How to deal with habitual liars
How to Cope with Someone’s Compulsive Lies
Pathological lying, also known as mythomania and pseudologia fantastica, is the chronic behavior of compulsive or habitual lying.
Unlike telling the occasional white lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or getting in trouble, a pathological liar seems to lie for no apparent reason. This can make it frustrating or hard to know what to do if you believe you’ve met one.
Though pathological lying has been recognized for more than a century, there’s not yet a clear universal definition of the condition.
Some pathological lying may result from a mental condition, such as antisocial personality disorder (sometimes called sociopathy), while others appear to have no medical reason for the behavior.
A pathological liar is someone who lies compulsively. While there appears to be many possible causes for pathological lying, it’s not yet entirely understood why someone would lie this way.
Some lies seem to be told in order to make the pathological liar appear the hero, or to gain acceptance or sympathy, while there’s seemingly nothing to be gained from other lies.
Some evidence from 2007 suggests that issues affecting the central nervous system may predispose someone to pathological lying.
Compulsive lying is also a known trait of some personality disorders, such as antisocial personality disorder. Trauma or head injuries may also play a role in pathological lying, along with an abnormality in hormone-cortisol ratio.
A 2016 study of what happens in the brain when you lie found that the more untruths a person tells, the easier and more frequent lying becomes. The results also indicated that self-interest seems to fuel dishonesty.
Though the study didn’t specifically look at pathological lying, it may give some insight into why pathological liars lie as much and as easily as they do.
The following are some of the scientifically recognized traits and characteristics of pathological liars.
Their lies seem to have no clear benefit
While a person might lie to avoid an uncomfortable situation, such as embarrassment or getting in trouble, a pathological liar tells lies or stories that don’t have an objective benefit.
Friends and family can find this especially frustrating because the person lying doesn’t stand to gain anything from their lies.
The stories they tell are usually dramatic, complicated, and detailed
Pathological liars are great storytellers. Their lies tend to be very detailed and colorful.
Even though obviously over-the-top, the pathological liar may be very convincing.
They usually portray themselves as the hero or victim
Along with being made the hero or victim in their stories, pathological liars tend to tell lies that seem to be geared at gaining admiration, sympathy, or acceptance by others.
They sometimes seem to believe the lies they tell
A pathological liar tells lies and stories that fall somewhere between conscious lying and delusion. They sometimes believe their own lies.
It’s difficult to know how to deal with a pathological liar who may not always be conscious of their lying. Some do it so often that experts believe they may not know the difference between fact and fiction after some time.
Pathological liars also tend to be natural performers. They’re eloquent and know how to engage with others when speaking. They’re creative and original, and quick thinkers who don’t usually show common signs of lying, such as long pauses or avoidance of eye contact.
When asked questions, they may speak a lot without ever being specific or answering the question.
Most people lie at one time or another. Previous research has suggested that we tell an average of 1.65 lies every day. Most of these lies are what are considered “white lies.”
Pathological lies, on the other hand, are told consistently and habitually. They tend to appear pointless and often continuous.
White lies are occasional and considered:
- small fibs
- without malicious intent
- told to spare another’s feelings or avoid getting in trouble
Some examples of white lies include:
- saying you have a headache to get out of attending a meeting
- saying you’ve paid the phone bill when you forgot to pay it
- lying about why you were late for work
Pathological lies are:
- told frequently and compulsively
- told for no apparent reason or gain
- told to make the teller appear heroic or the victim
- not deterred by guilt or risk of getting found out
Examples of pathological lying:
- creating a false history, such as saying they’ve achieved or experienced something they haven’t
- claiming to have a life-threatening illness that they don’t have
- telling lies to impress others, such as saying they’re related to a famous person
Identifying a pathological liar isn’t always easy. While it may be human nature to be suspicious of anything that appears “too good to be true,” not all lies told by pathological liars are over-the-top.
They also tell “regular” lies that someone without a compulsion to lie might tell.
The following are some signs that may help you identify a pathological liar:
- they often talk about experiences and accomplishments in which they appear heroic
- they’re also the victim in many of their stories, often looking for sympathy
- their stories tend to be elaborate and very detailed
- they respond elaborately and quickly to questions, but the responses are usually vague and don’t provide an answer to the question
- they may have different versions of the same story, which stems from forgetting previous details
Knowing a pathological liar can be deeply frustrating because the lying appears to be pointless.
It can test the trust in any relationship and make it hard to even have a simple conversation with the person.
