Why do people lie?
Everyone lies. Men, women, teens, little kids. We don’t seem to feel too bad when we mislead others, yet we are “put out” when we find out we have been lied to. Meh. Human nature. However, some people lie a little better than others, probably because they’ve had considerable practice. In fact, these are people who live their entire lives based on lies, as if they cannot help themselves. They do not use lies to avoid saying something hurtful to a person (have you dropped weight?), or to bullcrap about why they are late for work (car trouble). They lie to exist, to feel a part of the human race, to feel as if they really do matter. They lie to impress people, they lie to impress themselves. They lie out of fear. They lie to invent a life they dream about rather than finding any satisfaction in their own, or working legitimately to obtain their needs. Pathological lying may be caused by challenging situations in the home, or by a lack of seratonin, in which case Prozac or Zoloft may help. Sometimes the environment in which someone grew up in can plant a seed for future pathological lying. It is common for children to lie, but for those forced to lie in order to avoid abuse or who lie out of fear, it can develop into something more as a child grows older. This can include lying to teachers and friends about bruises from physical abuse, as well as regularly lying to parents to avoid severe punishment for perceived misbehaviour.
What is a pathological liar?
These people are pathetic. They are pathological liars (also known as pseudologia fantastica, mythomania). It was first described in the medical literature in 1891 by Anton Delbrueck. A deliberate liar knows he is lying. A pathological liar may not. Weird. Lying is a characteristic of several other disorders as well, such as conduct disorder (CD) and antisocial personality disorder (APD).It may manifest for a period of years or over the course of a lifetime. Sheesh. The average age of onset is 16 years, and it occurs equally in women and men. Forty percent of cases display central nervous system abnormality. It is characterized by epilepsy, abnormal EEG findings, and head trauma. Often, the pathological liar has ADHD. It is considered to be a severe mental illness because it takes over rational thought processes and progresses into the fantasy world and back. People with Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissism, and Antisocial Personality Disorder tend to display this trait. It is considered to be a mental illness because it takes over rational judgement and progresses into the fantasy world and back. The defining characteristics of pseudologia fantastica are:
- The stories told are not entirely improbable and often have some element of truth. They are not a manifestation of delusion or some broader type of psychosis:
- The fabricative tendency is long lasting; it is not provoked by the immediate situation or social pressure as much as it is an innate trait of the personality.
- A definitely internal, not an external, motive for the behavior can be discerned clinically: e.g., long-lasting extortion or habitual spousal battery might cause a person to lie repeatedly, without the lying being a pathological symptom.
- The stories told tend toward presenting the liar favorably. For example, the person might be presented as being fantastically brave, or rich enough to own several mansions.
Pathological Lying vs Compulsive Lying
Pathological lying is not the same as compulsive or habitual lying. A compulsive liar is not mentally ill. He or she is just a loser with a low self-esteem. Lying is beyond their control, like hunger or fatigue. It is an automatic process that a person cannot consciously prevent. Their continual lies constitute malingering, but not a pathology. The significant difference in pathological versus habitual lying is that the pathological liar doesn’t seek to con anything from people. They have no obvious purpose, reward or gain. They sprew out crap for the helluvit, as opposed to a narcissist, who lives in order to achieve adulation. Pathological lying can be described as an addiction to lying. Most pathological liars’ relationships and friendships fail. If the disease continues to progress, lying could become so severe as to cause legal problems, including but not limited to fraud. Psychotherapy appears to be a successful method to treat the compulsive liar. Hypnosis may be another one. Some people are prescribed medication. It has many life-changing consequences for those who must live with the illness.
Pathological lying is a disorder of identity; the person imagines for himself a separate identity, and then fantasizes experiences which may be otherwise ordinary and predictable; the liar states that he went to the museum for instance, and while he was there he saw a man rob a gift shop then get arrested by security guards. In reality, he may or may not have gone to the museum. He may or may not have witnessed a robbery and an arrest. However, in his mind he firmly beileved that “that” person he created did attend the museum and did witness the robbery. What matters is that his alter ego was at the museum by himself. In this fantasy, he imagines himself a loner, or an artsy type. Or maybe he sees himself living in a world where crimes happen frequently. Or maybe both. It is a stretch to make a comparison between dissociative identity disorder (MPD or DID) and pathological lying as a disorder of identity, but there is an tempting parallel: both have to do with a separation and fragmentation of self. The difference is that the pathological liar doesn’t switch between alters and is aware that s/he is using a fantasy character to tell a story. One similarity between the two disorders is the possible lack of control over this condition. A difference between the two is that the DID person isn’t lying about personal events. The DID’s core personality whose name is, say, Edward, was indeed at the museum, but in the identity of Samuel, an alter. It is Samuel who had control of the body and Samuel may indeed have seen a robbery at the museum. With me?
