Overcoming The Compulsion: How To Stop Lying

By Danni Peck

Updated April 15, 2019

Reviewer Lauren Fawley

The first thing to understand when talking about pathological lying is what the difference is between compulsive lying and normal behavior. If you're trying to learn how to stop lying it's important to look at your behavior (including thoughts) leading up to telling a lie. A compulsive liar is someone who knows that lying is wrong and they just can't seem to stop themselves from doing it anyway. Compulsive lying is a behavioral pattern in which a person tells falsehoods out of habit, sometimes for no reason at all. Sometimes the person lying does know that it is wrong to tell a lie in a certain situation, but it can feel crucial to that person to tell a lie anyway. Compulsive lying is also known as mythomania and habitual lying.

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What is Compulsive Lying?

If you find yourself telling a friend she looks great even when her new dress is horrible or telling your partner that you love the meal they made even though it's awful, that's not compulsive lying. That's considered a 'white lie.' It's something we tell that doesn't hurt anyone, but also keeps them from getting hurt. These types of lies are generally forgiven and forgivable (even if the person never knows you lied). Lying is also a natural reaction to fear of unacceptance, think a 5-year old who did something she knows mom won't like and says, "it wasn't me". This is also not an example of compulsive lying. Compulsive lying behavior can develop into something habitual out of understandable reasons for "needing to lie" as in the examples above.

If you often find yourself lying more frequently about more things, however, you may be a compulsive liar. Compulsive liars often:

  • Lie to make themselves look better
  • Lie to control someone else
  • Lie to cover up their bad behavior
  • Lie because it's a habit
  • Lose friends, family and jobs when people find out about their lies

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How to Stop Lying

So just how are you going to stop yourself from lying? It's not going to be an easy process, but it's one that you can definitely change with some work. Better Help can find you a professional who won't judge you and will be on your side from day one, so you can start the process of unlearning this behavior. Here are some considerations to think about when making a sincere attempt to change lying:

Make Yourself Accountable

Sometimes it feels tempted to do things if we think we will be able to get away with it or no one else will never know. How will you feel about that decision later though? Be accountable to yourself whenever you speak and make sure you tell the truth, even if no one will find out that you lied. Be honest with yourself about why you are lying as well - what do you hope to accomplish? What is your end game? What is easier in this situation about lying versus telling the truth.

Telling the Truth is Easier

It's actually a whole lot easier, to tell the truth, even though you may be used to lying. Think about all those lies that you've told people. They're exhausting, right? You have to remember everything that you said to this person or that one. If you tell the truth you don't have to struggle to remember how to cover the tracks of lying behavior with more lies. You can just relax. Lies often start as something that may seem small or insignificant but could end up costing you or something else in a way that you didn't intend or foresee. Can you think of anyways that lying has cost you or someone else something that you wouldn't have had to pay?

Omission is the Same as Lying

If you know something meaningful to someone else and don't tell, even when you know you need to, it is the same as lying to someone. If someone is looking for their phone and you know where it is but don't tell them, that is still an example of dishonest behavior. It may not seem as obvious as telling a lie outright, but if you are ready to practice some radical honesty, lies of omission also have to stop.

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The Truth Will Likely Come Out

You may have already experienced this one. If you're not telling the truth, sooner or later some spontaneous will probably happen that outs your lies. Your long-estranged mother who abused you as a child' will walk into the office one day to tell your receptionist all about that great party you threw for her last weekend. Your boyfriend will stop at the soup kitchen you volunteer at every Friday to surprise you and find out you've never been there. Even the smallest lies can unravel quickly, even when no one is intending to prove you wrong.

The Truth May Not Be So Scary

Sometimes people lie to feel a sense of security or to hide something about themselves they don't think others will like or accept. It can be hard to take a leap of faith that people will accept you as you are, not a person that you fabricated or tried to make "better" in some way. Consider giving the people in your life a chance by showing them the truth, and you might be surprised in a great way when you discover that they are capable of digesting it.

Decrease Stress

For some people, lying can be a stress reaction. You may have been in a situation where you felt so overwhelmed that you could not think straight enough to feel like you could come up with a good answer, and the result ended up being lying. Lying serves to take the pressure off in this way. Sometimes, people genuinely do not even realize they are telling lies if lying is an almost automatic reaction to stress. In these types of cases, someone else might be calling to your attention that what you said was untrue. Learning some healthy methods to identify and cope with stress could help this type of liar.

Start Small

It's overwhelming to think you have to change all at once. Start by telling people a few true things every day. Set a goal for yourself. Don't say 'I won't lie today' because that can be very hard to achieve at the beginning of your process to change. Set a specific goal on how many true things you will say that day about yourself. Maybe you start with three or four, but you want to start small and work your way up from there.

Before you know it, you're going to be in the habit of telling the truth, and you'll see the immense positive impact that it has on your relationships and your overall life.

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