Dsm pathological liar

10 Facts About Pathological Lying

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Even though the term pathological liar gets bandied about in everyday conversation, the actual phenomenon affects only a minority of people. Pathological lying has been noted as a psychological disorder since 1891, when it was called pseudologia phantastica by psychiatrist Anton Delbrück. He coined the term concerning cases of those who uttered so many outrageous lies that the behavior was deemed pathological.

Although the term lacks a consensus definition, more than a century ago, Healy and Healy characterized it as “falsification entirely disproportionate to any discernible end in view, may be extensive and very complicated, manifesting over the years or even a lifetime, in the absence of definite insanity, feeblemindedness or epilepsy.” This definition still applies.

Let’s take a look at ten facts about pathological lying.

  1. Various articles were written about pathological lying in the first half of the 20th century. Nevertheless, interest in the subject waned, and modern research is scant.
  2. Pathological lying lacks classification per the DSM‐5 or the ICD‐10. The DSM‐5, however, notes that deception is a symptom of antisocial personality disorder and is used as a means of external incentive (i.e., malingering) and when undertaking a sick role (i.e., factitious disorder). Lying also appears in the DSM-V as a symptom or diagnostic criteria in narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, conduct disorder, gambling disorder, and oppositional disorder.
  3. Pathological lying is one of 20 items utilized in the Hare Psychopathy Checklist‐Revised (PCL). However, the item on this test does not indicate a diagnosis but rather assesses lying behavior related to psychopathy.
  4. There exists emerging support for the establishment of pathological lying as a diagnosis. For instance, in a 2020 study published in Psychiatric Research and Clinical Practice, Drew A. Curtis and Christian L. Hart found that when investigating lying behaviors in 807 participants, 13% indicated that they self-identified as pathological liars or that others had identified them as such. Pathological lying was defined as telling various lies each day for longer than six months.
  5. According to the authors of the aforementioned study, “People who identified as pathological liars reported greater distress, impaired functioning, and more danger than people not considered pathological liars. Pathological lying seemed to be compulsive, with lies growing from an initial lie, and done for no apparent reason.”
  6. Various hypotheses have been suggested to explain pathological lying. For instance, lie-telling becomes so habituated it turns into a natural response, and the liar no longer distinguishes on a conscious level between what is true and what is false. Other contributing factors may include cognitive/social immaturity, maladaptive problem-solving strategies, and a strategy to perpetuate antisocial behavior.
  7. Many people who lie are not pathological liars per se. Some research has demonstrated that people lie on average twice a day. Other research shows that most people report telling no lies within the past 24 hours, while a small number have told many lies. Ultimately, pathological lying is distinguished from normative or, even, prolific lying.
  8. In a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, Yaling Yang and co-authors investigated white matter volumes at the level of four prefrontal subregions via structural MRI in ten pathological liars, 14 antisocial controls, and 20 normal controls. They found that liars demonstrated a relatively widespread increase in white matter (23-36 percent) at the level of orbitofrontal, middle and inferior, but not superior, frontal gyri versus antisocial and normal controls. Higher levels of white matter may predispose some individuals to pathological lying, per the authors.
  9. Pathological lying has been compared with the “pseudolying” or the fantasy of children. Such lies in children, however, are essential in self-development and self-protection. When such lying extends into adulthood, however, things can become pathological.
  10. No drug is available for the treatment of pathological lying. Although psychotherapy may help, the patient may start telling lies to the therapist, thus undermining this treatment option. Ultimately, although they recognize pathological lying as an issue of concern, mental-health professionals still lack a clear understanding of this pathology. Much more research needs to be done.

Bottom line

Pathological lying is a clear problem for some people and seriously erodes the quality of life and social interactions. Nevertheless, not all people who lie are pathological liars, so it’s best not to label or be dismissive/flippant with the term.