Demographics – liar, liar, panties on fire
When pathological lying is a result of Borderline Personality Disorder, females are far more likely to be pathological liars than males. For instance, the majority of people with BPD or who display various factitious disorders are female. Most of them were raised in physically and sexually abusive households. They are often above average intelligence (120 I.Q. and up) even though it is fairly easy to catch them in a lie. Most often, they are considered to be mentally ill or at least the lying is a symptom of a mental illness. However, men and women who suffer from Narcissism or Antisocial Personality Disorder lie about equally. Womenand men who are not co-morbid with another disorder also experience pathological lying to approximately the same percentage.
There are many variations and types of FDs. They all rely upon pathological lying, but they all involve different motives. All of these disorders (illnesses?) are based on pathological or factitious lying. The primary aim is to obtain sympathy, nurturance, and attention accompanying the sick role. These individuals may be trying to reenact unresolved issues with their parents. A history of frequent illnesses may also contribute to a FD; perhaps individuals afflicted with FD are accustomed to being sick, and return to their previous state to recapture what was once considered normal. Some FDs are far more serious than others:
Malingering – there are various perceptions about malingering. Some researchers believe a malingerer doesn’t know s/he has this disorder, while others believe malingerers are aware they pretend to be ill for both sympathy and financial gain (technically then, probably compulsive lying rather than pathological). For instance, a malingerer will lie continuously to an insurance company so the person doesn’t have to go to work.
Munchausen Syndrome – individuals undergo major surgery repeatedly, and they ‘hospital jump’ or migrate to avoid detection. Sometimes these people injure themselves to the point of death. I met a woman with Munchause. We spoke for a few seconds when she excitedly explained she had several scars on her abdomen to show where she’d had several surgeries (for what, she didn’t say). She offered to show them to me (I declined). She was young, blonde, seemed healthy, and very attractive, not to mention animated, intelligent and creepy.
Ganser syndrome was in the past regarded to be a separate factitious disorder. It is a disorder to extreme stress and the patient suffers from approximation or giving absurd answers to simple questions (example: a cat has two tails). Unlike the above FDs, a person with Ganser’s doesn’t have control over his or her behaviours.
Compulsive Lying and the Internet
The ‘net offers umpteen opportunities to deceive people about one’s physical appearance, job, lifestyle, relationships, and on and on. Since the internet liar is hidden behind a computer screen, it is very difficult to catch the liar in a lie. This is one of the reasons why millions of people are frauded out of money every year, especially when emotional, rather than business or financial investments, are at the core of giving away money. It would be an interesting study to see if people who consistently lie while communicating via computer found themselves to lie more frequently prior to internet use in person, strictly out of habit.
How to Spot a Liar
This information worries me. I do all of these things in conversation, (maybe not all at once), yet most of the time I don’t lie because I have no need. Yes, sometimes I llie but I’m truly terrible at it. I am honest to the point of gullible and have indeed been an emotional and financial target for a pathological person I considered to be a friend. However, that is a different blog entirely. A former FBI agent reveals some telltale body language that supposedly proves evidence of a liar:
- Folded arms
- Leaning back in chair
- Checking Watch
- Looking up at the ceiling
- Voice changes pitch
- Drumming fingers on table
- Rubbing the neck
- Sit to the side
- Hands tightly folded in lap
- Change the topic
He states that very few people can control the autonomic nervous system, so lying during a polygraph test is a surefire way to get caught. I read that psychopaths can breeze through them due to their inherently amoral nature.
How to Deal with Compulsive or Pathological Liars
Ideally, you won’t ever be in a relationship with a liar but sometimes life works out that way. These strategies are not a magic solution and will not work for many people:
- Confront the person …. over and over….guaranteed you will be confronting the liar more than once.
- Prepare for denial, denial, denial.
- Give the liar an opportunity to come clean in a manner that is less of an admission of guilt, and more toward maintaining dignity.
