A compulsive liar (also known as a pathological liar) is an individual who resorts to habitual lying, aka telling compulsive lies to their loved ones, co-workers, or family members.
Some believe that pathological lying (aka pseudologia fantastica or mythomania) stems from a mental condition (antisocial personality disorder, sometimes referred to as sociopathy).
While there are also cases NOT backed up by medical research.
While compulsive lying has been widely discussed for almost an entire century, there is still no universally accepted definition of this condition that sometimes resembles a borderline personality disorder.
Unlike little white lies, compulsive liars tell pathological lies all the time, and for no apparent reason. White lies can be beneficial, while motives for compulsive lying are mostly devious and self-indulgent.
People lie due to low self-esteem and to get out of unpleasant social situations. But on a larger scale, it can also be a sign of a deeply rooted mental health condition.
In this article, I’ll offer a detailed guide on how to uncover a pathological liar, as well as recognize and cope with one.
How Do You Define A Compulsive Liar?
According to mental health professionals, this is the definition of a compulsive liar: A person who regularly lies with no guilt and has almost no control over their own lies.
It is believed that their motives aren’t for beneficial purposes, but rather just part of who they innately are.
Their lying habits make it increasingly difficult to forge strong and meaningful interpersonal relationships, as living with (or working/socializing with) a pathological liar is next to impossible.
Compulsive lying (pseudologia phantastica) can also suggest that there’s a deeper disorder or a condition in play, like bipolar disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, or borderline personality disorder.
If a medical professional has reason to believe that pathological lying is part of any of the personality disorders mentioned above, they are likely to suggest psychotherapy as the next best step.
If you’ve noticed any abnormalities in your loved one’s behavior, including telling lies compulsively and continually, consider seeking professional help.
There might be something going on with their central nervous system, causing them to lie.
Nobody wants to end up in psychiatry, but sometimes, this is the last resort for an increasingly worrisome issue, such as compulsive lying, and it should never be taken lightly.
What Makes People Resort To Compulsive Lying?
While there isn’t one particular cause that makes pathological liars resort to their deceiving ways, there are a few disorders I’ll discuss that might be the underlying reasons.
• Factitious disorder
Factitious disorder, which is also known as Munchausen’s syndrome, is a condition that makes people behave mentally or physically incapacitated, when in fact, they’re not.
When a person has Munchausen’s syndrome, it means that they’re telling lies about themselves or another person being ill.
This particular condition is most commonly found in mothers, who make up an illness in their children and report it to their doctor (known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy).
What exactly causes this disorder is still uncertain, but there are theories about it, some of which include:
• a serious case of substance abuse
• causes of genetic or biological origin
• struggles with depression
• an uncovered personality disorder
• severe lack of self-confidence
• childhood neglect (or in worse cases, abusive behavior)
• Personality disorder
Three personality disorders could be the cause of pathological lying. These are BPD (borderline personality disorder), NPD (narcissistic personality disorder), and APD (antisocial personality disorder).
When a person suffers from BDP, they find it challenging to control their emotions and feelings.
They also have uncontrollable mood swings, suffer from devastating insecurity, and their sense of self is seriously distorted.
When it comes to NPD, we’re talking about self-indulgent fantasies of a higher sense of self and a constant need to be admired and treated as superior.
There are reasons to believe that pathological liars may suffer from APD, as those who suffer from it resort to telling lies for the sole purpose of self-enjoyment.
Those struggling with BPD or NPD might tell lies to twist their reality as they want to make it more in tune with their current emotions, not facts.
These personality disorders can make it difficult to form meaningful bonds with other people.
• Frontotemporal dementia
I’ve heard of a case where one person (that will remain nameless for the sake of their privacy) was struggling with compulsive lying, and their behavior was eerily akin to those suffering from frontotemporal dementia.
We’re talking about a type of dementia in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain that creates serious changes in a person’s overall behavior and how they speak.
These changes can be as follows:
• sudden changes in eating habits
• zero signs of empathy and consideration
• almost no awareness of other people’s feelings
• unbecoming social behavior (that they’ve never exhibited before)
• pathological behavior patterns
• they get bored and agitated easily
5 Fascinating Traits Of A Compulsive Liar
Their lies don’t seem to have a clear motive
Normally, people lie for a variety of reasons. As I’ve mentioned above, it can be to avoid an uncomfortable social situation, save themselves from embarrassment, and similar.
But a compulsive liar will spit out untruthful things without standing to gain anything from it.
This can be particularly confusing for their loved ones (family, best friends, co-workers) who try to get to the bottom of their behavior, always coming up empty-handed.
Perhaps all we need to understand is that compulsive liars mean no harm. They genuinely don’t know any other way to be.
Their stories are full of embellishments, details, and drama
This is a hallmark of a pathological liar. This person is an outstanding storyteller, capable of creating fascinating scenarios that sound extremely convincing.
That is perhaps the most intriguing thing about them. Normally, when people go into great detail when trying to defend themselves, it sounds SO fake.
But they manage to convince you that what they’re saying is true, regardless of the insane embellishments and details.
This goes to show how committed they are to their lies and how far they’re willing to go to make it sound realistic.
