What is a Pathological Liar?

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Lying, unfortunately, is a part of life for many people. Even when truth is the best option, people lie in order to distract someone from the truth, save the liar’s neck, and cause harm that cannot be taken back. When it comes to a pathological liar, this problem is ten-fold. For a basic understanding of pathological liars and what this problem is, this article will provide definitions, list some signs of pathological lying, offer reasoning behind the lies, describe some of the consequences, and suggests for how to deal with and how to help someone who struggles with pathological lying.

Three definitions

To start off, it is important to have an understanding of the basic definitions involved as well as the basic pathological liar definition. While the term “pathological liar” has its own definition, both “pathological” and “lie” have their own definitions as well. To get a grasp on the full meaning, it is important to have a grasp on the pieces that play a part in the whole:

  • The word “pathological” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “extreme in a way that is not normal or that shows an illness or mental problem.” Something pathological (usually in a medical sense) can be caused by disease or indicate that there is a disease present.
  • A “lie” is “an assertion of something known or believed by the speaker to be untrue with intent to deceive,” says Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary.
  • Again, according to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, a “pathological liar” is “an individual who habitually tells lies so exaggerated or bizarre that they are suggestive of mental disorder.”

Unfortunately, a pathological liar does not only deceive the people he or she tells their stories and lies to. Many times, the liar will start to believe the lies himself.

Signs of pathological lying

After you ask, “what is a pathological liar?” you may learn the definition but still have questions. Unfortunately, the signs of pathological lying are obvious yet subtle. Many times you do not catch on to the play until after the fact (hindsight).

Some signs of a pathological liar include:

  • Lack of head movement when speaking
  • Masked smiling—meaning that the smile is in place to deceive you into believing their lies
  • Heightened voice pitch—meaning that their voice pitch is higher than normal, indicating nerves and inconsistencies in behavior
  • Extreme use of pause fillers such as “uh,” “hm,” and “er”
  • Nonverbal behavior that does not their match speech—over emphasis on hand and arm movements; other movements that are not normal for that person or do not match the topic at hand
  • Slow speech—this can indicate that they are stretching time so they can come up with more details or information

Reasons behind the lies

Even after you define pathological liar, it can be difficult to understand why someone would lie compulsively. The official definition of pathological liar does not explain the reasoning behind the lies.

The basic reasons for pathological lying include the need for admiration and popularity; the lies are also used to manipulate and control a situation. When delving deeper, however, there are several things that may cause a person to develop the habit of pathological lying:

Types of pathological lying

There are many pathological liar symptoms that can denote a different type of pathological lying. Four types of pathological lying are daydreaming pathological lying, habitual lying, impulsive pathological lying and substance abuse associated pathological lying.

Daydreaming Pathological Liar

Sometimes called “pseudologia phantastica”, daydreaming pathological lying involves much more than what we would consider normal lying. While the daydreaming pathological liar’s lies may vary, they will always be rather fantastical. The imaginativeness of these lies will capture the attention of their public, but usually only for the short term.

Habitual Liar

A habitual liar lies out of habit as you may have guessed. After lying for so long about so many things, the lies just come naturally; they generally do not have to think about what they are going to say as it simply happens. Many times fear plays a large role in the case of a habitual liar—fear of punishment, fear of not being accepted, etc. Other times it is simply a form of entertainment for themselves or for others.

Impulsive Pathological Liar

Impulsive pathological liars generally suffer from impulse control problems. The lies are used to fulfill their needs in the moment they need them; they do not think about the future or immediate negative effects of the lie. Many times, impulsive pathological liars suffer gambling addictions, kleptomania, compulsive shopping, or even substance abuse.

Substance Abuse Associated Pathological Liar

When a person suffers from an addiction, it is easy for them to practice the art of self-deception. This generally leads to them needing to lie in order to cover up their actions, the kind that is going to keep others from learning of their addiction as well.

Some of the consequences

Many consequences follow a lie. For those who simply fib, the consequences are not quite as serious as those a pathological liar might face. Unfortunately, a pathological liar generally does not care about the consequences. The lies are a part of who they are and what they are trying to accomplish.

Pathological liars may not worry about the consequences, but they come regardless. For example, because they are constantly making up stories or trying to deceive the people they talk to regularly, pathological liars are prone to easily losing the trust of other people. Often times, a pathological liar struggles to keep a steady job, and their relationships tend to be few and far between.

As the pathological liar’s lies continue to grow, it becomes harder and harder for the liar to keep track of them. This leads to his or her stories backfiring, becoming jumbled, and they cannot keep them straight. When this happens, others begin to catch on; the people affected by the lies become angry, distrustful, and often times quit the friendship of the liar.

How to deal

Dealing with pathological liars is difficult on several levels. Your feelings can be hurt easily when you learn you have been lied to consistently; in addition, you may wonder whether anything they said was truthful. You can lose your own self-confidence because you do not know how the person deceived you. But do not let this get you down. Pathological lying is a sickness that the other person is suffering, and you hold no blame for their actions.

This does not mean however that you should judge the person so completely upon his or her actions. As it is a sickness, they need help in order to overcome it and cannot be held completely responsible for their actions. Talk to someone about your experiences with the pathological liar to get a different perspective on the situation.

Unfortunately, when you find yourself in the constant company of a pathological liar, you learn to never take their words at face value. In this case, it is smart to have a back up plan when dealing with the liar. Give them a chance to prove that they are not going to swindle you, but if it happens again, do what is necessary to take care of yourself and will ultimately help the one who has hurt you.

How to help a Pathological Liar

In order to help a person who suffers from pathological lying, you need to have a basic understanding of their reasons for the lies. This can help you figure out what underlying problem has cause the person to develop the habit of lying.

No matter how hard you want to help someone, the first step for any form of treatment to work is for the person to admit that they have a problem. An intervention might be a good way to start this process and let them know that you want to help them.

Unfortunately, pathological lying is not recognized as a disorder by itself; rather it is seen as a symptom of other disorders. This being said, there is no official narcissistic pathological liar test. However, lie detecting tests can work in your favor when you need to know whether or not you are receiving truthful answers. Psychotherapy is also recommended though it is not truly known how much help it is.

Brief summary

Pathological liars suffer from habitual lying that is usually cause by a deeper, underlying problem or disorder. While there are different types of pathological lying (ranging from habitual to substance abuse related lying), each has similar signs, symptoms, and consequences.

Diagnosis of pathological lying is not as straightforward as it may seem. With no official test, there is no official diagnosis. Pathological lying is usually a byproduct of a deeper issue that needs to be dealt with; in order for treatment to work, the liar needs to admit to a problem and be willing to work toward overcoming the impulse to lie.

If you are dealing with someone who struggles with pathological lying, you need to be patient and understanding to a degree. If you can find help for the person struggling, do so, but do not let yourself suffer terribly in the process.

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