Jean-Claude Romand had worked as a medical doctor and researcher for World Health Organisation in Geneva. Like any traditional husband, he would wake up in the morning, and drive all the way from his home in Ferney-Voltaire, France to his WHO office in Geneva. Since the town is located near the border of France, the drive would take Jean-Claude about 30 minutes to get there.
He would spend 18 years of his life working at the organisation until one day, a fire broke out in his family’s house killing his wife (Florence Romand) and his two children (Caroline Romand and Antoine Romand). Jean-Claude was safe but he was in a coma. The police tried to contact his parents but their phone calls were unanswered.
While he was in a coma, the police department called his office to deliver this sad news and probably tried to inform the office why he might be missing from work. The personnel that the police talked to said that they had no worker by that name. This person had never worked with WHO. Wait what? This exposed a web of lies fabricated by Jean-Claude throughout his life.
When I first heard of this case, my mind just blew. I don’t think I’m hyperbolizing when I say that he lived his life primarily on lies. He indeed went to medical school in France to become a doctor. But he never finished. He told his parents and Florence that he graduated from the school when in truth, he kept repeating his second year for 12 years! The school dismissed him after he failed to come to a hearing regarding his performance.
His wife, Florence? Yeah, she didn’t like him. To her, he’s just like an annoying brother who kept pestering her to be in a relationship with her. In addition, she thought that he was weird. Spoiler alert: they’re cousins. Well, a distant cousin but not too distant as they were still able to see each other during holidays etc. Despite this, Jean-Claude played the long-term game and kept pursuing her until one day Florence just stopped denying him and they got into a relationship. But that didn’t last long because Florence just didn’t like him in the first place. So what did he do? He told everyone that he had cancer. Florence felt sorry for him, I guess, so she took him back and they got married and went on having children of their own.
Remember that part where I told you he went to work every morning? Yeah, he did go to the WHO office every morning after dropping his children at school. Parked his car in the compound and proceeded to take a visitor’s pass and headed on to the cafeteria, library or conference room. He would pick up printed papers that were left behind by staff and put them in the car or his home as a sign that he did indeed go to work at the organisation. One time, he managed to sneak up to an office, took a photo and showed it to his parents. He took lots of other stuff too like WHO pens and papers— anything that had the organisation’s logo on them. Once he had had enough evidence, he didn’t go there as frequently anymore. Instead, he spent his time in a café to catch up on news related to the medical field.
Liar, liar pants on fire, his whole lies were brought to light when investigators realised that his wife was already dead before the fire incident. He killed his parents, yeah both of them, and his children. Upon investigation, they found that not only that he go on a killing spree, but he also scammed his friends and family’s money telling them that he had invested their money in some sort of investment. Oh, he had a mistress and he scammed and almost killed her too.
This story blew my mind and it got me thinking: how can some people live a life of lies? I mean Jean-Claude managed to get away with it for almost two decades. Frank Abagnale Jr. managed to become a ‘pilot’ and flew over 1,000,000 miles (AKA two years) before he decided to become a ‘doctor’ for a year, an assistant state attorney general for one year and a sociology professor for two semesters. Phew! He got busy. So the first question is…
Why Some People Live A Life Of Self-Deception?
From my reading, there’s no straight answer to this. Bummer, I know but the motives depend on individuals. Generally, according to Dr Cortney Warren in her Tedx Talks, we lie to ourselves because we don’t have enough psychological strength to admit to ourselves the truth and deal with the consequences.
Self-deception starts from within. Combine that with external factors such as upbringing and childhood experiences, one will start to think that it is easier to just create their reality. In Jean-Claude’s and Frank Abagnale’s case, they went to extreme lengths to keep that persona.
Let’s go a bit deeper into psychology and the best reasoning behind telling lies would be self-preservation. We lie to protect ourselves or as Freud calls it, Ego Defense Mechanism. There are three ways involved in self-deception: denial, rationalization, and projection. In denial, we block real-life events from our awareness and we avoid the painful reality that we’re in. We say things such as, “There’s no way I am gay. I’m married and I have children!”. As for rationalisation, we use logic to justify and excuse undesirable feelings or behaviour. “I wouldn’t have beaten you if you had done the laundry”. Lastly, we projected when saying things such as, “I am not a shopaholic, you are” when you are aware that you have spent half of your salary to buy a Chanel handbag. You project when you ascribe your negative behaviour to someone else.
In Triver’s theory, he posited that “we deceive ourselves better to deceive others”. People lie to themselves as a means of survival. Normally, those who believe in their lies, deceive others more effectively. That is why some people can live comfortably in lies. It gives them a better advantage in life. It gives them the upper hand since they, themselves, believe in those deceitful stories. So they tell big lies to get the girl they have been eyeing so that the girl would fall in love with them. You lie in that job interview so that you would land that big paycheck.
Let’s have a look at the bigger picture of why we lie to ourselves. According to multicultural and feminist psychologists, we lie to meet cultural norms. The issue with this is that you indulge in self-deception simply to fit into the society that you are in. Do you wear that dress because you want to? Or do you do it because you are expected to? Do you love your job or do you do it because your parents want you to? Did you get married because you want to spend the rest of your life with him or did you get married just because that’s what people your age do? Lying to meet society’s expectations is a speedway of compromising ourselves. And that’s sad.
To say that Jean-Claude Romand lies to survive or to meet cultural norms is simplistic. In truth, he has the characteristics of a narcissistic and a pathological liar. What I wrote above couldn’t fully describe him but it could help you if you have been lying to yourself.
Why should we care if people tell lies? Firstly, lies hurt. Knowing the fact that you have been lied to just tears people up. Florence, the wife, was lied to by Jean-Claude in his pursuit of her. Well, it’s too bad that the wife would never know that he didn’t have cancer and that he made it all up just so that she would end up with her.
Ultimately, self-deception leads to a lot of regret and pain. These emotional pain are the result of your own choices. You wouldn’t want to be an 80-year-old who regrets their mistakes daily. You can’t change your past but you can change your present. So stop lying to yourself and start living with your truth.
Writing this entry hurts me to the core because I have met someone who fabricated her whole life. Upon knowing that I was lied to, I was left speechless but I wanted to see the good in that person so I kept the relationship going until one day, I became too confused between what’s real and what’s not so I cut the ties and moved on with life. But the wound of being lied to… stays.
You can fool someone for a moment, but it is hard to fool someone for long. Time will tell if someone has spoken from the heart or made things up to get what he wanted. Even if he got what he wanted with a momentarily lie, the fact that he lied will stay with him until the day he dies—Haemin Sunim, The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down.