Facebook image: Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock


Curtis DA, Hart CL. Pathological lying: Theoretical and empirical support for a diagnostic entity. Psychiatric Research and Clinical Practice. 2020;2(2):62-69. doi:10.1176/appi.prcp.20190046.

Talwar V, Crossman A. From little white lies to filthy liars. Advances in Child Development and Behavior. 2011:139-179. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-386491-8.00004-9.

Yang Y, Raine A, Narr KL, et al. Localisation of increased prefrontal white matter in pathological liars. British Journal of Psychiatry. 2007;190(2):174-175. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.106.025056.

Traits, Mental Health, and More

Occasional dishonesty is natural. But when does lying become a problem? And what makes lying compulsive or pathological?

From little white lies to deliberate omissions, lying can take many forms.

Most people sometimes cover up the truth to protect themselves or another person. But dishonesty can become a serious problem in relationships — especially when it’s frequent or without a clear reason.

It can be frustrating to deal with someone who often hides the truth, and broken bonds of trust can be hard to rebuild. Understanding the different types of lying, and the reasons why people do it, can help you work out the next steps in your relationships.

Most people tell lies occasionally. There are many reasons people might lie, such as:

  • avoiding offending someone they care about
  • protecting themselves from a perceived threat
  • feelings of shame or guilt
  • avoiding conflict or negative emotions
  • acting out of impulse
  • making themselves look better
  • avoiding punishment
  • creating justifications

Someone who lies compulsively or pathologically will lie very often and out of habit, despite not having a good reason for being dishonest.

They may be dishonest about many things, including seemingly unimportant things. It may bring them comfort and security to make things up. These levels of dishonesty can lead to dangerous situations and interfere with the well-being of friends and family.

The term “pathological lying” is often used interchangeably with “compulsive lying,” and there’s no clear clinical difference between the terms. The research suggests that compulsive lying falls under the broader definition of pathological lying, rather than being its own separate phenomenon.

Pathological lying was originally called “pseudologia phantastica,” a term coined by psychiatrist Anton Delbrück in 1891 to describe people who told so many outrageous lies that the behavior was considered to be caused by a mental health condition.

Pathological lying is when someone lies frequently such that it impairs their social, work, financial, or legal functioning. Those who lie pathologically may experience distress because of their lies, and they might have a fear of someone discovering their lies.

Pathological lies represent a trait rather than an impulse. The person may believe that they can’t control their lying behavior. This lying often occurs long-term and can pose a risk to the person and those around them.

Pathological lying is a sign of some mental health conditions, especially personality disorders.

People with certain conditions — including narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder — tend to act in manipulative or deceitful ways regardless of the consequences and upset it might cause.

Lying can be a symptom of some mental health conditions according to a 2021 review, including borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may lie to mask compulsions or stop friends and family from worrying about their behaviors. They might think their friends and loved ones won’t understand, so they aren’t always honest about their experiences.

Those with other mental health conditions may lie to cover up their symptoms or habits, such as people with substance use disorder or impulse control disorders. They may develop elaborate lies to mask their symptoms, particularly when the symptoms are stigmatized in society.

It is important to note that while lying can be a symptom of mental health disorders, it isn’t always the case. Additionally, when lying is associated with conditions, it’s not always pathological. More research is needed in this area to determine the association.

Research indicates pathological lying can occur because of low self-esteem and a false sense of self. People who lie pathologically may want others to view them positively, making things up to make them look better. Their desire to create a false sense of self could indicate that they are unhappy with themselves.

It’s not always easy to tell if someone lies, so you can’t always count on warning signs to enlighten you. Experts have researched the situation, hoping to determine if perceived signs of lying are accurate.

Researchers observed and performed studies to determine if specific signs indicate someone is lying. They looked into things like:

  • hesitations
  • speech disturbances
  • changes in voice pitch or speed
  • filling natural pauses

Their results proved inconclusive, as they showed that it wasn’t possible to accurately confirm the signs of lying. Without further research, assessing behavior this way isn’t a good idea. It could lead to misinterpretation, potentially harming the relationship.

