psychoanalyst. He accepted politely the practical terms, session times, fees, analytic holidays and date of starting. As the interview was drawing to its close, he asked in a light voice with a gesture indicating the room and the neighbourhood beyond: ‘Are there communications here?’ Consciously he meant: ‘Are there buses, trains, etc.?’, but when I looked at his face I saw that in place of the polite young man there now stood someone almost in a panic about whether communication was going to be possible between him and me.
The first sessions with M were a shock. The turmoil was a total contrast to the smoothness of the preliminary interview. M gave me fast and equivocal talk, and strained silences, both of which projected into me an almost overwhelming turmoil which lasted in and between sessions. M himself was bewildered by the effect of the analysis on him and terrified of his effect on me, as his emotional state oscillated between intense anxiety and intense excitement. I shall describe first his anxiety, which he communicated by his behaviour, his words and, above all, at a preverbal level by projections which were vivid and specific. The turmoil took the form of a ceaseless churning round and round of M's communications, with painful attendant uncertainty as to their meaning and also acute feelings of insecurity and anxiety. In among M's ambiguous talk were a few clear desperate sentences that confirmed what he was communicating to me by projective identification. He said, for example, ‘It goes on revolving’, ‘You can't like it’, ‘You won't believe my intensities’.
As opportunity arose, I spoke to him on the following lines. I spoke about his panic and bewilderment that had come with the start of the analysis and how it made him doubt that this treatment was good for him. I spoke about his need to get his intense feelings into me, so I would know them, and his belief that I couldn't like it and that he was damaging me by doing so. I also spoke about his fear that I would be overwhelmed by his feelings and would pour them out back into him, so that he and I would go on revolving without rest or relief.
With the arrival of each session I would find myself approaching M hopefully, willingly and anxiously, and feeling I was trying not to show my anxiety. From this continuing and consistent countertransference experience and many incidents in M's history, which he told me later, I am convinced that M's mother was a woman who wished to hold, but who lacked the capacity to hold, M's intense projections. She would have tried to conceal her agitation and present a good front to her child, who had not, however, been deceived—he had been aware of the contrast between her outer appearance and her inner reality. I said to M that he was bringing to the analysis what was still inside him from childhood—a child who felt his mother was agitated with him, and her agitation made him panic, exactly in the way that the analysis was now affecting him. I said, too, that he knew we were wrong together, but he thought that I, as mother, kept pretending even to myself that we were not wrong. Though I did not call it so, as his lying was not yet in the analysis, I was already in the transference M’s primary lying object, the mother who cannot truly mother.
Every session M scrutinised me intensely, my face, clothes, voice and words. In the third week he brought a dream. He was inside a convent. He had his eye close to the small hole in the turning thing there is on convent doors. I interpreted his dream as his picture of his relationship to me as mother. He both feels inside and has his eye on a hole, which means to him no father is there, watching me churn round and round, which I linked to the way he was actually watching me closely in every session, to see through my external appearance to know whether or not I was internally overwhelmed by his intense onslaught. M was a difficult patient. His communications were evasive and obscure and he was anxious, excited and labile of mood. Sometimes he had fits of laughter, which collapsed into long silences, or changed into sly, mocking attacks. If he thought I said too much, he felt he had overwhelmed me and made me pour out through a hole, so confirming his fear that I was unable to contain 'his intensities', as he called them; if he thought I was too silent, it became his conviction that I had stopped trying or had gone dead. In either case, I became, in another of his phrases, 'only a pretension' that made him despair. His fear that he had only a 'pretension' and not a real analyst was the emergence in the transference of his anxiety that his primal object was not a genuine or true one.
The nature of M’s primal object relations was clarified further when his lying emerged openly in the analysis. This it did in the seventh week when he asked me to change his Thursday time a fortnight away, saying his cousin was arriving from abroad and he wished to meet her plane. A few sessions later he repeated his request, saying the woman was coming to England for an abortion. She was the sister of an old university friend, who knew no one here and he needed to meet and assist her. I noticed 'the cousin' had become 'the sister of an old university friend' (but, I thought, a cousin could be the sister of an old university friend) and I also suddenly remembered that, in the first week of his analysis, I had changed the Thursday time agreed at the interview for a different hour. I suggested that his wanting a time change might have to do with my having asked him in the first week of the analysis to change his Thursday time. M was silent. The next day he repeated his request in a threatening tone, adding matter-of-factly: ‘The woman who wants an abortion has only one leg and people won't think it nice that a one-legged woman comes to London for an abortion’. He proceeded with laughter to do correct calculations of driving times to and from London Airport. By then I was bewildered. Was there a cousin really? Was it all lies? Was it a confusing mixture of phantasy and reality?
