Most of you may have read William Shakespeare’s quote, “no legacy is so rich as honesty”, yet we sometimes choose to lie. While we all lie occasionally, there is a difference between an occasional liar and a pathological liar. When a person lies effortlessly and those lies come naturally to them instead of the truth, it is often recognized as pathological lying. If not treated, pathological lying can result in a mental health condition known as Compulsive Lying Disorder.
Understanding Pathological Liars and Compulsive Lying Disorder
There is no psychiatric definition of a pathological liar. Otherwise known as mythomania or pseudologia fantastica, pathological lying is a mental disorder in which someone lies habitually or compulsively. However, such a condition can be a symptom of depression, anxiety, psychopathy, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or narcissistic personality disorder.
Nature of Pathological Lying
It is believed that pathological lying is common in both men and women. The consensus is that, in most cases, lying begins in childhood or adolescence and continues throughout a person’s life. Although lying is developmentally normal in children wherein they may lie to escape a situation or lie to get something, the problem begins when the lying becomes persistent. It may even become detrimental to everyday life. At this stage, the nature of lying becomes pathological.
If a person lies out of habit and cannot control this behavior, they are considered pathological liars. It ends up becoming their way of living. For them, lying seems more comfortable and convenient than telling the truth. Such people usually come from an emotionally unstable environment, have difficulty coping with feelings of anxiety & shame, or have low self-esteem.
What is a Pathological Liar?
A pathological liar is someone who lies all the time compulsively with or without any apparent purpose or personal gain. In many cases, pathological liars cannot function without telling lies. They continue to lie even at the cost of damaging their own reputation. If exposed, a pathological liar may have difficulty admitting the truth. They look at a situation from their perspective and disregard the consequences entirely. This condition can affect their relationship with everyone close to them such as their partners, parents, children, employees, bosses or friends.
Science of Pathological Lying
A study revealed that pathological liars tend to have increased white matter in the brain when compared with non-pathological liars. The verbal skills and intelligence of pathological liars were mostly similar or at times better as compared to non-pathological liars. Scientists concluded that the increased white matter in the brain’s pre-frontal cortex was responsible for pathological lying.
Difference Between Pathological Liar and Compulsive Liar
A pathological liar tends to be manipulative or sly and hardly cares for other people’s feelings. They believe they will achieve something when they lie and defend their act when caught. A compulsive liar, on the other hand, cannot control his lying behavior and lies out of habit.
At no point will a pathological liar admit that they are lying. Additionally, they lie with great conviction, start to believe their lies, and sometimes become delusional. Pathological lying is a trait usually found in people with personality disorders. That said, it is not required for a pathological liar to have other mental health issues to be diagnosed as a pathological liar.
Compulsive liars may not intend to lie, but end up lying out of habit. Low self-esteem is the most common trait seen in all compulsive liars. Although compulsive lying is relatively harmless, it can be frustrating for people living with this disorder.
Nature of Lies Told by Pathological Liars
One can see apparent differences between white lies and those told by pathological liars. White lies are harmless, without malice, and are typically told to avoid conflict, hurt or trouble people. Pathological lies, on the other hand, are lies that are told for no good reason. They are told just because pathological liars find it difficult to tell the truth and do not feel guilty, or feel that they are at risk of being caught in a lie. Some people suffer from a compulsion to lie and do so often. They often don’t realize that they may be hurting the people around them.
Characteristics of a Pathological Liar
There are many characteristics of pathological liars which can be found in their everyday conversations. They are pathological liars not just because they lie, but because more often than not, they believe in their lies. They crave attention and their low self-worth causes them to concoct stories that make them feel better.
They Play the Hero or Victim Card
Usually, pathological liars rely on being the heroes or the victims of any story. They are hardly ever seen or heard to be bystanders in any plot that they lie about. They are looking for some reaction or wish to draw attention to themselves in the story they build.
They are Dramatic
Most pathological liars tend to dramatize everything they narrate. They exhibit no casual emotions. Almost everything is derived from extreme dramatic untruths and how they responded to them. They are great storytellers and love the attention their stories bring. When lying, they tend to keep their stories believable to enforce their lie.
Diagnosis of Pathological Lying
Like most mental health conditions, pathological lying cannot be diagnosed easily. However, doctors and therapists can identify the condition. There are many interviews and tests medical professionals can conduct to diagnose a pathological liar.
To make their lies believable, a pathological liar will often say believable things like they were diagnosed with a disease or they had a death in the family. A good therapist or psychologist will be able to separate the facts from the lies and treat the patient accordingly. Also, they will know that the symptoms will be different in different patients.
To diagnose pathological lying, doctors or therapists usually:
1. Talk to their friends and family
2. Sometimes use a polygraph test
3. Understand if the patient believes the lie
When Pathological Lying Becomes Compulsive Lying Disorder
Pathological lying can turn into compulsive lying disorder if left untreated. People with compulsive lying disorder are usually in denial of the condition and will need all the support they can get. As mentioned before, their lies are different from the white lies that people often tell to get out of a situation. If pathological lying becomes a compulsive lying disorder, people start to create falsehoods. When one recognizes the truth, it can become challenging for everyone to cope with the situation.
How to Help Someone with Compulsive Lying Disorder
If pathological lying turns into a disorder, you can do the following to help the patient:
1. Be understanding
2. Remember it is not about you
3. Do not get angry or frustrated
4. Do not take it personally
5. Do not engage in their lies
6. Be supportive
7. Do not judge
8. Call them out on their lies patiently
9. Let them know you care
10. Motivate them to see a counselor or therapist
Treatment for Compulsive Lying Disorder
In most cases, pathological and compulsive liars do not wish to seek treatment. If they are ordered and directed to, pathological liars might consider treatment. Often, it takes a supportive circle of family and friends along with an understanding therapist to help treat Compulsive Lying Disorder.
There are a lot of things that a medical professional can do to help pathological liars. Given that this condition cannot be easily diagnosed, therapists will have to explore and study the patient’s history to see if they suffer from any other health conditions. It could also be a condition that is not driven or influenced by any other underlying condition. For pathological liars, the following treatment methods are considered:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
A kind of stigma is associated with CBT for compulsive liars. However, a trained therapist providing CBT can do wonders in treating compulsive lying disorder. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is recommended if the patient is suffering from behavioral issues.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy has seen great success in treating compulsive or pathological lying. If the person has been diagnosed with a personality disorder, medical professionals believe this form of therapy can help in treating the mental health condition.
If the patient has a combination of health issues, medication can also be suggested to help deal with all the conditions which might be the underlying issue of their behavior, such as anxiety, depression or phobias.
Treating compulsive lying disorder is a team effort. This means that the patient, their friends & family, and the medical professional treating the patient are all stakeholders in the treatment.
Dealing with Compulsive Liars
Many people suffer from mental health disorders. One of the lesser-known conditions is pathological or compulsive lying disorder. Often, people mock those who lie. Some people lie out of a fear of facing the negative repercussions of telling the truth. At the same time, others may lie to fulfill their materialistic needs. Some people just find it thrilling to lie. However, it is essential to differentiate between those who choose to lie and those who lie because they suffer from a disorder. Not all who lie are doing it on purpose.
Therapist for Compulsive Lying
If you are someone suffering from a pathological or compulsive lying disorder or know someone who suffers from this mental health condition, you should seek help from a trained psychotherapist. Talk to the people who love & value you, and learn how to deal with stress and anxiety using different methods. It is advisable to seek professional help, as medical professionals can give appropriate treatment with compassion and care.