Here are a few pointers to help you handle a conversation with a pathological liar:
Don’t lose your temper
As frustrating as it may be, it’s important not to let your anger get the better of you when confronting a pathological liar. Be supportive and kind, but firm.
Someone who pathologically lies may have the tendency to first respond with a lie. If you confront them about their lying, chances are that they’ll deny it.
They may become enraged and express shock at the accusation.
Remember that it’s not about you
It’s hard not to take being lied to personally, but pathological lying isn’t about you. The person may be driven by an underlying personality disorder, anxiety, or low self-esteem.
When talking to the person about their lies, remind them that they don’t need to try to impress you. Let them know that you value them for who they really are.
Don’t engage them
When you notice the person lying, don’t engage them. You can question what they’re saying, which may encourage them to stop the lie at that point.
You can also let them know that you don’t want to continue the conversation when they’re being dishonest.
Suggest medical help
Without judgment or shaming, suggest that they consider professional help and let them know your suggestion comes from genuine concern for their well-being.
Be prepared with information about pathological lying, such as a printout of an article or a pamphlet that they can read when they’re ready. Expressing that you’re concerned that their behavior may result from an underlying medical condition may also help.
A pathological liar is an excellent storyteller and performer. They know how to captivate their audience by telling elaborate and fantastic stories while being very animated.
Along with knowing how to weave and express a detailed story, people are also fascinated by what drives a person to lie.
It’s natural to want to know why they’re lying, especially when there doesn’t seem to be an apparent reason for their lies.
Diagnosing a pathological liar can be difficult because of the many possible causes of the behavior. Speaking with the person and conducting a medical history and interview isn’t usually enough to make a diagnosis because of the person’s tendency to lie.
An important part of diagnosing a pathological liar is determining if they recognize that they’re lying or believe the lies they tell.
Some professionals use a polygraph, also known as a lie detector test. The test isn’t to catch them in a lie, but to see how well or often they “beat” the polygraph as this suggests that they believe their lies or have become good at using other measures to convince others of their lies.
Some professionals also interview family members and friends when diagnosing a pathological liar.
Treatment will depend on whether or not the pathological lying is a symptom of an underlying psychiatric condition.
Treatment would include psychotherapy and may also include medication for other issues that might be fueling the behavior, such as drugs used to treat anxiety or depression.
How to empathize and cope with a pathological liar comes down to an understanding of what may be causing this person to lie while being supportive.
It’s likely that the lying is a symptom of another issue that can be treated. Encourage them to get the help they need.
Surviving The Chronic Liar: 5 Things To Do
By Tamara Hill, MS, NCC, CCTP, LPC on July 3, 2019
Do you know someone who lies frequently about any and everything?
Have you caught someone in a few lies and wonder why they continue to engage in the behavior?
If so, you are obviously dealing with a pathological liar.
What most people fail to recognize about pathological liars is that they often lack the ability to empathize with others (walk in your shoes), feel guilty about their behavior, and have trouble controlling their innate impulse to lie. For most of us, it is very difficult to lie with a straight face and quite easy to feel guilty about the lie. But for someone with pathological behaviors, it is rathereasy for them to lie while exhibiting behaviors and emotions that make the lie believable.
What is most interesting about pathological liars is that many of them know how to control their emotions in such a way that lying can look like the truth to us.
This article will explore ways to protect yourself from pathological liars and identify their modus operandi.
Pathological lying is very different from telling a “fib” or “white lie.” The lying isinsidious, evil, and sometimes vindictive. Some individuals have developed skill in lying to others and have no fear or regret. Some may even lie to a Judge, police officer, therapist, psychiatrist, family member, spouse, supervisor, etc. with no remorse. They can also present as very calm or charming, provide appropriateeye contact, maintain normal breathing rhythms, bepersonable or friendly, and have calm body language. These individuals certainlyfit the description of a sociopath and can be very dangerous.
The tragic reality for those who work with, live with, or know a pathological liar is that they are almost always victims. Sometimes you are a part of a lie and may not even know it. Other times, you may know the person is lying, but due to the person being personable and friendly, you may struggle to even consider the fact that maybe you are being lied to.
In other cases, you might also struggle to convince others that a respected or likedperson is in fact lying. As a result of some pathological liars displaying charming, intelligent, and sociable behaviors, most of society is blinded to their obvious social, emotional, and cognitivedeficits.
There are certainly ways to protect yourself from a destructive person who sendswhirlpools of confusion into your life. You should take every lie seriously and strive to remember:
- Avoid engaging the pathological liar: If you sense that you are being lied to, perhaps you are. We all have an “internal compass” that signals trouble or peace, truth or fiction. Trust that. There are situations in which you might feel someone is being untrue but later find out they were telling the truth. But in many cases, we, as humans, are good barometers. If you sense that someone is lying to you, don’t make the person feel comfortable by agreeing, nodding, or laughing about it. A blank stare might do the trick in shutting down the lie.