As the days went by, the time change grew into a fraught issue. He insisted he would stop coming if I did not change his time. I felt pressured and manipulated as well as confused. I did not change his time. I continued to interpret that he had an image of me changing his time in the first week of the analysis and he was being a sort of caricature of that image. He wanted me now to have his experience. I said he suspected it was a lie that I ‘needed’, as I had said, to change his time; he suspected I liked bewildering and hurting him by giving him a time and then throwing him out of it, so to say, aborting him. He had felt forced to accept my change then, just as he was trying to force me now. I also said to him that my impression was that he was so entirely now the one demanding a time change that it did not any more exist for him that it was he who had originally suffered a change of time from me. At this stage I did not know what he told me later, that he had had in the first few weeks of his life a difficult change from being fed at the breast to being bottle-fed. This fact of his history gives, I think, a deep resonance to the first analytic time change.
On the day of the requested time change, M did not come. I never found out whether a cousin or a friend's sister had in reality been arriving, and I still had not realized the central importance of his lying. M had now been in analysis for two months and I was focusing on another quality of his verbal communications—their ambiguousness, which was multiple in function. The ambiguousness projected doubts and confusion into me, made me feel uncertain and uncomprehending of what he meant, a state of mind, I interpreted to him, which was his own condition with his object, which he wanted me to suffer and know over and over again. He also wished to make it hard for me to understand him; even as he gave me material so that I could understand him, he also offered me the wrong material so I could misunderstand him, and by his manner of often sneering and laughing he meant to provoke attacking-sounding interpretations from me. Hostility, hope, fear and defence were highly condensed. He hoped I would understand him, he feared a wrong response to his communications, and he defended himself hostilely and masochistically by inviting it.
He had himself formulated his central anxiety in the preliminary interview: ‘Are there communications?’ By the third month he was able to express his anxiety in a clear dream.
‘I was feeding two pigs with some stuff; some of the stuff was food, some of it was rubbish. The pigs didn't know the difference between the real food and the rubbish. They ate everything. Then a black dog came in and, in the dream, I had an even bigger black thing to deal with the dog’.
I started interpreting his dream by saying: ‘The two pigs you feed stand for me, whom you feed with your talk. In this dream you are bringing your fear that I won't know the difference between your real communications and the other stuff, the rubbish’.
M remained silent for a long time. When he spoke, he said with real feeling – and I could tell he meant it – ‘I am astonished. I never thought that you would interpret the pigs as yourself’. I said: ‘The fact that I did means to you that I am unlike the pigs in your dream who swallow everything. At this moment you think that I can discriminate the real from the rubbish, which is important to you’.
It was an important moment. It was M's first recognition of me, his new analyst, as different from figures which ‘swallow everything’ and it was from this point on, when M thought I might be an object who could understand him, that his lying became flagrant. He now assailed me with blatant lies, which threw into doubt such ‘facts’ of his history and current life as he had so far told.
His lies were delivered tauntingly to provoke me to get out of control, call him a liar and moralize at him. I had to struggle hard to hold an analytic stance and keep my focus on the experiences received as he lied to me. I interpreted that he was transmitting to me his experiences of deception, linking his lies with what had already been established in the analysis – and which we continued to see – his disappointment and suffering with objects that purport to hold him but instead agitate and confuse him, that purport to discriminate, but instead ‘swallow everything’. I said that he felt these were all lying objects. M made me feel both deceived and in doubt about whether I was being deceived; at times I was so confused that analytic work was impossible, and I was made impotent. I did not (I discuss it later) at this stage try to analyse the hatred he was expressing in this way. I continued to talk to him about his intolerable feelings of doubt, threatening confusion and helplessness he was communicating to me.
