Even the most honest person has probably lied more than once. The truth can be distorted for various reasons, such as to protect someone’s feelings, prevent conflict, or avoid something they don’t want to do.
Lying need not be a deal breaker in many situations. However, when lying becomes a habit, then that person may have crossed the line to become a pathological liar.
Pathological lying is an established concept in psychology that was first identified in 1891 by psychiatrist Anton Delbrück, who first called it pseudologia fantastica.
It was initially defined as “falsification entirely disproportionate to any discernible end in view, [which] may be extensive and very complicated, manifesting over a period of years or even a lifetime.”
Researchers have since refined this definition, and the more contemporary description of pathological lying is that of “a persistent, pervasive, and often compulsive pattern of excessive lying behavior that leads to clinically significant impairment of functioning in social, occupational, or other areas; causes marked distress; poses a risk to the self or others; and occurs for longer than six months.”
To put it more clearly, pathological liars not only lie frequently, but may also feel a compulsion to do so. According to a study published in Psychiatric Research & Clinical Practice, pathological liar signs typically begin between the ages of 10 and 20.
Pathological liars can’t stop lying even if their behavior leads to physical distress, puts them in danger, or disrupts relationships, work, and other facets of their life.
Though the word pathological itself indicates an underlying illness, pathological lying is not listed as a mental disorder.
It is, however, related to disordered thinking patterns and beliefs. Signs of pathological liars are thus associated with different primary mental health conditions. It can relate to traumatic incidents in childhood as well.
Aside from the consistent lying, here are 8 signs of pathological liars and how to cope with them:
(1) Lying about something even when there’s no reason to. In most cases, lying may be quite random and pathological liars continue to lie even when they don’t need to.
(2) Providing unverifiable details. They may add details to make stories more realistic and these details often cannot be verified.
(3) Lies are detailed, dramatic, and sometimes highly unlikely. Pathological liars may conjure extensive and elaborate stories about their past, hobbies, relationship status, or anything else they want to lie about, even if that causes them harm. They may even pass on someone else’s story as their own.
(4) Telling contradictory stories or being vague when questioned. Pathological liars may have a hard time keeping their story straight and eventually undermine previous lies.
(5) Appearing anxious while talking. No matter how much they lie, pathological liars may often appear uncomfortable when lying to others.
(6) Getting defensive when confronted about a lie. When people lie so much, they may begin to feel that the lies have become reality. They thus become defensive when others challenge their lies.
(7) Seeming unconcerned with being caught in a lie. Pathological liars will stick to their story even when it’s obvious to everyone else that they are lying.
(8) Acting in ways that don’t match their words. The words and actions of pathological liars are often inconsistent.
How to cope with a habitual liar
The behavior of pathological liars inevitably impacts relationships as deception and lies often damage trust. Over time, it creates feelings of frustration, anger, hurt, and confusion, and may even be part of an abusive relationship pattern.
Having identified them, how does one then deal with pathological liars? If you know someone who repeatedly lies, don’t expect them to admit it, even when you can prove they are lying. Don’t take it personally and don’t lose your temper.
Pathological liars largely cannot stop themselves from lying and attacking them will only make them more defensive and trigger even more lying. Instead, set boundaries on what you are willing to tolerate in the relationship.
It may be necessary to step back from the relationship if the conflict becomes untenable. Trust yourself and your understanding of the relationship and discuss your situation with others. It is also best to encourage pathological liars to seek therapy and treat the causes of their behavior.
Dealing with consistent lying, whether with pathological or compulsive liars, can be draining both mentally and physically. Decide what’s best for you.
Always practice self-care and consider terminating a relationship that continues to have a negative impact.
Disclaimer: This article is provided solely for informational purposes and should not be considered a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or opinion. It is strongly recommended to consult with qualified professionals for any mental health concerns or issues.