- Call them out: Sometimes it’s perfectly fine to point out that something isn’t adding up. You could most certainly put it on yourself by saying “for some reason, I am confused. Can you explain that to me again?”In counseling sessions, the use of confrontationcan be powerful if used appropriately and with tact. Confrontation does not mean creating an argument but creating an acknowledgment that information isn’t adding up. For example, a confrontation might include you stating “…that’s not what I see happening because I spoke with the Principal and he showed me documentation that you skipped school at 2:00pm on Monday. ” Confrontation is using facts to undercut the lie.
- Play “stupid”: I use this technique quite a bit in sessions with adolescents and young children. If I want a youth to open up or I’m looking to build rapport I make statements such as “…that’s not what I was told, can you help me understand because I’m a bit confused?” Individuals who tend to lie are usuallyseeking some sort of power over others. If you are able to take a step back and appear unassuming, you can actually become the person “on top” and coax the individual into explaining things so you can evaluate it. You’re not trying to catch the person in a lie per se but to clarify information in a nonconfrontational manner.
- Don’t believe anything until you confirm it:Someone with a track record of lying behaviors should never be believed at face value. The moment you begin to appear as if youbelieve what the pathological liar is saying, they will run with it. Any kind of approval or trust the pathological liar can sense makes them feel powerful and energized to continue the behavior. It’s always good, when speaking to someone who frequently lies, to remain neutral, detached, and focused. You should weigh everything you are being told against the facts.
- Don’t argue or fight with the pathological liar: It’s not worth your energy to argue with someone who lives in a fantasy or psychologically unstableworld. Most liars lack an identity and struggle with feelings of insecurity and abandonment. Other pathological liars are simply sociopathic and overly confident. Either way, don’t argue or get into a confrontation with the liar because they will use circular arguing, demean you, and possibly create more lies to use in the future (possibly against you). You will never get to the truth, even with the use of intimidation. In some cases, you might get only half of the truth. It’s best to step back, work around the pathological liar, and keeping a safe distance.
Pathological liars are difficult to live with or work with because you can’t determine what is true and what is false. You also cannot determine when the next lie will come. That’s why it’s important to understand their MO. I talk more about that in the video below:
Be mindful ofyour emotions and learn to question how you feel about what you are being told. Questions to ask yourself may include: “Do Ifeel comfortable with what is being said to me?” “Do Ifeel foolish or silly while listening to this story?” “Why amIquestioning the legitimacy of what is being said to me right now?”
The most important goal for anyone who is dealing with a pathological liar is to always remember your dignity and self-respect. A pathological liar typically has little to no empathy and will take you as far as you let them.
To see my series of videos on this topic, visit my youtube page in the description below.
As always, I wish you well
Dike, C.(2008). Pathological lying: Symptom or disease? The Psychiatric Times. Retrieved June 15, 2014 from,http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/articles/pathological-lying-symptom-or-disease.
Winton, R. (2001). Panel ousts Judge for lying.Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 15, 2014 from,http://articles.latimes.com/2001/aug/16/local/me-34920.
90,000 Hardened liars. Psychology of deception [How, why and why even honest people lie]
This article was originally published on 7/18/19, but has been updated to include a video and comprehensive information.
Most people who are prone to pathological lying do so less explicitly than Judge Montgomery and Jacqueline. Still, they bring a lot of grief to their loved ones and colleagues and greatly complicate their own lives by trying to protect themselves.
Freddie, age 24, was brought to the psychiatric office by his wife, Jackie. She practically led him by the ear through the doorway. "I want you to cure him," she announced immediately. The couple were not married for half a year, and, according to Jackie, who was 4 years older than her husband, she fell victim to one lie after another. Immediately after the wedding, she learned that their honeymoon was paid for with money that Freddie had borrowed from his employer. And he assured her that he saved them thanks to overtime. One day, parking tickets came in the mail for a total of $680. Freddie claimed to have paid for them. Jackie went on to list her husband's deceptions related to going to work (he did not admit to her about his dismissal), with bills (which he said he paid, but in fact he did not). In the final, she said: "The only time I know for sure that he is not lying is when he says that he loves me."