M’s flagrant lying continued for some months. Even the address and telephone number he had given me turned out to be false. On checking the street directory I found there was no such street and the telephone number, too, was of an impossible combination. When I told him, he ignored my remarks for many sessions. Then one day he snarled, ‘I don't want to be rung up and told there is no session’, revealing, as I said, his mistrust, his conviction that I did not want him. I also told him that I wanted his correct address and telephone number. He ignored my request and went on lying, watching closely how I responded, testing me to see if I could endure his continuing so blatantly not to conform to what I must want. Finally, in the eighth month, he announced through gritted teeth: ‘Here is the true address and telephone number. I made the effort. I did it for you’.
M’s material shows the primitive nature and the pervasiveness of a liar’s predicament. His lie starts at the preliminary interview with his polite false facade to charm the prospective analyst, whom he suspects is a fraud who will reject him. He suspects and fears that, like his internalized primary object, the analyst will pretend, but will not be able honestly to know or bear the relationship he will make with her. Once the analysis starts, M lies with excitement (which I have yet to consider) and externalizes from his inner world his primary object relations. Intensely needy and very anxious, he invades and agitates his object, which receives his intensities and anxieties (it is not an impenetrable wall), but lacks the capacity to modify or contain them. No equilibrium is therefore obtained in M or his object, which tries to mask its inner state by a split between an outer facade and inner turmoil.
On the hypothesis (Klein, 1952); (Bion, 1962) that an infant has an innate preconception of a good object, which will feed, clean, warm him, etc., and also receive and transform for the better his communications, that is, understand him, then, if actual experience falls too far short of expectation, the infant may doubt if the object is a true realization of his innate preconception. In my view, M was unsure in this sense that his object, which did not relieve but increased his anxiety, was a true example of its kind. Moreover, he also knew his object to be not true in that it had a false facade. However, M is mostly in some part of himself able to know the facts, and a constant feature of his communication was its mixture of lies and precise information (recall the time change he wanted), i.e. while he experienced me as false for changing his time, he was also capable of knowing there could have been a genuine reason for doing so. In the same way, I think, M was aware that his primary object’s false facade was an attempt at outward composure at least in part out of concern for him – not to agitate him further. His primary object was not in this, and many other ways, a total fraud. That claim was his lie – out of his hatred of a good object, and also in an attempt to get relief from the distress of his doubts, anxieties and guilt by pushing himself into the simplicity and righteousness of a paranoia.
From these several origins, his disappointment with his object's incapacity, his realization of its false, masking facade, his attacks on its good aspects, his own refusals to help and his lies about his object's positive capacities, his object becomes for him a lie, a pretension – almost. Instead of basic trust, M has basic suspicions.
I mentioned before that I did not interpret his hatred in the first months of the analysis, but when, towards the end of the first year, he became less agitated and excited and his churning projection stopped, I began to focus also on that aspect of his lying which expressed his violent hatred. I interpreted his attacks with lies, contradictions, ambiguities on my analytic functioning, his feeling of power and success in getting into my mind and making it muddled and unsure, and his gratification in watching me become incapable of working with him. This was a recapitulation in transference terms of his history. He now told me his mother had been unable to get breast-feeding established with him, and then ‘because of the war’, as he put it, consciously meaning World War II, unconsciously meaning his war against her, she had been unable to find any substitute milk that was properly satisfactory to him. M was at war with me.
He aimed to make a milieu in which I could not analyse him, and what became increasingly prominent was how he met instances of genuine communication and understanding between us with silences which were a refusal to acknowledge when I was good really. M is twice handicapped. His nature is intense in love and hate, but over-hostile; he is invasive; he does not easily tolerate frustration (of waiting and change in particular). And, in addition, the object who nurtured him seems to have been too weak to hold him, and would have increased his intensity, anxiety and excessive use of projection.
In terms of Melanie Klein’s developmental theories, the lying object may be understood as a malformation of the paranoid-schizoid position, when normally an infant polarizes his experiences into good and bad. M lacks good objects, however, and he splits instead between suspect objects and bad objects. M’s problems are near to, though different from, other early pathologies which result from a failure to make a fundamental split between good and bad. For example, a schizophrenic, unlike M, is not uncertain whether the supposed good object is a fraud; he knows it is. He is convinced it lies, e.g. purports to nourish as it poisons, or looks as though it will help but meanwhile tortures.
