The urge to lie

The urge to lie

The Urge to Lie. People who tell lies frequently, without any rational motive or reason are called pathological liars. Pathological liar refers to a liar that is compulsive or impulsive, lies on a regular basis and is unable to control their lying despite of foreseeing inevitable negative consequences or ultimate disclosure of the lie.

Madam, I have read your article on lying. I have a friend who constantly lies, not because of a reason but simultaneously. I honestly think she can't help herself. It's not about important things or even something that she would need to lie over. It's not because she's in trouble or would be. She just lies all the time and tells different people different versions of the same event. Why people lie without any reason and how to come out of the problem? - Vedanth, Vijayawada.

“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” - Abraham Lincoln

Lying is the act of both knowingly and intentionally/willfully making a false statement. Most people do so out of fear. Normal lies are defensive, and are told to avoid the consequences of truth telling. I discussed about lying in this column few weeks before at length. However, some people lie habitually and for a smallest thing like how much was spent on dinner last night or talking about the last time the dog was bathed.

People who tell lies frequently, without any rational motive or reason are called pathological liars. Pathological liar refers to a liar that is compulsive or impulsive, lies on a regular basis and is unable to control their lying despite of foreseeing inevitable negative consequences or ultimate disclosure of the lie. Generally lies told by a pathological liar have self-defeating quality to them and don’t serve the long term material needs of the person.

A pathological liar will resort to telling lies, regardless of the situation. It becomes a routine and a way of life for him/her. In simple words it becomes a second nature of the person. Not only do compulsive liars bend the truth about issues large and small, they take comfort in it. Lying feels good to a compulsive liar. Telling the truth, on the other hand, is difficult and uncomfortable.And like any behavior which provides comfort and an escape from discomfort (i.e., alcohol, drugs etc.), lying can become addictive and hard to stop. For the compulsive liar, lying feels safe and this fuels the desire to lie even more.

How to identify pathological liar?

The traits of a compulsive liar can be quite subtle, but if you look for them, you can identify them. Recognizing these traits can help you identify someone who is consistently lying to you, and perhaps even help you convince that person to seek counseling. Even you can use the knowledge to protect your-self as needed.

Some of the characteristics of pathological lying include:

  • Frequent unnecessary dishonesty
  • Attention seeking behavior
  • Story fabrication
  • Low self – esteem
  • twisting and warping stories heard
  • Personality disorder and addiction
  • Inability to confront the truth.

Causesof Pathological Lying

Causes of development of pathological lying can be, but are not limited to, one or more of the factors mentioned below:

  • A dysfunctional family;
  • Sexual or physical abuse in childhood;
  • Neuropsychological abnormalities; such as borderline mental retardation, learning disabilities etc.
  • Impulse control disorders; such as kleptomania, pathological gambling, compulsive shopping.
  • Accommodating or suggestible personality traits;
  • Personality disorders such as Sociopathic, Narcissistic, Borderline, Histrionic and more;
  • Substance abuse or substance abuse in family;

Low Self-Esteem and Pathological Lying

Low self-esteem is a commonly found feature in pathological liars. The telling lie maybe an attempt to feel good about themselves, similar to the effect of drugs & alcohol. The same lie repeated over and over may create a myth of personal well-being or success or displacement of faults of own failures on others, thus creating an imaginary fantasy protection bubble, which may reinforce self-esteem. Pathological liars repeatedly use deceit as an ego defense mechanism, which is primarily caused by the lack of ability to cope with everyday problems in more mature ways.

The Psychology of Lying

On the other spectrum, however, people are who tell lies pathologically. They feel a compulsion to tell lies and may lie for no apparent benefit whatsoever. Common diagnoses associated with patients who consistently lie include:

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder
  • Factitious Disorders

Other mental disorders exist that may result in patients telling lies, but not realising that what they are saying is not true. Examples include Paranoid Personality Disorder or some of the Dissociative Disorders.

What is the Difference between a Sociopath and a Compulsive or Pathological Liar?

Not all pathological liars are sociopaths, but all Sociopaths are pathological liars. The difference between the two is one knows what he/she is doing, and the other just does not care. The sociopath lies are calculated and manipulative, and in the end someone always get hurt. He/she doesn’t care who are going to affect with their lies, as long as in the end the lie fits their purpose and they get what they want.Often sociopathic or compulsive lying is connected to the mental illnesses Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD).

Pathological lying is an invaluable tool for a sociopath. It is the ultimate weapon when trying to gain pity and sympathy from their unsuspecting victims.A sociopath is often goal-oriented (i.e., lying is focused - it is done to get one’s way). Sociopaths have little regard or respect for the rights and feelings of others. Sociopaths are often charming and charismatic, but they use their talented social skills in manipulative and self-centered ways.

Compulsive liar is defined as someone who lies out of habit. Lying is their normal and reflexive way of responding to questions. Compulsive liars bend the truth about everything, large and small. For a compulsive liar, telling the truth is very awkward and uncomfortable while lying feels right. Compulsive lying is usually thought to develop in early childhood, due to being placed in an environment where lying was necessary. For the most part, compulsive liars are not overly manipulative and cunning (unlike sociopaths), rather they simply lie out of habit - an automatic response which is hard to break and one that takes its toll on a relationship.Pathological liars can help themselves. They know the difference between right and wrong, and they consciously recognise that lying is wrong. Unfortunately, they don’t really care. In fact, they are so good at lying; many times they become their own lie.

Helping pathological liar

Confronting someone about a lying problem is challenging. The person will most likely become defensive and resist treatment. The more you push the issue, the more the person may resist. The only thing you can do is voice your concern and offer help. Spending time with a liar can be frustrating and exhausting, so if the person does not want to seek help, you will need to decide if it's worth your energy to remain supportive.


When it comes to treatment for pathological lying, psychotherapy can help. The problem with trying to treat people with this problem is that they often won't or can't admit that they have issues around telling the truth.Treatment success depends on willingness of the person to seek help. The person must be an active participant and follow through with the entire treatment plan. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful in treating people who are pathological liars. With this approach to therapy, clients learn how to identify the situations and the kinds of thoughts that make them resort to lying. Once these people are able to understand when they are likely to lie, they can begin the work of learning how to behave in a different way than in the past.

(The writer is MA (Psy), M Phil (Rehab Psychology), Dip Pain Management & Palliative care consultant rehabilitation psychologist MAA ENT Hospital, The Deccan Hospital.

9292857478, [email protected]

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