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Caring for My Niece after Sister Passed – Compulsive Lying?

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Hi and thank you. I hate to say I’m desperate but I feel like I am. The quick – my sister passed 3 years ago from lung cancer, I have taken sole custody of my 12 year old niece. She was 9 when my sister passed and 7 when my sister was diagnosed. My Niece’s father passed before she was born. I am the sole caregiver. No real family support – we are in Colorado – any family that does exist is in NY.

My question is, my Niece lies a lot. Or so I feel she lies a lot. My sister had made a comment before she passed about her lying/sneakiness so this pre-existed my sister passing.

I really need help with someone head checking me that the amount she lies is more than normal and making sure that I am not overreacting. The damage that is happening is compounding but if I am not realistic – I need to go differently. Although I did take her to a therapist weekly for 6 months and she admitted that she was lying. The therapist never said I was over-reacting but I am not handling as well as I was at that time (which wasn’t great then – so now, I’m getting towards yelling and resentment).

It ebbs and flows I think. Or either she just doesn’t get caught for awhile. But during the worse times – daily. During the mediocre times…seems to be weekly. Over stupid stuff. No, I am careful not to set her up when I know the answer. Sometimes I will ask her about something and we are both standing in the facts…she’ll just lie. Example – She’s not supposed to sleep on the couch downstairs (for 6 months she had been peeing on it repeatedly – never saying anything). I think that it is resolved but I don’t want her sleeping on the couch until I am sure. I walk down there and she is sleeping on the couch. I wake her up and tell her to go to bed. She says OK. I walk away. I come back after 10 minutes and she’s sitting on the couch. I ask her what she is doing. She tells me she’s been reading. I say to her ‘what do you mean you have been reading? I just woke you up.’ She answers defensively ‘No you didn’t. I’ve been reading for the last hour.’ Or I will say to her ‘Let’s not wear the shirts that are 14-16 until you outgrow the 10-12’. She’ll agree. A week later I will find the 14-16 in the wash. I will tell her again ‘Hey, I thought we agreed that you won’t wear the 14-16?’ She answers affirmatively. ‘OK well then put them to the side for now.’ A week later, doing the wash, all the 14-16’s are in the wash. I’ll ask her about it and she will tell me ‘No. I’ve been wearing the 10-12’s.’ I will respond with the obvious. She’ll then respond. ‘I have been wearing the 10-12’s.’Then I will show her all the shirts and I get the next response. ‘Oh, well I thought you meant not to wear the one’s that you just bought.’

And let me say, that every time she lies, there is a repercussion. She has to sit at the kitchen table (not comfortable at all). She has lied so much that she can be there for an entire week – doesn’t change anything. Really she is probably up to sitting at the table for a month but I just can’t do it. But I am being consistent and haven’t given up – but I end up being punished as well.

So tell me whether I am being unreasonable, overbearing in my belief that there isn’t some compulsion here? If I am the problem it is actually easier to solve clearly. But right now, after three years, I am worried that I am not enough and that she shouldn’t be with me. Which is a huge decision to make and one that I am truly struggling with emotionally. So before I start heading down that path…I need someone to tell me whether my expectations are too high. Also, if I shouldn’t be so focused on the lying and issuing punishment – tell me another option that I can do in its place? I’m so lost…scared…

Also, please know, whether this has any bearing at all. She’s a nice kid. She’s not a mean, grumpy type. Likeable. I really feel like the bad person here.

Trust me, I have no problem going to therapy and do. But no one is helping me understand what is reasonable.

Caring for My Niece after Sister Passed – Compulsive Lying?

Answered by on -


It is difficult when the ones we love act in such consistently disappointing ways. You are not overreacting. It is difficult to know what is at the root of it. Rather than therapy I would highly recommend a battery of tests conducted by a qualified psychologist — usually a clinical psychologist. These tests can help determine more exactly what is going on and can lead to a more exact approach to treatment.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. DanProof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Caring for My Niece after Sister Passed – Compulsive Lying?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2018). Caring for My Niece after Sister Passed – Compulsive Lying?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 16 Oct 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
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