In that world there are only different sorts of bad objects. M’s lying, I think, throws light on schizophrenic lying. A schizophrenic lies in identification with an object he knows is a lie. However, while a liar like M may temporarily convince himself of his lies, he does not, as in schizoid conditions, habitually sever his mental connexions. He keeps his links to the truth he is lying about, and the hostility of and the damage he is doing by his lies increase his felt fear and guilt. With anxiety running high, with guilt setting in early, and with objects who are able to facilitate little working through of persecutory and depressive feelings, M’s early anxieties about himself and his objects have remained largely unmodified. In his depths he still churns round and round, and it is this nearly intolerable burden of his primary object relations which, once he starts his analysis, he releases into his sessions with doubt and anxiety that communication about these will be possible.
How does a patient like M manage in life? Like his objects he constructs a public facade. He dissociates himself internally from his turmoil and skilfully ‘matches’ (his word) externally what is required of him. Cut off from his depths, his facade is thin and lasts only while relations go smoothly on a superficial level. He soon tends to suspect his object of likewise having a façade, and gets anxious that he is unwanted, is being criticized, etc. Projections of acute anxiety begin again and, in phantasy, he invades his object to scrutinize its interior and control it to take what he needs from it. The whole cycle of irresolvable, over-involved object relations has begun again, based on a massive projective identification with a lying object in which M becomes the habitual liar who is chronically hiding behind and meeting his objects, not with communications, but with lies. However, since he is further destroying his ego and his dubious objects by his lies, he would disintegrate under increasing fear and guilt were it not for the gratification and excitement he generates by his lies.
To this excitement, evident in his analysis from the beginning, I now want to turn. M used the lie to achieve an erotization of his object relations, which in omnipotent phantasy were then changed into a sadomasochistic partnership. Committing the outrage of lying in a psychoanalysis and forcing his analyst to be his partner made him enormously excited. The excitement buoyed him up and lifted him out of the reach of fear and guilt. Gradually, however, he would start to feel identified with his suffering object and then his need for masochistic gratification to relieve and evade his guilt would become imperative. His lying, because it violated his own instinct for truth, would then give him masochistic satisfaction. Also, he would lie to taunt me to call him a liar, eject him from his analysis, etc., and so make me become the sadist. M was often lost in masochistic phantasies during his sessions and he avidly sought to hear interpretations as sadistic beatings. This was the reason why I did not interpret his hatred in the initial stages of the analysis. His fear of a murderous superego made him instantly twist away from my one or two attempts to speak about his hatred and misunderstand what I had said as a concrete gratification of his masochism. I am not sure, though, that I was right to delay; not interpreting the hatred he was expressing with his lying made him fear I would not, or could not, recognize it, and increased also his conviction of my masochism.
For the moment I want to leave M and discuss, though in less detail, another patient, L. The following dream of L’s shows how an exciting sado-masochism can be used to evade and change the liar's threatening constellation.
L dreamt he went on holiday with a friend. They were up on a high hill, overlooking a valley, and the entire scene was glitteringly beautiful. The point of the holiday was to watch a veteran car go past in the valley below. In the dream, L left the friend and was strolling with someone else, who was vague in the dream, along a special walkway high up on top of the hill overlooking the valley, waiting to see the car go past.
L is another habitual liar, though in a different style from M. L was truthful about matters of address, telephone number, history, even about his fraudulent business and personal relations, until he got to their emotional implications, when he would speak in a welter of misleading statements and bare lies, misregistering what he was saying. In the sessions before the dream reported above, L had been excited and also very anxious. His communications, in which the name of a crooked, risky financial associate occurred, were contradictory and full of lies. I knew he was troubled, but I could not understand him. Was a dangerous situation impending or not?
His dream is his picture of the transference at this time. He is high up on the hill with the excitement of watching me, the veteran car down below, going past what is happening to him. In the dreams he leaves his friend, who stands, I think, for his anxious self whom he abandons, and takes someone else (vague in the dream) who, I think, represents his analyst, on a ‘walkway’ with him – exactly as his contradictory lying material had been taking us away from his real situation of anxiety. The point, the excitement, the whole beauty is to watch his analyst go past.
This was his history exactly. L really had been ignored emotionally by his parents. For instance, he was brutally bullied with visible effects on his health at his first boarding school, but his parents took no action. He was rescued by the school doctor insisting they withdraw him from that school. His parents had, I think, failed him earlier by choosing to ignore his emotional difficulties as an infant and young child.
