People who tell lies

3 Signs To Look For

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 23, 2020

In this Article

  • What is Lying?
  • Types of Lies
  • Signs of Lying
  • Living With Frequent Lying

What is Lying?

Everyone lies from time to time. However, some people lie more frequently than others and may lie without cause. If a person’s habit of lying negatively affects their life, or if they feel unable to stop lying, then they may have a condition known as pathological lying.

Pathological lying is still being studied, but its cause appears to be a number of conditions. Pathological lying is a symptom of various personality disorders, including antisocial, narcissistic, and histrionic personality disorders. Other conditions, such as borderline personality disorder, may also lead to frequent lies, but the lies themselves are not considered pathological. Finally, some people simply lie pathologically but have no other conditions.

Regardless of the reason for a lie, it’s unpleasant to find out that someone has lied to you. If a loved one is frequently lying to you, you can learn to spot their lies. You can also support them, if they decide to get treatment.

Types of Lies

People lie for many reasons. Most people tell lies occasionally to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or to get out of uncomfortable social situations. These are generally known as “white lies,” because they are intended to avoid harm and are generally about trivial matters. Many white lies are only partially false or exaggerate the truth.

On occasion, people will also lie to avoid getting in trouble or to protect themselves from a threat. These lies are generally more complete fabrications. They also tend to be about serious or self-serving matters. This type of lie is known as a “gray lie,” since it’s less likely to be socially acceptable than a white lie.

Finally, some people lie for malicious reasons. These lies often carry serious consequences for other people and may lead to situations people consider unfair or unjust. Any malicious lie is generally considered a “real lie,” which is completely socially unacceptable. People who lie pathologically are more likely to tell gray or real lies than other people.

Signs of Lying

When lying, many people have “tells” that can help you identify when they aren’t telling the truth. However, there is no one-size-fits-all method to tell when someone isn’t being truthful. Instead, you need to pay attention to that person specifically. If a loved one is lying to you frequently, look for some of these signs.

Contradictory Stories

When someone isn’t telling the truth, it’s harder to keep the details of their story straight. Someone who lies frequently will eventually lose track of previous lies and start to contradict themselves. If you notice your loved one is contradicting themselves, they are likely lying. 

Unverifiable Details

Many people who lie frequently may add details to their lies to make them seem more realistic. Studies show that people tend to include fewer verifiable details when lying than when telling the truth, and a similar number of details that can’t be verified. So, if someone is telling you a story with a lot of details that you know can’t be proven or disproven, the story may be more suspicious.

Overly Dramatic or Long Stories

Especially with pathological liars, a lie is more likely to be dramatic and long than the truth. If a story seems too dramatic to be true, that may be the case. If your loved one often has anecdotes about overly dramatic or intense situations, they may be lying to you.

Living With Frequent Lying

Living with someone who lies frequently can be stressful and uncomfortable. If you want to maintain a relationship with someone who lies to you, there are a few tactics you can use to handle conversations and daily life.

Stay Calm

Many people who lie frequently will react poorly to anger aimed at them. If you believe you are being lied to, remain calm.

Don’t Engage With Lies

If you know something isn’t true, there’s no reason to act like it is true. Supporting your loved one’s lies will only reinforce their behavior. Instead, let them know that you know they are lying and stop the conversation.

Suggest Medical Treatment

If your loved one seems distressed by their lies, you can recommend that they get medical treatment. Therapy may help them confront the root of their habit of lying and lead to fewer lies in the future.

How to Cope with Someone’s Compulsive Lies

Pathological lying

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

White lies are occasional and considered:

  • small fibs
  • harmless
  • 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

Pathological lies are:

  • told frequently and compulsively
  • told for no apparent reason or gain
  • continuous
  • 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.

Expect denial

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.

Be supportive

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.

6 reasons why people lie, even if they don't have to


Knowing Yourself A Man among People

Most people try to always tell the truth. Some lie more than others. But there are those who lie all the time. Pathological lying is not a clinical diagnosis, although it can be one of the symptoms of psychopathy and manic episodes.

But the vast majority of liars are mentally healthy people who think differently or lie under the influence of circumstances, explains David Lay, psychiatrist, doctor of clinical psychology. Why do they do it? nine0003

1. Lies make sense to them

Others do not understand why they lie even in small things. In fact, these little things are important for those who lie. They have a different perception of the world and a different system of values. What matters to them is what is not important to most.