Getting the person into treatment can be problematic. The person may not want to admit they have a problem, meaning they don’t enter into treatment.

If a person experiences dishonesty as a symptom of a mental health condition, receiving treatment can help improve their well-being and relationships. It can also help their friends and loved ones.

Psychiatrists use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to diagnose disorders. Pathological and compulsive lying aren’t listed as a disorder, and therefore have no formal treatment protocol.

Psychotherapy or counseling can help the person understand how their lying impacts others. It may help them find ways to rely less on dishonesty and rebuild broken trust, therefore strengthening their relationships.

Research shows that the following types of therapy can also help:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • dialectical behavioral therapy
  • behavioral therapy
  • acceptance and commitment therapy
  • emotion-focused therapy
  • motivational interviewing

Family support and support groups may also help.

If you live with compulsive or pathological lying habits or know someone who does, it can help to talk with a professional.

If a mental health condition contributes to lying, mental health support will help with other parts of life, too. These conditions affect a person’s well-being, so being diagnosed and starting treatment is important.

Looking for a therapist, but not sure where to start? Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.

Pathological liars: what makes them lie?


Man among menKnow thyselfPractices how to


Will you swear that you will always tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Hardly, like 99.99% of the people in the world. Anyone who claims that he has never lied is clearly disingenuous. However, most can honestly say that they are at least trying not to cheat.

But there is a special category of people for whom lying is a way of life. It is easier for pathological and compulsive liars to make up three boxes than to tell the truth. Why do they do it and how to crack them?

Pseudology fantasy

Pathological lie, mythomania or Pseudologia Fantastica, causes a lot of controversy among psychologists and psychiatrists. Some believe that this is only a symptom of a more complex disorder (for example, borderline personality disorder, sociopathy or narcissism), others are convinced that this is a deviation in itself.

It has been suggested that this is a special form of addiction: a person cheats under the influence of a psychological impulse, like an alcoholic, a smoker or a gambler, in response to specific triggers. However, the fact remains that some people lie all the time.

Their deceit can be called chronic, since it is observed throughout life, or habitual in the sense that it becomes second nature

People of this type always act under the influence of internal motivation, and not external factors. In other words, they lie not so much to avoid the unpleasant consequences of the truth, but for the sake of "sport interest".

Pathological liars are not so easy to recognize, especially on a superficial acquaintance or at the beginning of a relationship. They may seem interesting, intelligent, sociable, charming. Their true face is revealed only with time, and then communication becomes strained. Lying endlessly can destroy friendships, loves, work relationships, and even families.

Pathological and compulsive lying: what is the difference?

Two types of lies have their own characteristics. How do you know who you are dealing with?

Pathological liars:

  • Lie with a specific purpose,

  • invent fantastic stories that can endlessly supplement with new details,

  • They themselves believe everything that the windshots,

  • are nailed when they are suspected when they are suspected in deceit,

  • lie to strengthen their authority,

  • do not blush or feel embarrassed.

Compulsive liars:

  • seriously believe that they are obliged to lie: either because they do not know how to do otherwise, or if it is inconvenient to tell the truth,

  • often lie for no clear reason and without any benefit, 9003

  • make up fables on the go without really thinking about credibility,

  • prefer "holy" lies, which they think others would like to hear,

  • tend to feel someone else's distrust,

  • when they are caught, they confess that they are lying, but continue to fool others.

These differences are very conditional, because deceivers easily change masks.


What caused this behavior?

There is no clear scientific explanation for the tendency to communicate deliberately false information. This behavior is due to many genetic and environmental factors, but this set is unique for everyone. Here are the most common reasons.

1. Personality disorders

As mentioned above, lying at every turn can be a symptom of a mental disorder.

2. Features of the brain

A number of studies point to structural abnormalities in the brains of pathological liars. One such study revealed increased white matter volume in three regions of the prefrontal cortex.