Freddie worked as a carpenter and was a master of his craft. He had just finished his 2.5 year probation for burglary when he met Jackie, an installer at the local telephone company. She was not a beauty, and she had an explosive temper. This repulsed the fans. But Freddie was interested in her. He himself responded to her requests and promised to improve with her help. He evoked sympathy from Jackie because of an unhappy marriage: the first wife was a leader in their relationship, often humiliated him in front of strangers and repeatedly left him for another man.
Freddie's childhood was relatively quiet. He was a sweet, quiet, slightly shy child and a mediocre student. At school, he had no problems with discipline and with the law until he confessed to the theft and was convicted. His impeccable reputation was the reason why he received such a lenient punishment. Freddie admitted to himself that his impeccable reputation was in many ways a happy misunderstanding. It just hasn't been caught before. He lied to his parents, hiding from them that he was using marijuana and cocaine. He lied to his first wife and bailiff (after receiving probation) about how often he actually attends a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He lied to his therapist about why he didn't show up at the appointed time. He assured that he was eager to improve, but succumbs to impulses, and then goes to deceit to hide his actions.
Freddie's first reaction to psychiatric treatment was enthusiasm. He took medication (Prozac, prescribed to reduce his impulsiveness) and agreed to psychotherapy in order to be able to fend for himself in his marriage, and not be hypocritical, dodging conflicts. It is curious that Jackie began to complain to the psychiatrist that her husband had ceased to be kind as before and provoked quarrels more often. Answering the doctor's questions, she admitted that he began to work more and lie less. When she called a second time, she was more determined and demanded that Freddie stop taking his medication and that, as a result of therapy, he would dutifully fulfill her desires. She wanted him to be "cured", as if his illness were being cured by surgery. Shortly thereafter, Freddie stopped the treatment.
Hardened liars usually lie for a number of reasons. Lies may not be harmless, they may be caused by aggressive motives, an attempt to trick an opponent, or dishonestly use other people or circumstances for personal gain. In children, lies can serve as a daring attack on parents, a mockery of the parent's value system and their aspirations. Lying can be a way to avoid punishment or conflict, or cover up shameful ignorance, or it can simply be a way for the liar to entertain himself and others. Everyday lies sometimes save us from the painful realization that the goals set have not been achieved.
A characteristic feature of compulsive liars, recorded by many researchers, is low self-esteem. Lying can be an attempt to create a comfortable psychological atmosphere for yourself, but only for a short time. Alcohol and some drugs have a similar effect. Repeated lies can maintain self-respect by shifting the blame for failures to others or creating a myth of success.
Selling (1942) named excessive parental care, rivalry between children, upbringing in a dysfunctional family, and retarded development among the roots of pathological lying. The circumstances described above and given in the next chapter include the typical psychological aspects of deep lying. Selling's views are as relevant today as they were 50 years ago. For pathological liars, lying is a tool of psychological self-defense to help maintain self-esteem or compensate for the absence of more difficult ways to cope with everyday problems. This developmental deficiency is triggered by one or more of the following factors:
? dysfunctional family;
? physical or sexual abuse in childhood;
? neuropsychological abnormalities such as learning disabilities and borderline delayed development;
? suggestible or opportunistic personal qualities;
? personality disorders, mainly of the sociopathic, borderline, histrionic, or narcissistic type;
? abuse of alcohol or drugs, either by the liar himself or by members of his family.
This text is an introductory fragment.
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Chapter 12 Treatment methods for liars. Psychology of deception [How, why and why even honest people lie]Chapter 12 Treatment methods for liars. Psychology of deception [How, why and why even honest people lie]
Psychology of deception [How, why and why even honest people lie]
Ford Charles W.
Methods of treating liars
No man can be a secret unless he has given himself a little space to deceive; which was and remains nothing more than a hem or train of mystery.
Sir Francis Bacon
Lying is ubiquitous and is not in itself a reason for psychiatric or psychological treatment. Few people turn to a psychotherapist, admitting that they have problems associated with lying, unless under someone's pressure. However, psychotherapists encounter deception on a daily basis. More often than not, these lies are a form of self-deception. The core directed inside psychotherapy is in the therapist's interpretation of the patient's self-deception in a language accessible to the patient. As part of psychotherapy, the doctor sometimes encounters outright lies. If the therapist behaves correctly, such lies can be meaningful and useful for therapeutic purposes. However, usually deceit causes only strong emotional reactions in the doctor.
In this chapter, we will look at the few available data on the treatment of people who resort to deceit on a daily basis and live their own deception - impostors. We will briefly touch on issues related to deception in the context of psychotherapy, lies in drug addicts, family secrets, and how to deal with childhood lies.
This text is an introductory fragment.
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