Why do I lie to get attention?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q: I am a 4.0 student at a very good college, and honestly I know in my heart that my life has not been horrible. When I was a toddler, my father says he physically abused me, and when I was three my parents divorced. My mother went through a slew of husbands, most of them nice people, one man not so much, he was abusive to my mother, did drugs, and killed my dog in front of me, but apart from hearing the fighting and being scared, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. This man and my mother had a child when I was 12, and from that time on, I mostly took care of her, while my mom was gone working for days away, and eventually I was decided to home school so that I would be home to care for her while my mom would leave for almost full weeks at a time. When I was 15, my mother finally snapped, and sent me and my half-sister to live with my biological father. He is a wonderful man now, and believes in integrity and honesty. I know that there are parts of my childhood that could have been better, but I always had a roof over my head, and food to eat, and I still managed to get clothes and toys and everything I could really want…..So why is it that when I first meet someone I have to tell them about my mother kicking me out at 15, and why do I say it in a way that makes them believe we lived on the street for long periods of time? Why is it that when I get to know someone for a bit longer I tell them that my step-father traded me to his dealers for drugs? This isn’t true! But I always say it! Why? My step-father did do drugs, and it ruined my mother, but he didn’t sexually abuse me. What’s worse, is that I’m jealous of people who actually have been….like they’re more worthy for being loved and coddled than me because they had more trauma in their past than mine….I always seem to have this need to be the one who’s survived the most…..Why?

A. You asked the “why” question. In therapy, and I am generalizing since there are many forms of therapy, it is very common for clients to ask “why.” They always seem to think that knowing the answer will solve their current problems and quite simply stated, it will not help in the least. You have identified a number of issues and no doubt they related to your childhood. Perhaps it took extreme problems or circumstances on your part as a child to get attention from your mother or other parent. Perhaps, you are attempting to shame your parents and seek sympathy from others. All of my guesses are irrelevant. Your known behavioral problems and the thoughts that underlie them are what need to be dealt with in therapy. Therapy is a corrective process, a way to develop a more appropriate approach to life in general. Find a good therapist. You may need to see several to be able to find the best one. Interview 10-20 on the phone, see who seems the kindest, the most knowledgeable and the one who is the easiest to talk with. Narrow your list and then make an appointment with three or four and finally make your choice. A good therapist will literally save your life. There are many forms of “suicide” that allow one to go on breathing while living a life without direction or fulfillment or meaning. To anyone reading this answer, never underestimate the power of counseling if done by a talented individual. Degrees, framed nicely and covering every bare inch of space on a large wall, rarely correlate with the “talent” that I speak of.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Apr 2007

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2007). Why do I lie to get attention?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/04/02/why-do-i-lie-to-get-attention/

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