Lying: Overcoming The Compulsion And How To Stop Lying

By: Mary Elizabeth Dean

Updated March 02, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Fawley

Pathological and Compulsive Lying

If you seem to be lying frequently-whether on accident or on purpose-it's natural to feel worried. Understanding this habit or compulsion from its root will be helpful in un-learning this behavior. A therapist can help you set achievable goals, form different habits, and live in accordance with your values.

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 but 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's wrong to tell a lie in a certain situation, but it can feel crucial to tell a lie anyway.

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What Is Compulsive Lying?

If you find yourself telling a friend she looks great even when her new dress is not your style, or telling your partner that you love the meal they've cooked, even though it's not the best, that's not compulsive lying. That's considered a 'white lie.' It's something we tell that doesn't hurt anyone, and 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 of a five-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.

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 to stop lying, but it's one that you can engage in with some work. BetterHelp 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 stop lying and make a change for the better:

Make Yourself Accountable. Sometimes it feels tempting to do things if we think we'll be able to get away with it or no one else will ever 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're 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 a whole lot easier to tell the truth, even though you may be used to lying. Think about all those lies you've told people. They're exhausting, right? You must remember everything 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 someone else in a way you didn't intend. Can you think of any ways that lying has cost you or someone else something you wouldn't have had to pay?

Omission Is the Same As Lying. If you fail to disclose important information to someone, even when you know it's necessary, it's the same as lying. 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're ready to practice some radical honesty, lies of omission also must stop.

The Truth Will Likely Come Out. You may have already experienced this one. If you're not telling the truth, sooner or later something unexpected will probably happen that exposes 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 close friend will stop by the soup kitchen you (supposedly) volunteer every Friday and find out you've never been there. The smallest lies can unravel quickly, even when no one is intending to prove you wrong.

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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 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 they can digest it.

Is exaggerating lying?

If you are exaggerating, it technically is a lie because you aren't reporting an accurate description of what happened. Depending on the context, it may or may not have detrimental consequences. The definition of exaggeration is that it's something that is the truth, but with an added lie, so technically, it is a lie.

What is considered a lie?

A lie is something that is not true. It's false, and it's someone intentionally deceiving another person. You can also lie through omission, so, if you don't tell the exact truth to hide something, you'd be telling lies.

How many times a day does someone lie?

That depends on the individual. If you have a compulsive lying problem, you might lie a lot throughout the day. Some people are extreme truth-tellers and do not lie, but others have a severe problem with lying and don't stop doing it. In general, people who do not practice excessive lying do tell white lies sometimes, but they do not lie habitually, and do not have long-term issues with it, nor are they a bad person. White lies are sometimes seen as a way to protect others from hard truths, but they can still harm others.

Is compulsive lying a mental disorder?

Compulsive lying by itself is not a mental disorder. However, it can be a symptom of some mental illnesses such as Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder that require treatment. If you are struggling with compulsive lying, it's essential to find a therapist so that you can work on it and get better.

Why do I lie all the time?

Robert Feldman, a professor of psychological and brain sciences and deputy chancellor at the University of Massachusetts, says "Lying is part and parcel of everyday life." Although virtually most people lie in their everyday life, they do not fall under the same categories of liars. Lies come in different forms such as white lies, compulsive lies, and pathological lies.

So, if you have yourself in a condition where you lie all the time, you may be a pathological liar. Pathological lying is a mental health condition that makes you lie all the time without any specific reason. Normally, people lie from time to time, but when it's all the time, it becomes a medical issue.

If you are a pathological liar, you will be very good at elaborating lies and mentally skilled at convincing people to believe the lies you tell. If you are a pathological liar, it's possible that you have a history of substance abuse, anger, eating disorders, and whatnots.

As a pathological and habitual liar, you will have the conception that parts of the lies you tell are true which consequently will make you unduly exaggerate the vitality of basic happenings.

What happens when you lie too much?

Telling lies may look normal to you based on the fact that it's part of human nature — Some people lie habitually while others lie in an innocuous way to save other people's faces. Factually, what you must know is, when lies are told excessively, things happen.

From empirical studies, Scientific American explained that telling lies has a great influence on people's brains which consequently makes lies easier the more they are told. Nature Neuroscience backed this up claim with a study of the amygdala. It was shown that the more people lie the less the amygdala shows up. This eventually makes them feel less guilty or sometimes not even feel bad about what's being said, or see it as a bad habit.

When you lie a lot, it has serious effects on your relationship. It leads to a lack of trust which may destroy the intimacy between partners— it will be terrible for your long term relationship to be sabotaged by lying. No matter how big or small the problem can be, telling lies shouldn't be the option. If you however find yourself in a habit of lying where you lie compulsively, consider seeking out the help of a therapist, locate a treatment center, or find a support group, — the condition may need special attention that's beyond your power.

How do I stop lying so much?

