I went to college with a guy who was always saying things that seemed untruthful. He didn’t say anything remarkable – it wasn’t like he was talking about the time he went unicorn hunting or something, but he just didn’t seem sincere. There were even times I was almost certain he was recycling his roommate’s stories. It was incredibly frustrating for me and anyone who held a discussion with him, because there was a constant feeling of needing to chase down the truth to separate it from the fabrication. It was exhausting!
There’s a good chance you’ve met someone like that, too. I don’t know about you, but I finally went out of my way to avoid that person in order to get out of having to speak to him; I just didn’t have the energy to smile and nod and pretend he didn’t seem like a complete pathological liar. But I always wondered if it exhausted him, too.
Pathological liars lie for the sake of lying.
Pathological lying is a medical condition in which a person lies all the time, seemingly for no reason at all. This is different from someone who lies from time to time; that’s called being human. Even clinicians have to rule out other things, like delusions or false memories, before determining someone is a pathological liar.
Pathological lies differ from other lies.
There are white lies, or lies that are told in order to be helpful. There are pathological lies, or lies told constantly as if without thought. And there are compulsive lies. Though pathological lying is compulsive, most experts agree it shouldn’t be confused with compulsive lying.
Compulsive lying is the habit of lying uncontrollably about anything, no matter how big or small. Both pathological liars and compulsive liars may lie habitually due to a history of abuse or other personal damage, but both may also lie for absolutely no reason! In fact, people who lie compulsively may continue to lie, even after being caught in a lie.
Even if you’re honest, you should care.
Some pathological lying can signal emotional disorders. One example of this would be in the case of an individual who is abused lying to avoid more abuse. But sometimes pathological liars are dishonest for very different reasons.
Some research suggests that pathological lying is associated with a specific neurological pattern involving minor memory deficit as well as impaired frontal lobes which can negatively effect the way an individual evaluates information. So even though speaking with a pathological liar can be tiring and annoying, it’s helpful to recognize whether something is actually mentally wrong with the individual, or if they simply lie so often they no longer recognize the truth.
Anyone can pick out a pathological liar.
If you’re trying to decide if someone you know is a pathological liar, here are some traits to look for:
- The lies are elaborate. Earlier when I said it was exhausting to pick apart what was fact and what was fiction, it’s mostly because of how elaborate the lies are. Typically, a pathological liar will weave truth into the lie.
- The lies make the liar look good, or even like a victim. If a pathological liar is telling you a story involving multiple people, he will typically look like the hero, or as if he is being treated unfairly and doesn’t deserve it. This could be due to low self-esteem. Part of why a pathological liar lies is because they feel they deserve attention. They’ll do whatever it takes to get to be in the spotlight. For this same reason, they’ll also get defensive if they get caught in a lie and blame someone else.
- The lies aren’t original. Sometimes, pathological liars retell other peoples’ stories but change the narrative so it sounds like it happened to them! If a story sounds familiar, don’t dismiss it. There’s a good chance you truly have heard it before.
- Liars avoid questions that might get them caught. When a pathological liar is confronted with questions, they tend to avoid them at all costs. They’re manipulative and may even convince you they already answered your question. They may also dodge your question entirely by feigning offense to the question. Liars will also manipulate you in whatever ways necessary to always stay one step ahead.
- They over-compensate with eye contact. While most liars would avoid eye contact, pathological liars will go out of their way to maintain deep eye contact in order to appear more convincing. Sometimes, a pathological liar’s pupils will dilate as they lie.
- They seem overly laid back. Generally when someone lies, they may be fidgety and anxious. But when a pathological liar speaks, even if repeating someone’s story you heard earlier that day, they seem laid back and not at all concerned about getting caught.
- Their pitch changes and their smile is insincere. Depending on the person, a pathological liar’s voice may get higher or lower when they are being dishonest. They could also be overly thirsty and require water while lying, as the stress from lying causes adrenaline to constrict the vocal chords. A pathological liar also smiles differently from a truthful person. When someone is genuinely happy, a person smiles with their whole face; their eyes crinkle and the corners of their mouth stretch. But a liar only smiles with their mouth.
- They may have a history of other problematic habits. A history of substance abuse, eating disorders, anger, etc. may be good indicators that a person has the capacity to be a pathological liar.
- They’re delusional. Pathological liars live in their own world. They believe parts of their lies are true and tend to exaggerate the importance of basic occurrences.
- They aren’t good at relationships. Not surprisingly, pathological liars have unstable relationships, both romantic and professional. Typically a pathological liar is estranged from their family, too.
- They jump from job to job. Pathological liars tend to have lengthy resumes. Their jobs are short-term because they tend to burn bridges with employers and coworkers alike.
Handle a pathological liar properly for the better of you.
Once you’ve identified someone in your life as a pathological liar, you may want to confront them about it. It’s important to know how to do that properly to avoid any issues.
- First, be as empathetic as possible. As frustrating as it may be to deal with someone who lies nonstop, try to remember there may be a reason. More so, they believe what they’re saying, so there will definitely be backlash if you confront them.
- If you and the person lying are friends, be sure to remind them how much you care. Help them practice the truth bit by bit and remind them you are always willing to help.
- You may want to suggest therapy, but expect them to be very defensive. Telling someone they might want to get help comes from compassion but can feel very hurtful. It may be smart to talk about your own insecurities and share how you’ve found help through talking to people in the past.
- Tell the person you don’t deserve to be lied to. Be kind but firm when reminding the person it makes you feel disrespected and hurt to be lied to.
- Determine if the person is too toxic to stay in your life. It may make you feel bad for weeding someone out of your life, but sometimes it’s necessary. Pathological liars can overcome their lying ways, but it’s a long road. You don’t have to feel guilty if you choose you aren’t willing to wait out.
Featured photo credit: stocksnap.io via stocksnap.io
|||^||GoodTherapy: Compulsive Lying|
|||^||The New York Times: Lies Can Point to Mental Disorders or Signal Normal Growth|
|||^||WikiHow: How to spot a pathological liar|
|||^||No Bullying: What Makes (and Breaks) a Compulsive Liar|
|||^||LiveStrong: How to Confront a Pathological Liar|