Other authors believe that a persistent tendency to lie is formed as the restraining emotional reaction of the amygdala weakens. Earlier studies found that 40% of pathological liars had damage to the central nervous system caused by epilepsy, head trauma, or dangerous infections.

3. The costs of education

In childhood, we all learn what is good and what is bad. At an early age, a person may lie out of fear of punishment or for profit, and later this becomes an unconditional attitude.

4. Chemical addiction

Drug addicts and alcoholics often use cunning to hide their problem and at the same time swindle money: addictions “turn off” conscience.

5. Other psychological problems

A person who lies frequently may suffer from depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Such behavior may be associated with fear, guilt or shame, unwillingness to admit their condition. It is important to understand that not every person with such a diagnosis is a pathological deceiver!


Signs of pathological and compulsive lying

If you suspect that you are regularly fooled, pay attention to the characteristic signs of lying.

1. The stories of the liars are absolutely unbelievable

If you find yourself shaking your head often, refusing to believe the fables, it seems that you have come across just such a person. Someone tells how they dined with Tom Cruise or set a world record for eating sausages? You are not mistaken.

2. There is a desire to get attention

If someone lies to gain interest, and goes out of his way to prove his own worth, you are a pathological liar. They practice two ways to attract attention: Instead of admitting their mistake or honestly saying that they are in trouble, such people are talking nonsense, just to look sinless.

  • Make yourself a victim. To enlist the sympathy and support of others, they complain about imaginary misfortunes. Illnesses, death of loved ones, someone's cruelty and other catastrophes in which they allegedly suffered.

  • 3. Liars have low self-esteem

    By itself, it does not indicate pathological or compulsive lying, but in combination with other signs, it completes the portrait of a shameless deceiver. Usually low self-esteem is found in compulsive liars: it hides anxiety and insecurity.

    4. They should have the last word

    Arguing with a pathological liar is like banging your head against a wall. He will give the most ridiculous arguments until you get tired of arguing, just to get out of the fight as a winner. Compulsive liars are easier: they are embarrassed when they are exposed and do not insist on their own.

    5. They are extremely resourceful

    They manage to invent plausible versions for all occasions with lightning speed, create suitable lies literally out of thin air and present them in a convincing form.

    6. They know how to turn everything upside down

    If liars feel that they are close to failure, they immediately back up and change the meaning of what was said. But it is useless to catch them at their word: they will object and say that you misheard or misunderstood.

    7. Their life is chaotic and full of tragedies

    They get out as best they can, trying to seem honest, but sooner or later people realize that something is wrong here. Relationships crumble, another job is lost, friends turn away, but the pathological liar is still rushing about in search of simpletons who can be hung noodles on their ears.

    8. They do not know how to keep secrets and love to gossip

    They are not familiar with the concept of decency: they enthusiastically discuss the details of someone else's life, including intimate ones. Nothing is sacred to them.


    How to behave with them

    It would seem that there is nowhere clearer - to stop communicating and delete from life. But it's not always easy, and it's not always necessary. Not all deceivers are notorious crooks.

    If you are convinced that you have encountered a narcissist or a sociopath, then there is no question: stay away from him, and do not let your conscience torment you. But if someone close to you has serious psychological problems or addiction, you probably shouldn’t say goodbye to them. What to do?

    1. To believe… if necessary

    To look for a lie in every word is more expensive for yourself. Yes, a person often lies, but still able to be honest. He may be exaggerating, but he's basically telling the truth. At the very least, try to figure out when to trust him and when not.

    Do you remember slippery topics, during the discussion of which you often caught your interlocutor in a lie? Or periods of exacerbation, when the propensity to lie became too obvious?

    A healthy skepticism doesn't hurt, but if you're not completely sure that everything you've said is a complete lie, why not assume that you're being told the truth? Of course, this does not apply to important issues: here you need to check everything.