Your understanding of the negative effects lying may have on your health and relationship should be enough to prompt you to stop lying. No matter how long you might have found yourself in the habit of lying, there are possible steps you can take to stop lying so much. The following are some of these steps to take to deal with your challenge:

  • Know different kinds of lies and their triggers: You should know what you are dealing with to know how to handle it. Try to know if your lies fall under white lies, lies by omission, exaggerations, subtle lies, or complete untruths. Being specific about your lying habit and understanding the triggers that make it hard to stop lying may actually help you quit this behavior. The triggers may be stress after hard work, fear, low self-esteem, etc.
  • Create Boundaries: Many a time, several people lie because they are unable to create boundaries especially in their profession or personal life. If you are too busy or tired to execute a task or go out with your friends, you should be clear about it instead of covering up with deception after seeing it not as a big deal. Although it may be difficult to say no especially to a close friend in order not to hurt such a person's feelings, you should feel free to speak up what you want with complete sincerity. This may help mentally with personal growth.
  • Think about what will really happen if you are truthful: Understanding perfectly that you lies can cause more bad than good to you or to others may help you stop lying. Sometimes, the outcome of telling the truth may not be as bad as you might have assumed. Also, be ready to face your fears when dealing with either big or small
  • Deal the goal of the lie: Every act is expected to have a goal. Sometimes, your lies may tend towards lessening the pain you may cause someone. However, you may end up causing such a person more pain eventually.
  • Don't Justify or Validate your dishonesty: This is an important step to take. It's very tempting to cover one lie with another so as not to be caught lying. You may even make efforts to prove to yourself or others that the lies tell is harmless or is told for a reason. However, you should know that lies drain the energy that runs in a relationship.
  • Be Respectful to Others and Yourself: If you show respect to other people you may stop lying to them. Seek the interest of others and be conscious of the future consequences your lies may have. When you do this, it means you respect them and yourself too.
  • Be sure if you are not a compulsive liar: if you are a compulsive liar, your lies will be uncontrollable, impulsive, unplanned, persistent, and  frequent, and serve no purpose. If your behavior is compulsive, you may be required to seek therapy, or find a support group or other treatment center. It's important to find a therapist when you can't stop lying.
  • Find a Treatment Center or a Support Group: If all your attempts to stop lying fail, it will be great if you find a therapist who can help you overcome it. There are different types of therapy you can take. Finding a support group can also be a very effective way to get help while connecting to others who struggle with the same issues. You may also choose to take advantage of other resources, such as TheHopeLine.

Can a Compulsive Liar Change?

Compulsive lying is a mental health condition that may be a symptom of other conditions such as bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), impulse control issues, substance dependency, eating disorders, and borderline personality and narcissistic personality disorder. It's shown that compulsive liars may find it difficult to stop lying or to change, even if they are in treatment, such as one of the many types of therapy, counseling, or addiction recovery, but it's possible.

If you are a compulsive liar, try to find a therapist. There are different types of therapy available to treat your condition. A therapist can help you change your bad habit and stop it from affecting people around you. It's important that you acknowledge your condition and don't lie to your therapist.

If you are close to someone who thinks it’s okay to continue lying, move on from that relationship, if you need to.  If they continue to tell you lies, reply to them in a manner that expresses how their lies make you feel.  Sometimes, some individuals are forced to find a therapist or attend a support group. These people may feel reluctant about cooperating with the treatment plans or simply just don’t care. But, if you really wish to stop lying, as a compulsive liar, you should start telling the truth and being honest at all times to your therapist and put in the hard work to improve. By being able to practice telling the truth with a therapist, it will be easier to apply it to your personal relationships.

Why do I lie for attention?

If you lie for attention, it implies you are a narcissistic liar. A narcissistic liar always seeks attention and lies a lot to get it. Most times, your ego is responsible for this which you will always seek to defend.  This consequently may affect your personal growth. As a narcissistic liar, you won't admit making any mistake, you will always place blame on others and criticize them, and there will be a lack of responsibility or accountability in the way you live your life. For these individuals, making an effort to stop lying will be challenging because they typically don’t feel bad about doing so or think it’s a big deal at all.

What do you call a person who constantly lies?

A person who lies constantly and can't stop lying may be referred to as a mythomaniac. A mythomaniac in psychiatry is someone suffering from mythomania, pseudologia fantastica, or pathological lying. American Psychological Association explained mythomania as a tendency to elaborate, exaggerate, and tell lies, including reports of imagined experiences, often involving self-deception.

Can Lying Cause Stress?

Whether you are lying, telling the truth, or somewhere in between, many situations can cause stress.  Scientific American expounded from a neuroscientific point of view that when you lie, specific parts of your brain is activated. In addition, a habit of lying is accompanied by a feeling of guilt which leads to the development of stress.

From clear observations, it's discovered that when people lie, stress hormones are stimulated; blood pressure and heart rates also increase. If you lie habitually, you may feel too much stress from maintaining your lies. You may continuously be mindful of what will happen if you are caught lying, especially in a relationship.

If you find it hard to stop lying, you should know that stress could contribute to tension headaches, lower-back pain, menstrual problems, a rapid heartbeat, and infertility. This is because it has the tendency to lower the number of white blood cells fighting infections in your body.

Why does your heart beat faster when you lie?

Lying involves a serious psychological process that sometimes may be related to a mental health disorder when it's compulsive, and these physical health problems are another reason to find a therapist. 

When you lie, you tend to make use of some specific parts of your brain—these parts control the emotional departments of the brain faculty. So, when you lie, the cardiovascular center is affected. The cardiovascular system relates to the circulatory system involving the heart and blood vessels. When the cardiovascular system is influenced by the brain's emotions, it consequently affects the person's heart stroke intensity and heart rate.

How To Stop Lying:

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