L’s dream revealed how the despairing situation of parents who see but go past his suffering is compounded by his own ‘walkway’ from his suffering self (in the holidays, for instance, he had lied to them about events at the school) and how this doubly ugly situation is turned into a perversely beautiful scene of exciting sadistic triumph, as he manipulates them with lies and watches and waits for their going past – exactly as he was doing with me.
With L, not registering implications honestly was the primal lie. He gave me countless instances, like recounting a defrauding business stratagem and then a moment or two later describing himself as taking honest care of his shareholders, or describing a co-director as cold, hostile to him, not to be trusted, and then adding that he knew he could rely on his warm friendship. He often complained that not in one of his company offices was there a reliable word-processor! His own word-processing failed to register the truth reliably; under any pressure he fibbed, ‘glossed’, lied, and he feared I, too, spoke to him in the same way. The foundation of my work with L, as it had been with M, was to try to analyse the ramifications of his relations to the primal lying object, in L’s case an outwardly benign-seeming object which was inwardly uncaring, which does and says anything to evade pain or trouble. L’s object is different from M’s, which is weak, lacks the capacity to modify anxiety and dissembles its own anxieties. L’s object is nearer to the criminal. It is brutal. It registers, but ignores and refuses the pain and trouble of what it has registered.
For L and M their habitual lying has the meaning of an omnipotent tongue or penis,
which opens their objects to their entry and control and so ‘solves’ their anxieties and sufferings with a sado-masochistic excitement. However, their lying tends to get out of their control and take control of them. M’s conduct and speech at the start of analysis was infested with lies; he almost could not speak the truth. L came into analysis because, in a state of mounting excitement, he could not stop fraudulently overreaching himself and saw himself heading for a mental and financial crash.
L was familiar with anxiety states which drove him to start new ‘schemes’. He was grim and depressed in the session following the one in which I, and I think he, had understood his dream of waiting to see the veteran car go past as his waiting in triumph for me to go past his anxiety. He said he had his familiar feeling of foreboding and he knew he wanted to ‘go on a big spending spree’ or ‘start a deal’. He also told another dream:
He dreamt he had gone up to the top of a tower for a celebratory party. All the press and the TV boys were there. He felt suddenly he must get out of the party and go down to his car below, which he remembered he had parked with its headlights left on.
From L's grim and depressed state it was clear he was already down in the state of the car, which I linked to the veteran car of his previous dream, i.e. the analyst of the day before, now in his inner world, its battery flat, i.e. with no life in it. His dream pictures how when he is high, celebrating his triumph, he remembers his object and must come down to it. Once he is down, he feels totally identified with it, flat and grim, in a state of foreboding. But he does not want to know the connexion between his grim depression and his cruel tactics in the previous day’s session. L ignored the series of interpretations which drew his attention to how there was a veteran car in the previous day's dream and a car in today’s dream, connected their meanings and linked his depression to the emotional events between himself and his analyst. He was already doing a deal with himself, and trying to do one with me, too. He masochistically wants me to leave him to endure on his own his foreboding, his anxiety and guilt. His talk of going on a big spending spree is a lie, too. He never does, as we both know well; he looks for bargains, wheels and deals on the cheap, as he is trying to do between himself and me, to get on a sadistic high again – with M masochism was predominant, with L sadism predominated – without registering the true emotional price to himself and his objects of cruelly misleading communications.
The liar’s perversion of communication involves a further lie. The lie is that the lying scene – in the terms of L’s dream of being high on the hill watching the veteran car go past – is ‘glitteringly beautiful’. This lie about lying is at the centre of the deterioration of his character. Like all ‘bad character’ liars, L has a narcissistic idealization of its seductive destructiveness. L became narcissistically enraged, and beneath that terrified, at any exposure of his idealization of lying, which was represented in his material by glitteringly beautiful scenes, ‘high tech’ furnishing, seductive eastern dancers, etc., and for a long time in the analysis he instantly walked out emotionally on such exposure, often with acting out against the analysis by publicly spreading lies about it. It must be added that in the analyses of both M and L it emerged that this idealization was also a confused attempt to express their love for their primal lying objects by idealizing their harmfulness.