    A modicum of trust is needed: when a person knows that he will be accused of deceit anyway, why should he be honest? Those who are trusted are more likely to reveal the truth, especially if the lie is associated with guilt or shame.

    2. Understand why they lie

    We feel bitter when we are deceived, and this is a natural emotional reaction. Critical thinking can help you deal with it. Think: why does a person lie? What drives them? What is the reason?

    If you can figure out the motives, a little bit of sympathy will surely appear. Your emotions may not subside immediately, but sooner or later you will calm down and be able to take a sober look at the situation.

    3. Accept it as a fact: lies will be repeated more than once

    Pathological or compulsive liars do not always control their speech. Therefore, it is wiser to admit that they are like that and you have to live with it somehow. This does not mean forcing yourself to believe tall tales or accepting their behavior as the norm. The main thing is to realize that not every lie is said with malicious intent.

    They can't help but lie. At least not now, given certain circumstances. Of course, no one forbids fighting this, but you yourself will not change anything. Try to look at it philosophically and not take it to heart.

    4. Convince them to ask for help

    If the interlocutor has developed a tendency to lie relatively recently, you can guess what the matter is (depression, addiction in the initial stage, childhood psychotrauma) and the person is dear to you, try to persuade him to see a psychotherapist.

    People who constantly lie are not easy. And yet, do not rush to write them down as scoundrels or malicious manipulators. There are many causes for pathological or compulsive lying, and although this habit harms both those who are lied to and those who lie, it is treatable.

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    Text: Natalia Spiridonova Photo source: Shutterstock

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    Pathological lies: reasons symptoms. consequences

    Experts say - a lie does not always mean a bad character, a desire to offend, manipulate. A pathological liar is regarded by experts as a sick person. What is the basis of such behavior, which can lead to serious consequences?

    Definition of pseudology

    Normally, a person resorts to lies to achieve goals. Pathological deceit is found in people who do not want to benefit, deception in this case is obsessive. There is no motivation. The official medical name for pathology is pseudology. It exists as a separate diagnosis, may be included in the symptom complex of diseases. The most common type of pseudology is Munchausen's syndrome. It lies in the fact that an absolutely healthy person behaves like a sick person. Allocate delegated syndrome and by proxy. Delegated occurs in mothers. Foaming at the mouth, they prove that their child is sick and demand medical assistance. Although in fact the child is absolutely healthy.

    Reasons for constant lying

    The mechanisms of this behavior are not fully understood. Experts identify 9 theories: neglect, childhood abuse, genetic, biological causes, low self-esteem, depression, substance abuse, personality disorders.

    Psychiatrists, psychotherapists claim that the causes are not always related to mental health. It can be TBI, organic brain damage. The list of diseases can be quite extensive.

    Differences between lies and pseudology

    Mythomania allows a person to feel his importance, to attract attention. Each event can be seasoned with lies, enjoying the process.

    Main differences:


    Plain lies

    Purpose: none. Lies break into facts

    Purpose: hide mistakes, attract attention

    False stories are overgrown with a lot of details

    Mostly to the point, without small details

    Lies are the meaning of life, everyday, repeated

    Mostly isolated cases

    A person does not always give an account that he is telling a lie. found in pathologies

    The liar clearly understands what he is doing, knows the consequences

    In both cases, the revealed lie leads to a deterioration in communication with the person who lied.

    Example A man is in despair - he is on the verge of being fired. The reason is lies. He told his colleagues about his non-existent incurable disease. According to him, he is undergoing palliative therapy. At first, colleagues sympathized, helped, cared, showed sensitivity. After a couple of weeks, they began to have doubts. The pathological liar was forced to lie even more. The goal was to close the previous untruth. When he was cornered, the man stopped appearing at the workplace. The consequences of his behavior were emotional distress, dismissal. Relatives say that such behavior is normal for him. Previously, the man was fired from three jobs for the same reason. Relatives try to explain to him and prove him wrong, but this is impossible. The liar proved his truth.

