Pathological Liars: Understanding Compulsive Lying

Updated on November 6th, 2020

Lying is an everyday behavior and is often considered a normal element of interpersonal relationships. Pathological liars are people who tend to tell compulsive lies even when the motive is unclear. In some cases, lies tend to lead to some form of benefit in social interactions, such as when one wishes to avoid embarrassment. Although there are people who lie more frequently compared to others, lying is not often seen as a sign of underlying mental health problems. Conversely, compulsive lying is perceived as a mental health illness such as a personality disorder. In this article, we present a detailed analysis of the issues of uncontrolled liars. Read on to learn more. 

Pathological Liars: Understanding Compulsive Lying

What Is Compulsive Lying? How Is It Different?

Although lying is a common occurrence in social interactions, we are dissuaded from this behavior from early on in life, with numerous moral overtones. Simply put, the normal thing is for people to tell the truth. In fact, history recognizes religious doctrines that have strongly encouraged people to avoid bearing false witness. That said, research shows that lying happens as frequently as once or twice every day for most people. Lying in this sense means giving out a false statement with the intention of deceiving and gaining or obtaining benefits. Since lying is commonplace and widespread, coming up with a pathological form of the behavior requires an understanding of the phenomenology. 

In most instances, lying is referred to as the intentional communicating of false info with the objective of deceiving. In clinical practice, patients who share false information while in different psychiatric states may not be seen as lying as their objective is not explicitly intended to mislead. The bottom line is that lies come in different levels and intentions and are told in varying frequencies. 

So how do we differentiate between the individual who lies a lot and a compulsive liar? According to some scholars, one can be defined as being an obsessive liar when the lying is lop-sided, obstinate, prevalent, and not motivated by external factors like rewards. The main element of uncontrolled lying is, therefore, the obsessive nature of the deeds as the person may not be able to control his or her habit. In other words, pathological liars may be incapable of controlling their lying. 

Please note that a person can only be said to be a compulsive liar if he or she has lied on several occasions. Confusion exists, however, when it comes to defining precisely the number of times a person needs to have lied to be defined as a pathological liar. Taken from a psychological perspective, lying, though complex, is simply a type of behavior. What makes any behavior abnormal in this sense is not the frequency with which it occurs or the purpose served, but rather the level of control exercised by the individual over it. 

Nevertheless, the fact that compulsive lies may end up causing more damage than good and are not tied to rewards or intended benefits does not appear to be a coherent reason to categorize the behavior as a psychological illness. However, an apparent lack of control that exists when it comes to pathological lying is what worries psychiatrists. In other words, for one to be seen as a compulsive liar, he or she must lie despite any reason, without any sense of control over the behavior. If this is true, then there would be no pathological lies, but only pathological liars. If evidence of compulsivity, extreme impulsivity, and brain disfunction, customary lying cannot be seen as a judgment or indication of an underlying mental health condition. 

How to Identify Pathological Liars | What to Look For

Compulsive lying is the performance of characteristic or obsessive lying. It is very different from telling a white lie every now and then to avoid causing harm or when in trouble. In fact, the compulsive liar may not even have a motive for his or her behavior, making the condition challenging to diagnose.

To some degree, compulsive lying may be the outcome of a mental condition like sociopathy. The bottom line is that someone who tells lies impulsively is considered to be a pathological liar. Although there seem to be many likely motives for lying, obsessive lying is not well understood as a consistent behavior. For some people, lies are told to make themselves look like victims or heroes with the goal of obtaining sympathy or recognition. 

There is proof insinuating that some complications that impact the central nervous system may make certain individuals be predisposed to lying more than others. Compulsive lying is also a known element in some common disorders like an antisocial personality disorder. Also, there is proof suggesting that head injuries and trauma may make it more likely for people to become pathological liars. Lying in this nature is habitual in the sense that the more lies you tell, the more frequently your lying gets noticed. 

Common Characteristics of Pathological Liars 

Very little is known about habitual liars. Although some individuals may lie to avoid punishment or uncomfortable situations, pathological liars do not have intended benefits or clear objectives. Here are some common defining attributes:

  • No clear benefit — Compulsive liars don’t have something to profit from their behavior;
  • The lies are often dramatic and detailed — While there may be an element of exaggeration, there may be convincing details in the lies;
  • The story tellers often portray themselves as the sufferer or hero — The stories are often intended to make the liar the subject of admiration, acceptance, or sympathy;
  • The lair occasionally believes the stories — Although the stories may sound delusional, an uncontrolled liar may believe that the events actually happened. 

Learn More About Pathological Liars Here 

Finding a way to identify people as pathological liars can be an important step in allowing a better understanding of the condition. Research is ongoing on the diagnostic elements of the condition. Join us in the discussion to share your views. 

Matthew is an experienced and passionate BIPOC and inclusivity mental health expert. They are also a blogger, speaker, and relationship coach. Matthew helps people practice self-love and find mental and emotional peace through simple, practical tips and resources.

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