Dear Lance, I have to ask you one question: How did you carry out such an elaborate scheme that required you to lie, cheat and bully for more than a decade? I want to know how you looked at yourself in the mirror every day, knowing that you were a personal fraud.
I know I could never do it. I’m honest to a fault. If a sales clerk undercharges me by a dollar, I quickly point out the error. To do otherwise would cause me unconscionable guilt. The deafening beat of Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” would be child’s play compared to my emotional angst.
I don’t hold myself up as anything special. Most people I know are equally scrupulous. We don’t befriend old flames on Facebook. We earnestly care for our clientele. We value our impeccable characters. We feel we’re the ho-hum norm.
I’m fascinated by people who behave otherwise. A whole ballot-full of politicians have made personal fraud their status quo. And Wall Street is equally famous for its appalling ethical lapses. It seems wherever you find beaucoup bucks and fame, common decency gets tossed in the trash.
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The American Psychiatric Association describes a mental disorder that is associated with these nefarious actions. Narcissistic personality disorder describes folks who have a grandiose sense of self-importance and who are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power or brilliance . People with this disorder require excessive admiration. They have a sense of entitlement. They have no qualms exploiting others to get whatever they want. Sufferers lack empathy and are frequently perceived as arrogant.
Of course, none of us is perfect. We’re flawed humans. We struggle to connect life’s dots.
But decades of fraudulent behavior is another level. You illegally propelled yourself to the status of athletic icon, dragging others into the mire as you went. You earned millions of dollars in endorsements, while steadfastly denying any wrongdoing had been done. You vigorously sued — and often won against — anyone who claimed you used drugs. Such behavior is a sickness, not a psychic weakness. It’s a fascinating statement about who you are.
So I’d like to know how you did it. Believe me, I really would.
DO YOU THINK YOU’RE A PERSONAL FRAUD? HERE’S HOW TO BREAK THE CYCLE
Look in the mirror. Do you like who you see? If you’re not proud of the person staring back at you, then it’s time to make some changes ASAP.
Be honest. There’s already enough deception in your life. Cut through the garbage, and be truthful with yourself. Pay special attention to the tendency to lie. That’s a sure sign that you’re a personal fraud.
Ask yourself tough questions. Would you like a person who did what you’re doing? Would you be pleased if your child wanted to follow in your footsteps? If you can’t answer yes to these questions, you’re doing something horribly wrong. Now’s the time to do something about it.
Examine your friends. Study the people you hang out with. Are they upstanding? Can you trust them? Are you pleased to be associated with their beliefs and behaviors? Your friends say a lot about who you are. If they’re liars and cheats, chances are good you are too.
Stop rationalizing what you’re doing. It’s easy to tell yourself, “They deserve to be cheated,” or “Everyone else is doing the same thing.” Recognize how your thoughts are leading you astray. You have the power to change them.
Get control of your life. Not happy with the way things are going? Do something about it! Get into a drug treatment program. End a destructive relationship. Decide what steps you need to take to turn your life around.
Make amends. You may have caused others lots of pain. Perhaps you bilked customers out of their savings. Or spent time in prison after a robbery. You can’t undo what’s happened. But you can say “I’m sorry” to those you’ve harmed.
Begin anew. It’s never too late to start over. No matter what you’ve done, you can reform yourself. Don’t worry about others’ reactions. You can’t control what they think or feel. You can, however, live with integrity and honor. That’s the best any of us can do.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit http://lindalewisgriffith.com