The Pathological Liar
Posted by Laura Clark Barefoot, Ph.D. / Barefoot Chaplain Intervention Services,
January 7, 2019
Psalm 101:7 He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house; he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight.
Whenever someone lies it can be hurtful and damaging to a relationship, causing problems with trust and accountability. People can lie to hide their behavior or pursue activities that they feel they might be judged for. However, some people may compulsively lie to others as a habitual problem and will do so without any discernible reason or motive.
Compulsive or pathological lying is usually indicative of some type of mental health condition or a symptom of a personality disorder such as borderline or narcissistic disorder. When someone compulsively lies and cannot control their lying habits it is usually not due to a moral failing on their part but a real mental health problem that they may not be aware of. Although pathological lying is somewhat controversial in the field of psychology, it is agreed that the behavior is associated with mental illness.
Lying can be a normal part of our lives but a person who pathologically lies can create all kinds of problems for themselves. As with any kind of mental illness, compulsive lying needs to be treated because it can interfere with a person’s ability to work, maintain relationships and function in normal life. Pathological liars need to minimize their behavior in order to connect well with others and have healthier habits.
What is Pathological Lying?
When an average person lies, they usually have a specific motive for doing so. However, a pathological liar will lie constantly, without reason or any immediate pressure that is causing them to lie. It is also known in the mental health field as intentional dissimulation and it can have a range of diagnoses such as antisocial, narcissistic or borderline personality disorder.
People who compulsively lie seem to have words flowing out of their mouth and they don’t really think about the lies they are constructing. They can easily transition from telling a lie based on the notion that it could have happened and then having a sense of conviction that it did. However, when pressed a compulsive liar may eventually admit that what they are saying isn’t true.
It can be difficult to understand why a pathological liar is creating false stories when they are not attempting to hide something or trying to purposefully manipulate others. Most often their lies tend to present them in a positive light which is why some theorize that the problem has to do with self-esteem. Their deceptions can help create a different sense of self and the liar does so because they are unhappy with themselves.
Their lies can be driven by the need for approval and to seem like someone else because they fear their own true self is unworthy. Essentially, their lies have an internal rather than an external motivation. Their lies can sometimes have truthful elements but they invent them without thinking and can get carried away by their own stories.
Causes and Treatment for Compulsive Lying
Aside from issues of self esteem there can be other underlying causes that lead someone to engage in compulsive lying behavior. Often they are people who have experienced early childhood trauma that has affected their mental health as they developed into adults. Issues of abuse and parent modeling may also be at the root of a person’s need to constantly lie.
Past trauma can contribute to a person’s development of a mental illness like borderline personality disorder and they may use lying as one of their coping mechanisms. The lies can help them escape from negative feelings or a lack of self worth stemming from an abusive childhood. However, their lying behavior often leads to more pressure, stress and relationship problems that can ultimately make life harder for them.
In order to receive treatment for compulsive lying it is important for an individual to get a diagnosis from a professional psychiatrist. They can determine what type of mental illness is at the root of their lying behavior. Once they are diagnosed, they can be given a treatment plan that will focus on minimizing the symptoms of their condition including their tendency to lie compulsively.
It is important for treatment that the patient is able to recognize their condition and have a desire to stop their habit of lying. If an individual is forced into therapy and they don’t recognize that they have a problem it can be difficult to treat them. If the patient understands that they need to change their behavior then they are likely to have more success in recovery.
If you or someone you know is a pathological liar, then there may be an underlying mental illness that needs to be treated by a therapist. Find a psychiatrist who can offer an accurate diagnosis and suggest a treatment plan to help minimize the habit of compulsive lying.