A Million Little Pieces Of Deception
I have followed with great curiosity the conflict arising from James Frey's best selling memoirs. Millions have read his alarming, in-your-face account of years of substance abuse, supposed recklessness, intimidating behavior towards authority, and other antisocial behavior. It is a story filled with adventure, excitement and raw feeling. By appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show, James was able to use that forum to catapult his book to a best selling nonfiction story.
Memoirs are a non-fiction account about one's life story. There is no room for inaccuracies, or embellishments in an author's memoirs. We tell our story as it is, not the way we want others to perceive us. We do not fabricate information and details of events to make our memoirs more enticing to our reading audience. Most authors of non-fictional literature have gone to great lengths to verify the authenticity of their facts. That is the nature of non-fiction writing. However, James Frey failed to write his account in an accurate, factual manner. So why didn't James do it?
People often embellish their life stories as a means of elevating their sense of self. Children sometimes tell 'stories' as a way of gaining approval from their peers. Adults also exaggerate aspects of their life as a way of casting themselves in a better light. We want to be noticed, even if it means for some of us that we are willing to distort the truth regarding our life experiences.
Often people glamorize their history (particularly those who have a pathology of lying), as a way of gaining attention. They may portray themselves as 'thugs' in order to create notoriety. Often, so called 'conduct disordered' individuals, under the guise of pretending to be remorseful, will actually use the media and other forums to depict their history of villainous behavior. In reality, they are nothing more than spoiled brats trying to gain attention.
One of the best ways to detect a 'wannabe criminal' is to listen to them converse in great specificity about the dramatic dealings of their unruly behavior. At times, what is stated by these individuals is misguided nonsense aimed at alarming others and creating a climate of sympathy. It is a trick, a 'con-job' played out to gain a reputation as the 'bad boy'. It is the nature of the player's pathology to do this.
The pattern of manipulation and deceit obviously works. Oprah Winfrey hooked right into it. She minimized and excused the fabrications that permeated James Frey's work. She gave him exactly what he desired and needed — the continuation of an audience that would bolster his ego and provide publicity for his memoir. It is never a wise thing to enable an individual who fakes aspects of his life story.
Those who have quit drinking and drugging are admirable, but it is important to be keenly aware of the motives and intent of those in recovery. Those who have been involved in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings know what I mean. AA members can spot those who are truly remorseful versus those who use the meetings as a launching pad for boasting about the minutiae of their life before sobriety. Those who have experienced alcoholic behavior first-hand can detect those who are truly remorseful from those who are using their story to posture. Those who frolic and drink a lot, i.e. teenagers, may exaggerate their symptoms of substance abuse and then boast about their ability to 'go it alone' without support after inpatient treatment.
Good journalism requires honesty, integrity and accuracy. Healthy personal behavior requires the same. It has become a sad characteristic of our culture that we often let people dupe us and then ignore the inappropriate behavior of those doing it. Instead of shutting these individuals down, many of us continue to give license to their manipulative and deceitful behavior. Why am I not surprised?
James P. Krehbiel is a licensed professional counselor and nationally certified cognitive-behavioral therapist in private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona. He can be reached at (480) 664-6665 or at krehbielcounseling.com.