    Manifestations of pathological lies

    Constant lying has a number of pronounced symptoms. Mythomaniacs lie convincingly, a lot and colorfully. They easily manage to convince the interlocutor of the sincerity of their stories. The trouble is that such people do not realize that they are constantly lying.

    Clinical manifestations of pseudology can be:

    • lie for no apparent reason;
    • faith in what was said;
    • self-doubt, low self-esteem;
    • inability to keep promises;
    • exaltation of oneself, praise;
    • communication problems.

    Important! Experts say that sooner or later lies will be revealed. the desire to communicate with such a person disappears. In the end, he ends up in splendid isolation. Which negatively affects the psyche.

    How to live with a person who lies all the time

    Living with a chronic liar is not easy. This requires endurance and patience. A chronic liar does not try to harm others. To set up life with such a character, you need to know the basics of lies. With personality disorders, a person is explained that he hurts others, harms, will lead to a break in relationships. The reaction to a lie should not be violent, negative. Quite the contrary - calm.

    In cases of the birth of a lie due to an organic brain lesion, it will be difficult for a person to understand the essence of the claims, and will not be able to give feedback. In this case, hospitalization, drug treatment is indicated.

    Relatives should not be indulged in the pathological lies of an adult. A pathological liar must understand that there will be no concessions for his behavior. It shouldn't be ignored either. There is no corresponding response, no incentive to improve.

    Sign up for an online consultation if you notice that there is a pathological liar in your environment. Our psychologists will help to cope with this problem, provide psychological support to loved ones, and draw up a plan for further action. Our experts are ready to answer questions at any time of the day.

    Recognize lies by non-verbal cues

    If a person knows how to control his voice, then body language, facial expressions remain uncontrolled. There are a number of signs in cases where a person is constantly lying. It is the unconscious that will give it away. What to pay attention to?

    Obvious signs of deception:

    • muscle clamps. It looks something like this: when talking, a potential liar begins to swing one arm strongly, while the other is pressed against the body. It is possible to increase the timbre of the voice to a screech;
    • the depth and frequency of breathing are accelerated;
    • the person blinks frequently;
    • dry mouth, sweating;
    • aggression;
    • theatrical movements;
    • the desire to straighten a shirt, unbutton buttons, loosen a tie.

    It is equally important to remember that when evaluating a liar, they look at a combination of factors: the situation, the correspondence of words, facial expressions, movements, postures.


    What is the psychology of a person who lies constantly?


    If a person lies all the time, this is considered a pathology. There are many underlying reasons. It can be mental illness, a desire to exalt oneself, to pay attention. Quite often, the patient is not aware of his lie, believing in it sacredly.

    Is there a concept of "lying syndrome"?


    This is understood as Munchausen's syndrome. When a person is lying, telling tall tales or acting like a sick person. This state is characterized by embellishment in colors of either past events or fictional ones.

    Can a potential liar lie to the eye?


    Of course, that's usually what happens. Recognizing pathological lies is sometimes quite difficult, as a person sounds convincing. In this case, asking leading questions, you can understand who is in front of you.

    Why, when a person lies, does he continue to invent fables?


    It is a natural desire to hide one lie with another. The deceiver understands that he needs to somehow get out and begins to lie even more. Thus burying himself with his head.

    Expert opinion

    For a constantly lying person, life becomes a continuous overcoming of obstacles. The reasons for this behavior are varied. It is difficult to identify a pathological liar right away. To do this, just watch him, the dissonance of words, physiognomy, body language. Several leading questions can be asked. Those close to such a person need to be patient and not indulge in lies. If necessary, seek help from specialists.

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    Article author

    Monakhova Albina Petrovna clinical psychologist

    Experience 17 years

    Consultations 1439

    Articles 339

    Specialist in clinical psychology.

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