How To Recognize Pathological Lying

Updated September 04, 2018

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Everyone lies. Sometimes, we lie to spare someone's feelings. When your best friend asks if you like her haircut, you may assure her that it's beautiful even if you think it's the worst haircut you've ever seen. Other times, we will lie to avoid difficult situations. When your boss asks you to work all weekend for a co-worker who failed to meet scheduled deadlines, you stoically say that you are happy to give up your plans for the good of the team.

When your boss is out of earshot, you vent your resentment about the unreliable co-worker and your frustration at having to give up fifty-yard line tickets for the big game. Avoidance of the truth spans a continuum from little white lies to full-blown prevarications. Pathological and compulsive liars are at the end of the fabrication spectrum.

Pathological liar disorder is a psychiatric condition where people lie and use other people to get what they want. The clinical name for this disorder is pseudologia fantastica. There is inconclusive research which indicates that psychological lying may be a neurological disorder. According to SteadyHealth online ( https://ic.steadyhealth.com/pathological-liar-vs-compulsive-liar.), pathological lying can be a stand-alone problem or a symptom of other disorders including psychopathy, narcissistic, and histrionic personality disorders.

There is widespread disagreement among experts about whether pathological lying itself is a true mental disorder. The ambiguity about the cause of pathological lying makes the disorder extremely hard to treat without professional mental health support. Treatment is compounded by the fact that many pathological liars deny telling falsehoods and refuse treatment.

According to Psychologia (http://psychologia.co/compulsive-and-pathological-liars/), the average age at onset of pathological lying is just 16; the average age when psychological lying is discovered is 22. This disorder is co-occurring among both genders at equal levels. Pathological liars have an average level of intelligence, but this can vary greatly.

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Compulsive Vs. Pathological Liars

Distinguishing between compulsive liars and pathological liars is possible. Pathological liars manipulate and deceive others without guilt or regret. Compulsive liars seem to have little control over their falsehoods which are not directed. Their lies are often without purpose or direction. Pathological liars respond to their agitation, often without situational stimulation. Pathological liars are usually egoistic and have low levels of self-pride. One hallmark of pathological lying is constantly changing stories. Because pathological liars tell so many falsehoods, they often cannot remember their previous lies, so they continually invent new, often contradictory stories.

Do Pathological Liars Believe Their Lies?

Dr. Charles Dike, writing in the Psychiatric Times, explains that pathological liars may "believe their lies to the extent that the belief may be delusional," leading to its alternate name as "wish psychosis;" but he also stated that challenging pathological liars repeatedly can sometimes get them to admit their fabrications. This incongruity indicates that pathological liars may be aware of what they're doing on some level. It is possible that pathological lying may be rooted in a wish to avoid shame. The lies can escalate to a point where the liar finds that believing is easier than confronting reality. Embarrassment and remorse don't often have much effect on the behavior of a true pathological liar. Only a professional can determine if the person lying is a pathological liar and if the lies are delusional or manipulative.

Their reasons for lying are often internal and may be deeply rooted in upbringing and internal values. Pathological liars may tell falsehoods to get attention, feel special, or to elevate their self-esteem. They often are unaware that others know they are lying and may not care if they are believed. Many tell lies that are grandiose and often unbelievable. They are extremely sensitive about the subject of lying and will become hostile and defensive if challenged. For those living with a pathological liar, providing irrefutable proof of the falsehood will not bring a positive resolution to the lying. It is more likely that the liar will become extremely angry and attempt to use more lies to counter any evidence presented.

What's It Like To Have A Pathological Liar In Your Life?

Many pathological liars fabricate elaborate stories to make themselves feel more successful, valuable, and prominent. A pathological liar who claims to have great wealth but works in a menial position may tell self-soothing lies about his success and monetary resources. Pathological liars invent experiences, relationships, and resources.

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To spot a pathological liar, pay attention to their behavior and body language, such as excessive eye contact. They convincingly tell their lies because they are so experienced. Also, listen for any inconsistencies in their stories. Problems like substance abuse, frequent job losses, and a history of unstable relationships are all additional indications someone may be a pathological liar. (https://www.wikihow.com/Spot-a-Pathological-Liar)

Pathological liars do not build stable relationships because all their connections are rooted in untruths. They may have multiple failed marriages and strained relationships with parents, siblings, and children. While many people experience occasional loss and failure, pathological liars have a pattern of failure that is often inconsistent with the grandiose stories they tell about their successful, impressive lives.

Living with a pathological liar is challenging for the liar's significant other, family members, friends, and co-workers. Spouses and significant others never know where they stand in the relationship. Loving a pathological liar means never feeling secure and constantly knowing that your relationship may be built on a foundation of deceit. Over the long term, people who love pathological liars can benefit from mental health care in establishing boundaries for their well-being.

If you suspect that someone you know may be a pathological liar, read the online test found at https://www.promises.com/articles/pathological-liar-test/. This test provides clear indicators for evaluation including:

  1. Does the person chronically lie about small things? People who are pathological liars tend to lie frequently, even about random and insignificant things like what they ate for dinner or which television show they watched last night. Random lying about inconsequential things is a hallmark of pathological liars.
  2. Does the person frequently tell elaborate fabrications that are easily disproved? Pathological liars are known for creating intricate, far-fetched stories that are often unbelievable. They seem to have little regard for credibility and make little effort to develop stories that others might find plausible.
  3. Does the person become hostile and defensive when challenged? Pathological liars get extremely angry when confronted with proof of their falsehoods. They often balk at even innocent questions about their fabrications. Many pathological liars believe their lies and find it more comfortable to lie than tell the truth.
  4. Does the person often contradict themselves, their past, their contacts, and their achievements? Pathological liars tell stories that are often inconsistent with previous lies. They are often not concerned about concealing their inconsistencies. When questioned or confronted, they revert to anger and hostility.
  5. Does the person show remorse for lying? Pathological liars often do not even believe that they are lying and have no remorse for their lies. If they are even aware of their lies, they do not show it. They are more concerned with the internal gratification they feel that the threat of being revealed as untrustworthy.

Time For Mental Health Professional Support

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Sharon married her husband, Eli, after a two-month whirlwind courtship. Shortly after they returned from their honeymoon, she noticed inconsistencies in his stories. He said he was originally from Chicago but later said he was born and raised in Texas. Sharon noticed that he lied about little things like his favorite book or where he ate lunch. She began to question every aspect of their relationship and confronted him with evidence of the inconsistencies. To her horror, he immediately became bellicose. Sharon tried to get him to go to counseling, but he refused. In a desperate effort to save her marriage and her sanity, she went alone.

When dealing with someone who may be a pathological liar, it is important to remember that they gain pleasure from lying. They may not even be aware of the lie because they wrapped up the falsehood in an elaborate fantasy that they created to make themselves feel good. Pathological liars get satisfaction and gratification from lying. A parent, sibling, child, or significant other will never be able to convince them to stop lying. Confronting them with irrefutable proof will only create anger and hostility; it will never lead to an end to the fabrications.

People involved with pathological liars must acknowledge that professional help is necessary to recognize and effectively deal with the liar's deeply rooted issues. No lay person can accurately diagnose the liar or plan an appropriate course of care. The problem will not just go away or diminish over time on its own. Confronting a pathological liar with proof of the prevarications never works. The only hope for a positive outcome when dealing with a potential pathological liar is to engage a mental health therapist like those with BetterHelp (https://www.betterhelp.com/start).


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