Lying is a very common behaviour. In fact, by the age of two, we learn about this behaviour and by the time we’re four years old, we can lie convincingly.
Research indicates that we tell at least two small lies every day and that we’re more prone to lying on the phone than face-to-face.
In fact, because of the way social media works, lying and pretending about someone we’re not has become a natural behaviour for us. So, how do we draw the boundary between small, unharmful lies and lies that can derail the well-being of us and others?
When the act of lying is taken to an extreme, things can get out of control. Some people lie chronically. Sometimes, this could be without any reason; sometimes, it could be to protect them or others, and sometimes it could be to manipulate and gain some advantage.
Any kind of lying disrupts trust. It can result in a lot of confusion and emotional chaos. However, dealing with a pathological liar can cause serious harm to our well-being.
What is a pathological liar?
Do you think you might be dealing with a pathological liar? Think of your exchanges with them while you read the following story and compare for any similarities.
You’ve seen them use their charm and get their way with anything they do. Their stories are vividly detailed and focus a lot on them, either being a hero or a victim. Sometimes, you have difficulty believing in what they’re saying, but when you ask any questions, they always have a convincing answer ready. You still feel like you don’t know the whole truth, but you’re not able to pinpoint what it is. You start feeling manipulated by them while they continue to hold up their story and gain whatever it is they’re looking to gain out of it.
Does this sound familiar? A pathological liar lies in detail, and their stories are grand, pulling a lot of attention on themselves in some way. They seem to have a clear objective behind lying- they’re either trying to manipulate your perspective or gain some advantage. It’s difficult to question them and catch them in the lie because of how consistent and convicted they are with it.
Being on the receiving end of pathological lying can be emotionally distressing. You never know if you can believe them or if they’re trying to take advantage of you. Pathological lying is linked to narcissistic, antisocial, and histrionic personality disorders.
How to spot a pathological liar?
When you’re dealing with a pathological liar, your first sign to identify them is the fact that their stories and lies are highly consistent and elaborate. Everything eerily lines up.
- Based on your personal experience with them and the situation, what sort of advantage might they be trying to get through their lie? Try to assess what their motive could be because they’ll have one.
- You might always find them exaggerating their stories. And when you catch them in a lie, they might remain totally calm and not show any guilt for what they’ve done.
- Is what they’re saying screaming for attention and validation? That’s because it’s exactly what they want when they focus too much on themselves being the hero or the victim.
- You might even notice some awkward body language cues when they’re lying, such as either avoiding eye contact or maintaining intense eye contact.
If you notice any of these signs, you might be dealing with a pathological liar.
How do you deal with pathological liars?
When we are lied to, we start taking that behaviour personally. But it’s important to remember that it’s rarely about you and almost always about them. Their lying behaviour started long before your exchanges with them and has many complex roots.
If you’re dealing with a pathological liar, your focus should be on protecting yourself. You must avoid sharing your vulnerabilities or personal details that could be used against you by them.
Get clarity within yourself as to what kind of behaviour you can and cannot entertain. Draw boundaries to protect your peace and sanity and communicate these to them firmly.
Even if you’re tempted to call them out on their lie, avoid confronting them in a volatile manner. If you do that, they might become defensive or try to deceive you further. Instead, if you do decide to address the lying issue in any way, communicate it to them in terms of how it’s affecting you and how you feel instead of accusing them. Using “I” statements can help.
Remember that pathological lying is often a result of much deeper psychological conditions and disorders, so try to be empathetic as you deal with this situation.
You can even encourage them to seek professional support from a therapist. Ultimately, you have to protect your own mental well-being, so be prepared to distance yourself from the relationship if it gets too overwhelming.
Treatment of pathological liars
The treatment of pathological lying begins with a clinical assessment of the lying behaviour. Pathological lying is linked to borderline and antisocial personality disorders, anxiety disorders, and mood disorders. When these underlying conditions are addressed, their treatment can begin effectively.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is also used to work through pathological lying. This therapy focuses on identifying and altering thought patterns and behaviours that do not serve them to those that do. They learn to recognise their triggers for lying and work through these triggers in healthier ways.
Personal therapy can help them develop empathy towards others and also build communication skills and confidence to speak the truth, which is crucial.
If someone is seeking support to get through their lying tendencies, you need to be patient as they make healthier changes. Encouraging them to go to therapy and practice their new honesty skills regularly can help. You can also acknowledge and celebrate small progress, which can motivate them to keep making these changes.
Pathological lying can create distrust and affect your relationship and mental well-being to a great extent. If you’re dealing with a pathological liar, remember that your primary focus must be on protecting yourself. Draw boundaries and then try to understand their behaviour and communicate your feelings in a non-volatile manner. If they receive it well, you may encourage them to get professional help.
If the lying is causing immense distress to you, you must seek the support of a mental health professional as well. At United We Care, we offer the most appropriate, clinically backed solutions for all your well-being needs.
 Hare, R.D., Forth, A.E., Hart, S.D. (1989). The Psychopath as Prototype for Pathological Lying and Deception. In: Yuille, J.C. (eds) Credibility Assessment. Nato Science, vol 47. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-015-7856-1_2 [Accessed: 28 Oct 2023]
 Michelle Becker, “How to Communicate with Love Even When You’re Mad,” Greater Good Magazine: Science-Based Insights for a Meaningful Life. [Online]. Available: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_communicate_with_love_even_when_youre_mad. [Accessed: 28 Oct., 2023]
 Drew A. Curtis, Ph.D., and Christian L. Hart, Ph.D., “Pathological Lying: Psychotherapists’ Experiences and Ability to Diagnose,” The American Journal of Psychotherapy. [Online] Available: https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.psychotherapy.20210006 [Accessed: 28 Oct 2023]