- Present evidence in order to make the liar tell the truth.
Straight from the Liar’s Mouth – A Recollection
When I received my first B in school, my parents grounded me for a long time. (I do remember this.) And from there on they would never let me leave the house until my homework was done. I began to lie to my parents and tell them my homework was done so I could go play with friends sooner. I’m not sure how but, as time went on I lied more and more. I can now lie to myself and believe in false things. I do it to everyone now because I’m always afraid of the punishment.
This liar seems confused as to the actual definition of pathological lying. She reverses the definition of pathological and compulsive lying, but that might be because she’s lying about it…
My father, a pathological liar, was emotionally abusive to my sister and me starting from early childhood. He wove horrible and untrue stories about my mother to undermine her credibility. When I turned 16, my father promised me a BMW; we went down to the dealership and I picked out my color. Then he borrowed $300.00 fro me. Delivery day came and went and eventually there was always a reason the car wasn’t there. Weird stuff like that happened all the time. My father was arrested for multiple counts of fraud. My sister had a breakdown from which she still hasn’t recovered. I have gotten in a lot of trouble. I married someone I didn’t like because he was an alibi for the rotten human being I had become. I’ve been bankrupt. I’ve had more jobs than I remember. I’ve never been fired. I leave before my lies are exposed. I don’t want to be a liar. I need to stop.
Con Artist – Habitual Liars – Case Study
Con artists are quinessential,habitual liars. Canadian broker Albert Johnson Walker, is a notorious case of a habitual liar and a sociopath. He was also a murderer. As a mortgage broker and financier, Walker defrauded about 70 Canadian clients of $3.2 million then fled Canada for Europe, taking his 18-year-old daughter with him. The two lived under assumed identities and (ick) Walker eventually had two children with his daughter, whom he presented as his wife. He murdered a man in England in order to assume his identity, all in an effort to evade Canadian and British police. In 1993, Walker was charged in Canada with 18 counts of fraud, theft and money laundering. In time Walker became Canada’s most wanted criminal and the second most wanted by Interpol. Walker’s actions were not that of a pathological liar, since his fraudulent behaviour and personation certainly resulted in a financial gain.
Pathological Liar Case Study
A 67-year-old male took care of a friend’s cat for a short time. He told the friend that he had gotten full of bacteria from the cat, and had cat hair in his stomach. The man claimed he went to the emergency room, they took x-rays, and saw the hair in his stomach. As a result the doctors gave him some pills, which made him throw up green and white worms.
Not long afterward, the man told his friend another fantastical story. Two men he knew went to a house to do a wiring job. When the one man walked in the door, he tripped, and heard a squeal. The man stated he tripped over an animal that was six inches long, had no hair, a sharp snout, and looked like a balloon filled with blood. The blood squirted all over, and four more animals came out of the walls and lapped up the blood. They captured two of the animals, and took them for testing. The tests show they were an animal called a chip, and they are from Montana. Clearly this is a man with a mental illness of some sort.
The 67-year-old male stood to gain nothing with his outlandish tales, yet he communicated in this manner on a regular basis to everyone he knew.
Pathological Liar Case Study – Darren
Darren constantly lied. These lies became more fantastic as the conversation progresses. He also seemed to only lie to selected people. Some of the stories Darren told people include that he:
- inherited 1.5 million dollars from my recently deceased uncle.
- owned a wide-screen plasma TV and usually have around 40 computers in my house.
- earned 800 dollars a day packing boxes and ripping up cabling for a company
- design and build my own computer hardware
When asked to show proof of these stories he found some way to not be able to prove it, i.e.: “show us this piece of computer hardware” Darren: “I can’t show you the my computer hardware because I sold it for 2000 dollars” Some of his friends who knew [the truth] accused Darren of lying. When this happened he simply denied it and continued talking. Darren’s lies were harmless and made him appear foolish, however the following case study presents a teenaged girl whose lies were considerably more dangerous.
Of the three case studies in this blog, Patricia’s has got to be the worst. Her lies have severely affected two families. She has been in and out of residential treatment facilities and has been a pathological liar for most of her life. She has told her friends that she was pregnant and as a result, her parents kicked her out. She ‘miscarried” two days later. When her parents got together with the boyfriend’s parents, they compared notes. These are the stories she told:
- Her parents were millionaires with four houses when in actuality Patricia’s uncle is a millionaire and owns four houses.