The pathology of the type of liar I have considered, with its triad of a deficient primal object, a strong destructive instinct in the patient and a general perverse overlay, begins to look more familiar. His ‘bad character’ is the coalescence of his identification with lying objects and his own destructive impulses. He exhibits a particular form of the narcissistic organization defined and studied by Rosenfeld (1971) in which the liar is the idealized destructive self which dominates the personality. His lying is a character perversion and a perversion of communication between people. It serves functions for the personality as described by, for example, Gillespie (1940) and Glasser (1979), affecting the analysis as described by Joseph (1981). (I leave on one side the problem of the relation between actual and character perversion.)
Can a liar be psychoanalysed? I return now to discuss this question in the light of the paper. First of all, to state the difference between forms of untruth familiar to psychoanalysis, like denial, disavowal, etc., and the lie. A denial, etc., removes a patient from contact with the truth and cuts him off from that truth in proportion to the omnipotence of his denial. In contrast, because a liar knows he lies, his lies are not cut off from the truth. While a denial, a disavowal, etc., expresses a psychic need not to know the truth, a lie is an acceptance of, and a perverse use of, a falsehood. I think this is the origin of what we feared initially, that there is a deep antagonism of perspective between a liar and a psychoanalyst, which must obstruct the forming of a therapeutic alliance and interfere with the analytic work, as indeed proved to be the case with M and L.
Nonetheless, the lying of M and L was the means of communicating urgently the fundamental truth about their early object relations. This, in my view, is paramount, and overrides the dilemmas which confront patient and analyst. The liar has to risk the abandonment of his present psychic structure with an analyst whom, as this paper shows, he will experience as a two-faced dissembler. He risks exposure to unpropitious truths about himself and his objects, and contact with enormous anxiety and guilt, as Bion (1970) and Langs (1980) have shown. However, even as the analytic process is instituted it is also undermined by the lying. It damages the analyst’s internal setting.
Not only did M and L make me at times incapable of working by depriving me of needed knowledge, more seriously, they succeeded in getting me to take lies as truth, so that I actually became a partner in a perversion of the analytic relationship, unwittingly enacting it with them. They could watch how I was thinking what they said was true when it was not, and how they had corrupted me to respond with what in effect were lies, all of which heightened their excitement and sense of omnipotence. They then internalized a corrupted container, and, in identification, became less able to differentiate or contain their own states of mind, and their anxiety was further heightened by the hostility of their superego at their perverse successes. Moreover, since the lie is perverting communication between patient and analyst, the habitual liar is constantly undermining his belief in the analyst's words and destroying his essential tool, his own words (O'Shaughnessy, 1983), for working through and changing.
The clash of basic perspective, the extreme anxieties of the patient which are behind this clash, the patient’s actual intrusion into, and change of, the analyst's inner world to make the analyst act ‘in’ with him as a lying partner, and the patient's continual assault on words as truth bearers, all interfere with the analytic process. However, I think there is one thing in the liar’s favour: since he knows he lies, he knows also there could be truthful object relations. Both M and L were deeply touched by, and appreciative of, the experience of being analytically understood on a level they had lacked and needed. This diminished their anxiety and their lying lessened. A liar will never stop lying entirely, since it is his basic defence and he will always resort to it. The extent to which a liar can change – a subject which needs a paper to itself – will vary with each patient’s psychic constellation. If the fundamental level of the lie can be understood, that a liar lies in identification with a lying object, and, at the same time, if the patient's hostile lying, his different perspective in regard to truth and also his perverse excitement at using the lie to communicate with his analyst can be analysed in all their concreteness, I am sure at least of this: a genuine analytic process can be set in train.
At first glance a liar is an inauspicious patient for a psychoanalysis, a treatment based on truthfulness. Because it presents in speech, lying may seem a mature difficulty, but analysis reveals that it is primitive, linked to the habitual liar’s doubts and anxieties about communication with primary objects which, from several causes, have become for him lying objects. As expected, lying makes for a series of problems which handicap the analytic process. Even so, the paper illustrates clinically the view that if the fundamental level of the lying that emerges in the analysis is addressed by understanding it as the liar's communication that he is a liar in identification with, and acutely anxious about, his lying object – in the transference the analyst – a genuine analytic process can be set in train.
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