They appear to firmly believe their own lies
When it comes to pathological lying, it can be described as something between conscious lying and delusion. In translations, they tend to believe their own lies.
This makes it rather difficult to deal with them. How do you cope with a person who lies to your face so easily and buys what they’re saying?
Some experts claim that compulsive liars don’t understand the difference between the fiction they create and the reality that is in front of them.
They are eloquent, engaging, and show none of the signs that liars usually demonstrate (looking down and long pauses).
They like to portray themselves as either the victim or the hero
If you’ve had a pathological liar in your midst, I’m sure you’ve noticed that they always play the victim or the hero.
There’s no in-between. The purpose of their stories is to tell lies that will garner them the admiration or sympathy that they feed on or to simply help them be accepted.
They subconsciously crave constant attention and validation, which is something their well-thought-out lies never fail to get them.
Being the center of attention is like a drug for them.
They’re quick on their feet
Compulsive liars are quick thinkers. Even when you think you’ve caught them in a lie, they will masterfully prove to you why they’re not to be messed with.
They can even make you feel embarrassed for daring to question their stories. One can say that they are master manipulators who know just how to use others’ weaknesses against them.
It takes very little effort for them to produce a convincing lie, with zero pauses or stalling. Pure craftsmanship, one may say.
Compulsive Lies Vs. White Lies: What’s The Difference?
As we all know, all people lie. At some point, we are all faced with a reality that (seemingly) leaves us no choice but to resort to a little white lie.
I’ve read somewhere that people tell approximately 1,6 lies each day. And as you can rightfully guess, these would all be considered white lies.
However, pathological lying is on the other end of the spectrum. Those lies are consistent and happen regularly. More often than not, they serve no obvious purpose.
Below, I’ll examine the captivating differences between pathological lies and white lies.
• White lies
The first and most important thing to note is that white lies don’t happen on a habitual basis. They are considered harmless and usually told to make someone feel better.
White lies can also be told to spare a loved one’s feelings, which has no malicious intent. To help you get a clear picture, here are examples of perfectly innocent white lies:
• “Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t attend the meeting today. I’ve had a throbbing headache since this morning!”
• “I’ve paid the energy bill, babe. I have no idea why they shut the power off, I swear!”
• “I was late for work/school because my car wouldn’t start so I had to go by bus, which took ages. Sorry!”
All of these are merely excuses to justify the real reason for the person’s actions. They mean no harm to anyone; they simply help a person get out of an uncomfortable situation.
• Pathological lies
On the other hand, pathological lies paint a completely different picture. These lies are told compulsively and regularly.
There never appears to be any gain from them, nor is there an obvious reason. Their purpose is to make the teller appear like the hero or victim of their story.
Compulsive liars don’t exhibit a fear of being uncovered, and they rarely feel a stitch of guilt for what they’re doing.
Here are a few examples of the type of compulsive lies a pathological liar will say without breaking a sweat:
• They will make up an entire story regarding an event that never took place and, worst of all, brag about false achievements that aren’t based in reality.
• They will make up an illness that they DON’T have and claim that their life is in jeopardy when they’re perfectly healthy.
• They might claim to be related to well-known people (famous actors, musicians, poets) to impress someone and score points, without ever fearing that they might get caught.
White lies and pathological lies are fundamentally different.
While the first is an innocent lie that causes no harm to anyone, the latter is malicious and created under false pretenses.
How To Deal With A Compulsive Liar
Coping with someone who exhibits signs of pathological lying can be extremely overwhelming.
If you intend to create a meaningful relationship with this person, you have to be aware that this will take time, patience, and lots of perseverance on your part.
What’s important to bear in mind is that this person most likely means no harm, nor do they wish to benefit from their lies.
This is a compulsive behavior that the person often cannot help but engage in. When confronting them, it’s best to go into it with a calm head and good intentions.
One other thing you must keep in mind is that there are cases where pathological lying is connected to deeper issues, such as various mental health disorders.
Try to have a rational conversation with them to uncover possible underlying symptoms that might be the real cause of their behavior.
With a little bit of luck, they might be receptive to this and are willing to seek professional help that might turn things around.
If you still have issues dealing with them, you can never go wrong with talking to a therapist.
They can help you find ways to cope with the pathological liar in the healthiest way possible.
The Main Takeaways
A compulsive liar is a person who pathologically lies without an obvious (or reasonable) motive that would lead them to such worrisome behavior.
Their lies can be very well-executed, elaborate, and full of details, which makes this behavior all the more fascinating. These pathological lies don’t bring any positive changes to the person, and they can cause harm to others.
It’s imperative to remember that even though their lying can be difficult to understand and deal with, they aren’t believed to wish harm to anyone by telling them.
Dealing with a pathological liar can be troubling and stressful, but since this is not a medically-accepted condition, there’s no treatment for its betterment (just yet).
However, this can be a sign of a pre-existing condition (a personality disorder) that can be availed by a medical professional.
It’s important not to engage in lengthy conversations with pathological liars.
If you’re familiar with their elaborate stories that you know aren’t true, it’s best for your mental health to simply smile and move on.
Being around people engaging in pathological lying can be distressing, which is why it’s best to surround yourself with those who you know are trustworthy and genuine.