2. When they tell the truth, they feel like they are losing control of the situation.

Sometimes such people lie to influence others. They are sure that their deceit sounds more convincing than the truth, and allows them to control the situation. nine0003

3. They do not want to upset us

They lie because they are afraid of the disapproval of others. Liars want to be appreciated and loved, to be admired. They fear that the truth does not look very attractive and, having learned it, friends may turn away from them, relatives will begin to be ashamed, and the boss will not entrust an important project.

4. Once they start lying, they cannot stop

A lie is like a snowball: one catches the other. The more they lie, the harder it is for them to start telling the truth. Life becomes like a house of cards - if you remove even one card, it will collapse. At some point, they begin to lie to reinforce past lies. nine0003

Pathological liars are sure that if they confess in one episode, it turns out that they have told a lie before. Fearing exposure, they continue to deceive even where it is not necessary.

5. Sometimes they do not even realize that they are lying

In a stressful situation, people do not think about the little things, because first of all it is important to save yourself. And they turn on a survival mode in which they are not fully aware of what they say or do. And they sincerely believe in their own words.

People believe in what was not, if it suits them. And after the danger has passed, they do not remember what they said under the influence of stress.

6. They want their lies to be true

Sometimes liars wishful thinking. It seems to them that dreams can become reality with a little pretending. They will become richer if they start to splurge and talk about their mythical wealth or a millionaire grandfather who left them a will.

How to communicate with a liar?

Whatever the reason for lying, the deceiver always feels uncomfortable. And here the reaction of others is important. If the interlocutor in response to a lie says: “Stop inventing!”, “Again you are deceiving me!” or “I will bring you to clean water!”, the liar turns on a defensive reaction.

Most of all, such people are afraid to look like deceivers in the eyes of others and are able to go to any lie to prove that they can be trusted.

If you want to know the truth, try to refrain from attacks and accusations. First, try to determine the reason why your interlocutor is lying. Ask him, "Why is this situation so important to you?" or “Why do you want me to believe this?” “Why do you want me to look at the situation from this point of view?” nine0003

This will reduce tension and make communication more sincere. Empathy is the best way to show a person that the truth is not such a terrible thing and the world will not collapse if it turns out that he is deceiving others.

Text: Alexandra Galimova Photo Source: Getty Images

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Why do people lie?

The habit of “twisting” is rooted in childhood. From a year to two, the little one does not know how to lie, since he still cannot generalize information. From the age of two, imagination, cause-and-effect relationships are already beginning to actively develop, and creativity helps to invent different stories and plots. Such fantasies are the norm. But not always children lie due to temperament. nine0003

The child resorts to a distortion of what happened in order to avoid punishment, to defend himself, to demonstrate resentment (anger). The reason for children's fables may be the fear of telling the truth or the desire to achieve the goal, using it as manipulation. Both situations indicate a violation of the baby's sense of security and trust in the world. As they grow older, this "art" is honed, acquiring significantly sophisticated forms.

Causes of “normal” and pathological lies.

The first is always followed by a clear desire, for example, to avoid a quarrel - the goal is clear, the decision made, even if not the best, looks logical. nine0003

Pathological lying occurs in mental retardation, schizophrenia and personality disorders - narcissistic, borderline and antisocial. So, in an alcoholic, it turns into fantastic stories about what cars he drives, what salary he receives, what women he meets, where he rests. This is a way to rehabilitate yourself in society.

People with a narcissistic personality structure can mix truth with lies and report facts about themselves that seem to be easy to verify, but behind each of them lies lies. For them, lying is an art, which is expressed in lawsuits, complaints, anonymous letters. Such individuals tend to keep silent or deliberately keep silent, to say exactly what and as much as necessary - just to create a certain picture of the world. In such cases, one fantasy covers another. They are able to distort the truth so much that they turn it into a lie. Taking some real fact into service, presenting it in such a way that it will look completely different. nine0003

Experienced deceivers are not able to control their fantasies, they do not really have a goal to deceive, they do it out of habit.

Lies as a way of social adaptation.

It is formed in childhood as a result of early object relations, when the mother does not accept the child as he is, when reality is punished. A woman can ignore the truth or blame for it, be offended and manipulate. What is not accepted by the mother forms a reflex in the child, which is assimilated as follows: “I am not needed the way I am.” And the kid learns to survive with the help of lies and receive all sorts of benefits and benefits. Often such children in adulthood become pathological liars, they resort to this even where it would be possible to tell the truth: for example, the head of the family promises to return earlier from work, knowing in advance that he will be late. nine0003

Such a dreamer, as a rule, believes everything he says. The saying: "lies and does not blush" - just about it. "Munchausen" is in agreement with itself and lies primarily to itself.

Such storytellers, as a rule, are charismatic, charming personalities, with a well-delivered speech, a suspended tongue.

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