- Her father owned many factories.
- Patricia’s parents were going to give the boyfriend a job in our sign store.
She pretended to have diabetes by stealing syringes; she also pretended to pass out, calling the boyfriend to come and revive her at all hours of the night. She told the boyfriend that she had been to the residential school the first time to have a baby and now the old boyfriend’s parents were suing her family for grandparental rights. Patricia’s counselor believed she had a mental illness and that it is very serious. Possibly Patricia had borderline personality disorder.
I had no idea I was dating a pathological liar. I’ve decided based on the fact that he seldom stood to gain anything with his lies, that he was just nuts. Then again, there was occasionally the yearning for adulation so perhaps he was both a nut and a habitual liar. Either way, I was incredibly naive to have believed anything he told me (hey, i was a teenager…..a very gullible teenager). Here were some of the pointless lies he told me:
- his father made him vice-president of the warehouse of his company (he hadn’t)
- he could lift and hold up the back of a car, even as the driver was trying to speed away (he said it very seriously too)
- an entrance exam in English proved he was at the genius level (he couldn’t graduate high school)
- he pretended he had a conversation with 2 women at a restaurant, when I was watching him and I saw no conversation took place
- his father was grooming him to take over his multi-million dollar company (not true, although the company exists)
It was only after doing research for this blog that I realized my late mother was indeed a compulsive liar. I do not believe she was pathological. She told me outrageous stories about all manner of things:
- When I stated I was quitting piano lessons at the age of 19, my mother insisted my father said that he would throw me out of the house unless I changed my mind.
- My mother told me a friend of the family’s had died of a mysterious illness doctors weren’t able to diagnose. He committed suicide.
- When I brought my 6-year-old daughter to a store manager after she stole an item, my mother stated my father said my behaviour was overkill.
- When I stole a bag of chocolates from the kitchen as a child, my mother told me in her day I would have been tied naked to a tree and whipped. Years later when I reminded her of this, she was aghast and asked me, “did I really say that?” Yes, Mother. You did.
- My mother told me I dressed like “something on Jarvis Street” (clearly not a compliment) then weeks later denied it and said she didn’t remember saying it.
Spouses or friends of pathological liars often end up being ashamed to be around the pathological liar, especially in other company or in the workplace. Pathological liars are at risk of being fired from their job, being alienated from peers and losing friends. Some may even face criminal problems and trouble with the law. Conrad Black and Albert Johnson Walker are examples of compulsive liars, among many other characteristics. Black stood accused of 13 felony charges, including racketeering, tax fraud, mail fraud, and wire fraudagainst the company for whom he worked and its shareholders. Black and Walker gained millions from their fraudulent schemes, yet I suspect they both began lying in childhood long before big money was involved, and possibly no one guided them out of their deceitfulness. Or perhaps it wasn’t possible. Maybe there are people who are born with a genetic potential to become pathological liars. Some research suggests that certain people may have a “predisposition to lying”.
- It stems from abuse and fear of repercussion as children
- It is an effort to please and impress others
- it is a self-fulfilling fantasy since the liar has low self-esteem and usually no professional or educational credentials
The bottom line is that people with an FD, or people who are assessed as pathological liars, frequently lead lonely, isolated and challenging lives. Even when a pathological liar seems to be professionally or socially successful for a time, the emptiness in a pathological liar’s life is so unbearable as to require a fantastic, other self. Social interactions are limited and even families may reject pathological liars. I find it easy to be objective in the study of pathological and compulsive lying, since I have never told a lie myself, big or small, for personal gain or not. Like George Washington, I am simply unable to lie. And if you believe that, I have prime land in the Florida everglades I’d love to sell you….talk to my agent, Conrad Black.
Traits of Pathological and Compulsive Liars
- frequently have abusive, lonely childhoods
- often punished by parents for telling the truth
- lie to avoid repercussions
- may be bullied by peers before lying begins
- lie to be accepted/peer pressure
- are unhappy and confused by his/her own lying
- are unable to stop
- experience self-loathing
- require professional therapy
Are you a compulsive liar? Take this quiz and admit it for once, would ya?
Two of my favourite movies that profile the outrageous, frightening, and humorous antics of pathological liars include: The Talented Mr. Ripley (Matt Damon), and The Informant (Matt Damon)….hmm…is there a scary pattern here?