| Off the Couch |

Truth or Consequences

“Yonatan, this is perhaps the most therapeutic moment you’ve had in your entire life”


Yonatan Levi had been implicated in several thefts at his Jerusalem yeshivah, and after showing up an hour and a half late to our appointment, he “borrowed” an iced tea from my office fridge. We’d booked an appointment for the following morning, but my suspicion of antisocial personality disorder made me wary of how much he could really be helped.  PART II


It was 9:25 a.m., and Yonatan was late for his appointment.

Really only ten minutes late, but after yesterday’s encounter, it was clear he wasn’t taking things seriously or being considerate of my schedule.

It was 9:37 when he rolled in nonchalantly 22 minutes late and handed me an iced tea with a charming smile on his face.

“I know you think I took this from your office yesterday, but I didn’t,” he said with as sincere a look as I’d ever seen.

I refused to take the bottle from his hand.

“You aren’t going to accept this from me, Dr. Freedman? You’re the one who asked for it.”

“Yonatan, I don’t want any charity from you, and I don’t need any gifts. If you didn’t steal an iced tea from my fridge yesterday then I’m not going to coerce you into replacing it,” I said flatly.

“Well, I definitely didn’t steal anything from you, but I also don’t want you hating me before we’ve even properly met, so I want to put it in your fridge if you’ll let me.”

I identified the crocodile tears welling up in his eyes, but to me it seemed like a practiced routine, as there was no other change in his body language.

“Yonatan, I don’t want you to put anything in my fridge unless you’re replacing something you took,” I reiterated clearly.

“Well, I meant I’ll just put it there so we can move on already,” he answered as he theatrically wiped away his tears and walked over to the kitchenette to replace what he’d stolen the day before. “But I didn’t steal it.”

“You’re lying again,” I pressed him as he walked back from the fridge and stood opposite me in the waiting room.

“Sheesh, can we just finish the interrogation already and start therapy or whatever?” He laughed nervously.

“Yonatan, this is perhaps the most therapeutic moment you’ve had in your entire life.”

“Definitely not, and I don’t even know what you’re talking about. And why do you even care about a stupid iced tea?”

“I don’t care about the iced tea, Yonatan. I care about helping you figure out your life. You know, if you took a beer out of the wrong guy’s fridge in yeshivah, you could get clobbered.”

“I know how to defend myself, Dr. Freedman,” he replied sharply. “Now, are we doing therapy or whatever? Anything else you want to grill me on? Can we go into the office and get started already?”

I bided my time, cracking my knuckles as I leaned comfortably against the door frame.

“Yonatan, if you really wanted to meet with me, you would have shown up on time for your appointment.”

“Well, I tried but I got lost,” he began.

“No, you didn’t.”

“I did! I mean, I forgot the address.”

“Between yesterday and today, you forgot the address. You’re lying again, Yonatan.”

Yonatan stuttered as he tried to cover his tracks. “I mean, I got a bit lost due to the terrible traffic.”

“There was no traffic this morning. I came right by your yeshivah on my way in today. Plus, it’s only a ten-minute walk, and the sun is shining. Traffic had nothing to do with it.”

He took a deep breath. There wasn’t escaping any of this.

“Lying is always harder than telling the truth, Yonatan.”

“Dr. Freedman, what can I say? You got me.”

Did he really feel remorse for that string of lies? I wasn’t sure. People with antisocial personality disorder generally disregard right and wrong, lie and deceive persistently in order to exploit others, and turn on their charm and wit to manipulate people for their own personal gain or pleasure. And because they’re often so charming, it’s hard to tell if they’re lying or telling the truth.

And the longer these behaviors are entrenched, the harder it is to help.

But now, I watched as Yonatan’s fragile ego melted in front of my eyes as he slid into a shapeless, sobbing pile of misery on the chair in my waiting room. These tears were real ones, and it was time for some straight talk.

I wondered how long this behavior had been going on, how ingrained in him it was, what the underlying causes were — was he traumatized, neglected, or abandoned as a child? — and whether other family members displayed these same behaviors. There’s always a better chance of healing if pinpointed and dealt with early, and with treatment targeting problematic behaviors and thought patterns, some antisocials are able to better understand how their actions affect others and even come around to healthy relationships.

“You know, Yonatan, it’s fascinating to watch little kids lie for the first time. That sneaky developmental milestone that occurs somewhere between three and six is an interesting mix of horrifying and cute.”

I tossed him a box of tissues. Real tears always create a real runny nose.

“Lying is a great idea when it works, because it instantly solves all of your problems,” I said. “Late for a meeting? My car broke down. Can’t pay off a debt? My banker promised to make the transfer last week. Lying is brilliant and gets you out of trouble until it goes terribly wrong. In many ways it’s sort of like a drug: great for short-term relief but awful in the long run. That’s because it’s impossible to keep your story straight when you’re busy covering for yourself in lies. Did I tell him I was out of the country on a business trip or did I say that I was at a funeral? When you’re caught in a web of lies, it becomes progressively tougher to remember how you got yourself into this mess and infinitely more difficult to extract yourself.

“On the other hand,” I pressed on, “honesty is actually easy, even though it sometimes feels so threatening and overwhelming. Just say what happened. You’ll never have to make convoluted excuses for yourself, and people will respect you for it. Most importantly, you’ll be able to respect yourself. Sure, it’s a pain to own up to your shortcomings, but you’ll be building a palace of truth, something that’ll never come crashing down.

“Rabbi Dr. Twerski a”h once told me that lying is the only sin the Torah commands us to distance ourselves from, to make sure not even to get into a place where you could set yourself up to be untrue. Why is that? Perhaps it’s because one can never be successful with the rotten core that lying created inside your heart.”

Yonatan finally looked up at me with a real face — one that suggested he knew it was time to change things around but had no idea how to do it.

“So, am I doomed to being like this, or is there a way to fix me?” he asked, and this time I was pretty sure he wasn’t being manipulative.

I clued him in. “You know Yonatan, it’s never too late to turn things around, but you’ve really got to want it, to decide that there’s a better way of living out there. It feels pretty scary, but your friends and family will be infinitely more forgiving when you come clean, as opposed to catching you in the act of trying to fool them. It might hurt to tell folks you’ve duped them, but they’ll forgive you if you’re sincere. And as my rock-climbing teacher always taught us: It’s not how far you fall, it’s how high you bounce.”

We set a time to meet the following week. I still didn’t know much about his family or what brought a talented kid into this downward spiral, but after today’s breakthrough, I had cautiously optimistic expectations.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 903)

Oops! We could not locate your form.